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updated: 1/13/2013 7:13 AM

It's 'cash only' now for tourists at the Vatican

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  • Pope Benedict XVI delivers his speech during an audience with foreign ambassadors to the Holy See, at the Vatican, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.

      Pope Benedict XVI delivers his speech during an audience with foreign ambassadors to the Holy See, at the Vatican, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

VATICAN CITY -- It's "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 had provided the Vatican with electronic payment services, said Thursday that the Bank of Italy had pulled its authorization after Dec. 31.

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The Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that 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 authorized 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 like the Sistine Chapel. The Holy See had no immediate comment on the Bank of Italy's reported reasons.

Tourists in the long lines Thursday that snaked around Vatican City walls were not happy about the inconvenience.

"It's certainly a disadvantage," said Giuseppe Amoruso, an Italian. "Credit cards provide a useful service, which needs to be accessible to everybody, everywhere."

"A lot of tourists don't have cash on them, so they have to get euros and don't know where to get them," said Fluger William Hunter, an American tourist.

The central bank said a routine inspection found that Deutsche Bank Italia hadn't sought authorization 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, didn't meet Italy's more stringent criteria of recent years, a central bank official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because there was no official statement on the case.

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.

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