VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI signed off on one of the last major appointments of his papacy Friday, approving a German lawyer and financier to head the Vatican's embattled bank.
Ernst von Freyberg has solid financial and Catholic credentials as a former investment banker and member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an ancient chivalrous order drawn from European nobility.
The appointment ends a nine-month search after the Institute of Religious Works ousted its previous president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, for incompetence. The ouster came just as the Vatican was submitting its finances to a review by a Council of Europe committee in a bid to join the list of financially transparent countries.
The Vatican said von Freyberg, currently the chairman of a Hamburg-based ship component group Blom+Voss Group, had been appointed by the bank's commission of cardinals and that the pope had "expressed his full consent."
The appointment may well be one of the last major decisions of Benedict's papacy given his planned retirement Feb. 28, and signals what the Vatican hopes will be a revived push to clean up its reputation in international financial circles.
The Vatican passed the Council of Europe Moneyval committee's transparency test over the summer, but the IOR and the Vatican's financial watchdog agency received failing grades. The new president will be tasked with bringing the IOR into compliance by Moneyval's next review.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield