Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian journalist, lays bare a totally opaque system at the heart of the Holy See and the scale of entrenched resistance the Pope faces in promoting frugal and transparent management.

Its publication on Thursday and that of a second book, comes days after the Vatican arrested two members of the Pope’s financial reform commission in an investigation into stolen documents – apparently a pre-emptive strike ahead of publication.

Exposing wholesale theft of tax-free pontifical souvenirs from the Vatican that are then sold elsewhere, Mr Nuzzi’s work focuses on the resistance the commission encountered in obtaining information from Vatican departments unused to any oversight in spending or perks.

“Holy Father, … There is a complete absence of transparency in the bookkeeping both of the Holy See and the Governorate,” five international auditors warned Francis in June 2013, according to Mr Nuzzi’s book – extracts of which were published in Le Monde.

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