The Vatican bank is taking a "zero tolerance" approach to suspect transactions, says its new chief executive Ernst von Freyberg, as it fights hard to shatter a culture of silence and shed its murky image.
The 54-year-old German lawyer, who took over at the helm of the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) in February, said in an interview with AFP that he is giving it his all to disperse the clouds hanging over the bank.
The IOR "must become an accepted member of the international financial system. My role is to improve our reputation, so that the Church is no longer darkened by bad news from us," he said, in a reference to its troubled past.
There have long been reports in Italian media about anonymous accounts at the bank being used by organised crime figures and fraudsters.
Its troubled history includes the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano, in which the Holy See was the main shareholder, and had been accused of laundering money for the Sicilian mafia.
The chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi -- dubbed "God's Banker" in the press -- was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982 in a suspected murder by mobsters for which no one has ever been convicted.
The IOR, which does not lend money, manages assets of 7.0 billion euros ($9.3 billion) and handles funds for Vatican departments, Catholic charities and congregations and priests and nuns living and working around the world.
"We are not a bank, we do not seek profit. Every extra cent goes to serving the Holy See. We have to be clean on all legal fronts," he added.
Freyberg said his team is working flat out to make sure that the bank complies with international standards and recommendations made by the European anti-money laundering committee, Moneyval, in a mixed report it delivered on the Vatican bank last year.
The IOR is undertaking a review of its 19,000 or so accounts, and Freyberg said reports of suspicious activity that indicate possible money laundering or fraud are taken very seriously.
Six such reports were flagged up and investigated last year.
Freyberg said there were "rumours and slurs" of ties with "all sorts, from the Freemasons or the Mafia, to Satan and even Osama bin Laden," which had severely damaged the bank's reputation.
But so too had "the fact that we kept quiet," acknowledged the IOR chief.
"When one keeps quiet, that is already a message. A message understood as having something to hide. This culture of silence was not born of bad intentions, it was just a bad decision," he said.
In order to clear up its image, the bank intends to take legal action against any slander or libel in the media.
It is also introducing a new internal communication system and explaining its role to cardinals.
Supporters of the IOR say it plays an essential role in getting money to Catholics working in often hostile environments.
However, the zeal with which Pope Francis has taken to attacking financial institutions since being elected pontiff in March has raised new concerns about the IOR's future.
The pope has railed against the cult of money, calling for a "poor Church".
Last week he quipped that "St. Peter did not have a bank account", echoing an earlier warning to the IOR and other Vatican staff that "offices are necessary but they are necessary only up to a certain point."
Freyberg said he does not know what changes Francis plans to make to the IOR as part of wide-sweeping reforms to the Holy See, and has only been briefly introduced to him.
"There is no one who knows what he thinks about the IOR, and what he is planning," he said when asked if the bank could even be closed by the pope.
"We have a mission, and that mission comes from him," he said.