As tourists walk past the Porta Sant’Anna in Rome, just off St Peter’s Square, few pay much attention to the strange-looking, rounded tower that sits just inside the gates of the Holy See. Built by the 15th century humanist pope Nicholas V, the tower looks more like a fortress than a palatial villa, a sort of Martello tower that contrasts starkly with the elegance of Bernini’s famous colonnade in the square.
The point about this Torrione di San Nicolò, of course, is that it is indeed a fortress, a fortress of money. For this tower is today the seat of the Vatican Bank, the Istituto Per le Opere di Religione, otherwise known as the IOR.
There was a time when, for the media at least, the bank was off limits. As of last summer, however, that has changed. And when I turned up at the Porta Sant’Anna recently, the IOR spokesman Markus Wieser and a Vatican gendarme were waiting at the gate.
On request, Wieser had invited me to the bank for what he called a “tour d’horizon”. His basic message was, and is: Look, we have nothing to hide, this is what we are doing now in the Great Clean-Up operation.
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