(An exterior view of the tower of the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) in Vatican City in 2011. REUTERS/Stringer )

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

By Edward Hadas

The Vatican’s bank easily became a scandalous financial institution of world renown. Pope Francis is betting it will not be too hard for the Institute for the Works of Religion (known as the IOR, after its Italian initials) to transmogrify into a model of probity.

The IOR dates back to 1887, making it a fairly early player in the first era of financial globalisation. The Catholic Church, the original multinational, was an eager participant in that movement. Poor lands received both priests and money from rich countries, and a good bank could watch over the funds. At the time, relations with Italy were cold, so the Vatican went its own way.

Over the years, the IOR served Catholic purposes reasonably well, but it also attracted many less savoury customers, who took advantage of the ability to move money through the ill-supervised Vatican city-state. The bank’s scandals are not yet done: Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a Vatican accountant, is now awaiting trial for smuggling 20 million euros into Italy via IOR.