ROME — In one of his last official acts, Pope Benedict XVI on Friday named Ernst von Freyberg, a German aristocrat and industrialist, as the new head of the Vatican Bank, reducing the Italian presence in a secretive institution that has struggled to restore its credibility and meet international transparency norms.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that the hire was "a sign of rigor, objectivity, competence and transparency that the Holy See is committed to giving" the bank.
The appointment of a new chief came after the board had ousted the previous president for poor performance and after Italian prosecutors had spent more than two years investigating the bank on charges relating to money laundering, which the bank has denied. The bank largely manages finances for church work around the world.
Lombardi said the five cardinals on a committee that oversees the bank had used a headhunting firm based in Frankfurt, Germany, to select von Freyberg, who was trained as a lawyer and is chairman of the Hamburg-based Blohm & Voss, an industrial group known for building ships.
Von Freyberg is also a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a more than 900-year-old religious group that does charitable works.
In recent years, Benedict had been weighed down by scandals on various subjects, including the Vatican's finances, a factor that many analysts said had weighed heavily in his decision to resign.
Von Freyberg replaces Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who was ousted by the board last May. The board said he was no up to the job. An ex-head of Banco Santander in Italy, he said he was thwarted in his transparency efforts.