Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Eighth Deadly Sin

Alongside  wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony - the seven deadly sins - should surely be added "money". For it is now proving to be a deadly sin even in the Vatican.

News came out on Wednesday that all forms of plastic money - ATM cards, credit cards, debit cards, etc have stopped functioning in the Vatican. So if you want to visit the Sistine Chapel, you have to fork out cash for admission - cannot wave your plastic.

This has happened because the Bank of Italy (Italy's Central Bank) has suspended all electronic operations by banks inside the Vatican in exasperation at the Vatican's continued inability to follow anti money laundering and anti terrorist financing regulations. This has been going on for a long time - the Vatican does not meet the anti money laundering requirements that all countries have to meet and has not been able to set this right for years.

Part of the problem is "Ramamrithamisque". Regulations demand all sorts of KYC forms and it is quite likely that the Holy Fathers have not been rigorous enough in filling 74,432 forms - their minds being, hopefully, absorbed with higher matters. Here, my sympathies are with the Vatican.

But the other half of the problem is serious. The Vatican, as indeed many successful religious organisations are, is a huge business enterprise. In this, they must follow laws that seek to curb international crime. But they usually turn a blind eye to where their money comes from , and this is an unpardonable eighth deadly sin.

This problem is not unique to the Vatican alone. Every religious organisation, I dare speculate, would fail the test of anti money laundering. Much of their finances are murky, shady, and accounting rigour, transparency and tightness of control is conspicuous by their absence.  If you stretch the argument, is it right for the Tirupathi temple,to accept donations from every scoundrel who goes and makes an offering of a fraction of his ill gotten wealth as appeasement ?

Religious organisations have to be whiter than white. These days, they are as much business organisations as religious ones, commanding large capital and cash flows. Excuses that they are solely concerned with matters temporal, won't fly. They must meet every test of international law, as all of us are expected to. Failing which they must be blacklisted, as the Bank of Italy has tried to in a small way.

"In God we trust" cannot be an empty slogan.

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