Vatican financial scandal: Will Pope Francis be an agent of reform?

pope, francis, vatican
This handout picture released by the Press office shows Pope Francis waving to the crowd at St Peter's square during his first Angelus prayer at the Vatican on March 17, 2013.

(CBS News) One of the many challenges Pope Francis will face as the new, 266th leader of the Roman Catholic Church is getting the Vatican's financial house in order.

The Vatican is more than the world's largest religious institution, it's a business -- a business in trouble. There are back-room financial scandals at Vatican Inc.

In an old stone tower behind the papal apartment is the Vatican Bank. The church's various departments, its priests and employees keep accounts here. These are secret accounts, hidden from the prying eyes of international regulators. An Italian court investigating the bank found documents showing some accounts had been used for money-laundering and other illegal -- and for the church, highly embarrassing -- activities.

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Vatican watchers like Marco Politi have studied the court documents that verified the bank's transactions have not always been kosher. Politi said, "There was money of the mafia who was recycled through the channels of the Vatican Bank and also bribe money to political parties in Italy went through the Vatican Bank."

With dark financial clouds hanging over the Vatican, the European Union insisted the bank open its accounts to public scrutiny. When it was too slow, tourists felt the pinch. When European bankers suspended the Vatican's credit card facilities, visitors couldn't use plastic to buy Sistine Chapel tickets.

Thirty-million dollars of Vatican money in Italian banks was seized, and only released when the church promised to reform.

Now, Swiss lawyer Rene Bruelhart, who helped clean up other secretive European banks, has been brought in.

But still, the bank keeps many of its dealings private, and not just from outsiders. South African cardinal Wilfred Napier, who sits on a committee that's supposed to sign-off on the Vatican's books, told CBS News he still can't get the information he needs. Napier said, "I am one of those 15 cardinals that sits on that committee and we sign our name to the report. I want to know that I am signing something that is actually reflecting the truth."

Former Pope Benedict even issued a papal edict to try to get the Vatican bank to modernize. But the still-secretive bank remains one of the major issues waiting for the next pope.

For Mark Phillips' full report, watch the video above.