'Cash only' for Vatican visitors
It is "cash only" now for tourists at the Vatican wanting to pay for museum tickets, souvenirs and other services after Italy's central bank decided to block electronic payments, including credit cards, at the tiny city-state.
Deutsche Bank Italia, which for some 15 years provided the Vatican with electronic payment services, said today that the Bank of Italy had pulled its authorisation since Monday.
The Italian central bank took the action because the Holy See has not yet fully complied with European Union safeguards against money laundering. That means Italian banks are not authorised to operate within the Vatican, which is in the process of improving its mechanisms to combat laundering.
The Vatican says it is scrambling to solve the problem for thousands of visitors who flock to its very popular Vatican Museums, which include highlights such as the Sistine Chapel. Tourists in the long queues that snaked around the Vatican City walls today were not happy about the inconvenience.
Italian Giuseppe Amoruso said: "It's certainly a disadvantage. Credit cards provide a useful service, which needs to be accessible to everybody, everywhere."
American tourist Fluger William Hunter said: "A lot of tourists don't have cash on them, so they have to get euros and don't know where to get them."
The central bank said a routine inspection found that Deutsche Bank Italia had not sought authorisation when it first started providing services at the Vatican. When it finally did, the Bank of Italy turned it down because the Vatican's banking norms, including measures to combat money laundering, did not meet Italy's more stringent criteria of recent years.
The Vatican has been striving to upgrade its measures to detect and discourage money laundering, hiring a Swiss expert just a few months ago.
Last summer, the Holy See passed a key European financial transparency test but received failing grades for its financial watchdog agency and its bank, formally called the Institute for Religious Works.
The museums, with their entrance fees and popular souvenir shops, are a big money-maker for the Vatican. Other Vatican attractions, such as tours of the Vatican's ancient underground spaces, also charge admission.