HSBC has been reviewing the accounts of some of its dodgier London-based clients. This follows on from some rough handling by US authorities, who have fined it heavily for carelessness in monitoring money flows through US and Mexican based accounts.
As a result, HSBC has told the London Embassies and Consulates of forty countries to take their banking business elsewhere. Not all the names seem to be in the public domain yet, and the British media are unlikely to pursue the story, but three unwanted countries have already been identified: Benin, Papua New Guinea - and the Vatican. Yes, the Papal Nuncio to the Court of St. James has been told to take his money and clear off. I am sure this will be done with much gathering up of Nuncial skirts.
But it's a fairly obvious account to not want to have. The Vatican's Bank in Rome - the so-called "Institute of Religious Works" is as dodgy as they come, under heavy pressure right now from international regulatory authorities to clean up its act. Basically, it's a bank of choice for criminals - including criminal priests. Cleaning it up is easier said than done - throw out the bathwater and you may discover there never was a baby. This is what the regulators suspect. As a result, all Vatican accounts come under suspicion.
In contrast to HSBC, British politicians of all parties can't get enough of the Vatican. Prime Minister Tony Blair cosied up to Pope Benedict and begged him to come to Britain. Blair's hapless successor, Gordon Brown, renewed the invitation. Eventually, under David Cameron, Pope Benedict arrived. Politicians - without exception - behaved as if it was the second coming. The Catholic news media - the BBC, The Guardian, The Times, followed by all the rest - worked round the clock to hype the visit. The entire Establishment toadied to Pope Benedict.
The worst of it was the insult to the Republic of Ireland such behaviour implied. There was our near neighbour, its government and people, in the middle of such a bitter struggle to hold the Roman Catholic Church to account for its crimes that Pope Benedict could not have set foot in that country. And there were we treating him like some supernatural celebrity when all we were getting was a reactionary Professor and former member of the Hitler Youth who had no intention or no ability to clean up the Vatican stables.
Well Done, HSBC! But I fear we won't hear very much more of this story.