* Cardinal suggests single economic ministry with bank
* Vatican bank has embarrassed Church for decades
* Bank undergoing extensive reform over past year
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Cardinals advising Pope Francis on reforming Vatican finances gave him their proposals on Wednesday with one suggesting a new central economic ministry that would incorporate the Holy See’s scandal-plagued bank.
An eight-member advisory board of cardinals from around the world had concluded three days of meetings and reached its conclusions, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters at a briefing.
“They have formulated their proposals and now it will be up to the pope to decide which direction to go, to decide what to do,” Lombardi said.
The board of cardinals heard reports from two commissions, one on economic affairs in general and another specifically about the Vatican’s troubled bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR).
Francis has not ruled out closing the IOR altogether if it cannot be reformed and has said he wants the Vatican to adhere to international standards of financial transparency.
There have been suggestions that a new ministry may be set up in the Vatican to deal with all of its financial matters, which are now handled by the bank and several other departments.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, one of the eight cardinals advising the pope, told the French Catholic newspaper La Croix that he believed a “finance secretariat” could be established.
“It’s a very reasonable idea, and I think it is necessary to be better organised,” he said, listing the five Vatican departments, including the IOR, which handle Holy See finances.
Lombardi said there would be no formal announcement on the future of the bank or other Vatican financial departments until the pope made his decision.
The eight cardinals from Italy, Chile, India, Germany, Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States, Australia and Honduras are advising Francis on how to reform the Curia, the Vatican’s often dysfunctional central administration.
Pope Francis has a packed week of meetings about reform with top Church officials in Rome for ceremonies this Saturday when the pope will create 19 new cardinals from around the world.
The bank has been embroiled in scandal several times in the past decades. Italian magistrates are still investigating the IOR’s former managers on suspicion of money laundering, a charge the Vatican denies.
In the past year, it has been undergoing massive structural reforms under its new German-born president Ernst von Freyberg.
The IOR’s stated mission is to serve Catholic institutions, clerics, employees or former employees of Vatican City, and embassies and diplomats accredited to the Holy See.
Under Freyberg, it has been closing accounts held by persons or institutions outside those categories.
However, the bank has been misused by individuals entitled to hold accounts.
One of the most notorious is Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a former Vatican prelate who worked in another Vatican department for 22 years and had close ties to the bank.
Scarano is now on trial for an alleged plot to smuggle 20 million euros into Italy to help rich friends avoid taxes.
Currently under house arrest, Scarano is also at the centre of another investigation in which he is charged with money laundering through his accounts at the bank.
He says he was just trying to help friends who had given him donations but magistrates reject his claims. (Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris; Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)