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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis has approved new statutes for the Vatican Bank, making an external audit obligatory and introducing other changes to bolster reforms that have turned around the once scandal-ridden institution.

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FILE PHOTO: New recruits of the Vatican's elite Swiss Guard march in front of the tower of the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) during the swearing-in ceremony at the Vatican May 6, 2014. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

The statutes, approved in a papal document released by the Vatican on Saturday, cap more than six years of changes at the bank since Francis was elected in 2013, since when he has made reform of the bank one of his priorities.

The bank had been caught in previous years in cases of corruption, tax evasion, embezzlement, money laundering and real estate fraud, some involving top officials and prelates, damaging the Vatican’s ethical credentials.

Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican’s editorial director, called the new rules “an important step in the process of adhering to the best international standards.”

Soon after his election, Francis considered closing the bank, formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), but decided to continue reforms launched by his predecessor Pope Benedict.

The new statutes make an external audit mandatory. While this has taken place in the past few years, the previous statutes, issued in 1990 by Pope John Paul, called for internal audits.

The new rules ban bank employees, nearly all of whom are non-clerics, from holding consultancies or other roles with outside institutions.

FINANCIAL SCANDALS

The number of members of the lay board of supervisors, which is made up of internationally known outside financial experts, is increased to seven from five.

This will effectively strengthen the role of the lay board and weaken

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