VATICAN CITY — In one of his last efforts to clean up the image of the Vatican bank, Pope Benedict XVI approved the hiring of the chairman of a German shipyard as the bank's new president.
Ernst von Freyberg, 54, fills a nine-month-long vacancy at the helm of the bank after its former president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was ousted in May for incompetence.
The commission of cardinals for the Vatican bank, formally called the Institute for the Works of Religion, announced the appointment Feb. 15 in a six-month-long hiring process that included the help of an independent head-hunting agency.
"The Holy Father has closely followed the entire selection process … and he has expressed his full consent to the choice made by the commission of cardinals," the Vatican said in a written statement.
Von Freyberg is chairman of Blohm+Voss Group, a Hamburg-based shipbuilding company that builds and repairs yachts and ocean liners and is part of a consortium that builds warships for the German navy.
Responding to journalists' inquiries about whether the company's activities conflicted with Catholic values, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said working in the shipbuilding industry does not disqualify a competent candidate, especially when the businessman is heavily involved with charity and "has a notable human, Christian sensibility."
Von Freyberg is an active member of the Knights of Malta, a lay Catholic religious order and a worldwide humanitarian network offering free medical care and other services. He is also a co-leader of an association for the Archdiocese of Berlin that organizes pilgrimages to Lourdes.
He is the founder and member of a foundation that supports an elementary school in Frankfurt and Catholic organizations in France, Germany and Austria, and provides student scholarships.
The German lawyer worked at the New-York-based investment company Three Cities Research from 1988 to 1991 and was the founder and CEO of Daiwa Corporate Advisory, a European-based corporate finance consultancy firm, until 2012.
He is a member of the supervisory boards of Flossbach & von Storch, a German financial management company, and a member of the advisory board of the temporary work agency, Manpower, in Germany. However, he will step down from these positions in the coming weeks, Fr. Lombardi said.
He said the presidency "is not a full-time position," but von Freyberg "will work exclusively for the IOR" and remain chairman of Blohm+Voss.
The bank's president is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the bank and is usually present "in situ" only three days a week, Fr. Lombardi said.
The bank's commission of cardinals and its lay board of supervisors were presented with about 40 potential candidates, Fr. Lombardi said.
The choices were eventually narrowed down to six candidates who had face-to-face interviews with the board, which then picked three candidates who had follow-up interviews with the commission of cardinals.
The commission made its final decision Feb. 14 and presented it to the board, which agreed that same morning, Fr. Lombardi said.
The pope was informed about the chosen candidate and he gave his "consensus" Feb. 15, the spokesman said, adding that the pope "was familiar with the von Freyberg family."
The position of Vatican bank president, however, "is not a papal appointment, but is appointed by the commission of cardinals," the spokesman said.
"This painstaking and detailed process lasted for some months, making it possible to assess a number of candidates of professional and moral excellence, with assistance from an independent international agency that is a leader in the selection of top executives," the written Vatican statement said.
The bank's cardinal commission, whose president is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was made up of Cardinals Attilio Nicora and Jean-Louis Tauran, both at the Vatican, and Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, India, and Odilo Pedro Scherer of Sao Paulo. The pope renewed each of the cardinals' mandates Feb. 16 for another five years, except for Cardinal Nicora. The 75-year-old Italian cardinal was replaced by Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, who is president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.
The board of supervisors includes Carl A. Anderson, head of the U.S.-based Knights of Columbus, and three other laymen.
Anderson praised the selection of von Freyberg, saying he "was an excellent choice for this job. His resume is impressive as are his many years of service to the charitable initiatives of the church."
"As president, he will contribute significantly to the IOR's ongoing work of modernization and transparency," and with him "the leadership of the IOR will be in very good hands," he told Catholic News Service in an email.
The Vatican bank has been working to revamp a marred image of secrecy and scandal with greater transparency.
Pope Benedict started implementing changes in 2010 to better monitor all of the Vatican's financial operations and make sure they reflect the latest European Union regulations and other international norms against money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.