SINCE the beginning of the new year, tourists in Rome who want to visit the Sistine Chapel and see the papal art collections have had to put up with some unholy complications.
At the end of a tedious hike from
Saint Peter's square and often lengthy queuing alongside the Vatican's
walls, they are being told that they cannot pay with credit or debit
Those without €16 ($21) in cash for an adult ticket have to walk
ten minutes to the nearest bank with an ATM.
(Cash dispensers in Vatican
City are, incidentally, unique in providing the option of instructions
The refusal is the result not of a papal edict banning
electronic payments, but of a decision by Italy’s central bank, which
doubles as the country’s banking regulator.
Payment services in Vatican
City have been provided by the Italian arm of Deutsche Bank since 1997,
but it did so with out the necessary authorisation.
So the Bank of Italy
told it to stop processing the payments.
It even refused Deutsche’s
request for a moratorium.
The reason for central bank's tough
stance is that it has to comply with the European Union’s banking and
anti-money-laundering law. This law permits EU banks to operate in
non-EU countries only if these have adequate regulatory frameworks and
supervisory controls in place.
Brussels keeps a list of countries that
are considered to satisfy requirements, and the Vatican is not on it.
July Moneyval, an international body that assesses
anti-money-laundering systems, decided that the Vatican's was not up to
snuff—the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR), the Vatican's bank,
has yet to clean up its reputation.
The Bank of Italy says that it has been trying to make all banks
operating in Italy aware of the situation.
“Banking business conducted
by IOR cannot benefit from the simplified controls for which EU banks
are eligible,” it notes on its website.
Nobody knows how long the
Vatican’s retail business with the outside world will remain cash-only
(the interruption also affects the Holy See’s pharmacy, which is much
used by ordinary Romans).
Fortunately, pilgrims need not worry, at least
until November 21st.
This date marks the end of the Annus Fidei, the
year of faith, during which they can visit the Vatican for nothing.
no earthly power will be able to stop them: instead of cards or cash,
they just have to show a document issued by a parish or other
ecclesiastical authority attesting to their pilgrimage.