If there is one thing more annoying than standing in line for hours for the Sistine Chapel, it is standing in line for hours only to be told that the marvels of Michelangelo are off limits unless you have cash in your wallet.
Tourists flocking to the Vatican City since New Year’s Day found that they had to pay for all purchases by cash or check after electronic transactions were suspended following concerns over the city-state’s compliance with international banking regulations.
The move affected its shops and post office, and, most significantly, its museums — home to the Sistine Chapel and other masterpieces.
A notice on the museums’ Web site apologized for any inconvenience caused by the problem, which it blamed on “reasons beyond [its] control.”
It is understood that Deutsche Bank Italia (DBI), which has handled bank card payments on Vatican soil until now, was refused authorization by the Bank of Italy (BoI) to continue its activities due to concerns over the city state’s status concerning international banking regulations.
A source at the BoI, who did not want to be named, said it had been decided last month that no Italian-registered bank should be granted permission to work on Vatican territory because of its failure to meet certain “preconditions” concerning, among other things, efforts to crack down on money laundering.
Electronic payments will be suspended until the Vatican finds a bank to replace DBI — a task the Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said was already under way.
He declined to comment on the reported cause of the suspension, saying only that he expected it to be “brief.”
In recent years the Vatican has shown a desire to open up its finances and rectify anomalies, both practically — by modifying laws in order to comply with international standards on financial crime — and symbolically— by allowing journalists into the highly secretive Vatican bank.
Progress has not been straightforward. In March last year, while the Vatican was declaring its ambition to get on the EU’s hallowed money-laundering “white list,” the US Department of State added it to another, less gratifying one, saying it was “vulnerable” and “of concern.”