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Pope Francis cracks down on sainthood slush funds

Pope Francis is imposing tighter regulations on millions of dollars deposited in the Vatican bank to fund campaigns for sainthood after two blockbuster books alleged the accounts had become slush funds that lacked financial controls and accountability.

According to the Associated Press, one of the books alleged that the average cost for a beatification set boosters back a half-million dollars.

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This reform is just the latest effort by the Catholic Church leader to right the church's finances and improve the reputation of the Vatican bank, which prosecutors have historically linked to money laundering.

In the early 1980s, it was implicated in the spectacular collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano, Italy's second-largest bank. The Vatican bank ended up paying out $224 million to Banco Ambrosiano's creditors to settle claims brought by other banks that lost money when the lender failed.

In 2012, the U.S. State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy listed the Vatican bank among the jurisdictions around the world that are most vulnerable to money laundering. That same year, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, then the Vatican bank's president, was terminated for incompetence.

Sister Kate Kuenstler, a canonical lawyer affiliated with The Poor Handmaidens of Jesus Christ, an order of nuns committed to serving the poor, welcomed what she told CBS MoneyWatch was "the additional transparency" she expects to come with the Pope's shakeup of the murky sainthood process.

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"We don't just want rich people to be able to promote their candidates for sainthood," Kuenstler said. "We have two candidates for sainthood from our religious community, but pursuing it has been cost-prohibitive, especially with our commitment to serve the poor and powerless."

The order, now headquartered in Indiana, traces its roots to 19th century Germany and was founded by Sister Catherine Kasper, who was elevated to "blessed" by the Catholic Church. A second member of the order, Sister Aloysia Lowenfels, was executed by the Nazi's at Auschwitz and is considered a martyr by the order.

"There are real costs involved, like the forensic work to confirm the miracles and all of the translations of the accounts of people that are interviewed to build the case for sainthood," said Kuenstler. "Maybe Pope Francis can bring the costs down through this new accountability."

"The Roman Curia has long been plagued with financial fiefdoms," said Jason Berry, a journalist and Vatican expert who wrote "Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church."

"Pope Francis moved swiftly to halt financial abuses that came to light because of leaks from his inner circle to two Italian journalists," Berry said. "Ironically, the pope has used a Vatican prosecution against two former staffers accused of leaking. But his zeal for reform is serious."

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