Can Pope Francis clean up the Vatican deed?
Oh dear. It was Jesus himself who advised: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon. Despite this, and on several occasions, some dealing with Vatican finances seem to have fallen under Mammon’s undeniable spell.
The last episode remains to be proven. The previous ones show Dan Brown and his Da Vinci Code for his lack of imagination as well as the sad limits of fiction.
Last Saturday, the Vatican announced that 10 people, including a cardinal, were facing charges including fraud, embezzlement, abuse of power, appropriation of funds, money laundering, self-laundering, corruption, extortion, publication of documents under cover of secrecy. , false documents, falsified internal agreements. It follows an internal investigation that has been ongoing since 2019.
The trial in the Vatican Criminal Court opens on July 27. Most of the funds go to the Vatican Secretariat of State, which is responsible for managing a wide range of assets, funded primarily from the Peter’s Pence collections of Catholics around the world.
Those charged include four former Vatican officials and Cardinal Angelo Becciu, chief of staff at the Secretariat of State from 2011 to 2018, where he treated
He was charged with embezzlement, abuse of power in complicity with others and subordination
Vatican investments. Two other Secretariat officials also face charges, as well as Italian businessmen. At the center of this scandal is a 2013 Vatican investment of 350 million euros in a property at 60 Sloane Avenue in Chelsea, London.
The building covers more than 15,794 m² of offices and shops with a neoclassical terracotta facade and an authorization for conversion into 49 luxury apartments. Last April, it emerged that the Vatican was interested in selling the property, privately, then valued at £ 200million (€ 234million).
Cardinal Becciu was also the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which oversees who is to be canonized and who is not, until last September, when he was removed from office by the Pope. Francis and stripped of all his rights and privileges as cardinal. , while retaining the title.
He was charged with embezzlement, abuse of power in complicity with others and subordination. These he vehemently denies, claiming last weekend to be the “victim of an organized plot” against him.
The Vatican also maintains that Cardinal Becciu gave € 600,000 to a charitable organization run by his brother in Sardinia, money from funds belonging to the Italian Bishops’ Conference and an additional € 225,000 from funds belonging to the Secretariat of State of Vatican.
These donations, according to the Vatican investigation, were “used for purposes other than the charitable purposes for which they were intended”. He found that a substantial portion of the funds in his brother’s charity checking account had been “misappropriated and used for non-charitable purposes,” including a loan to the cardinal’s niece to acquire property in Rome. Cardinal Becciu admitted to donating the money but insisted it was for charity, not for his brother.
In March of last year, Pope Francis enacted a new law regulating the judiciary in Vatican City State as part of his reforms regarding its economic / financial affairs and criminal law. It was also a response to the Vatican’s recent accession to various international conventions.
His remark was interpreted as an indirect reference to his dismissal of Cardinal Becciu shortly before
Last Saturday’s announcement is seen as an indication of the seriousness of the Pope’s intention with regard to such reform. When he was elected in March 2013, it was with a clear mandate to cleanse the often troubling Vatican management of its financial affairs, among other things.
In October last year, he assured the Council of Europe’s Moneyval (Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Measures) that the Vatican was in the process of to clean up his act. He told them, quoting Jesus, “you cannot serve both God and money.” At the time, his remark was interpreted as an indirect reference to his dismissal of Cardinal Becciu not long before.
Now 84, Pope Francis is expected to fully recover from a successful surgery last Sunday to treat a narrowing of his large intestine. His health, in general, is good despite the loss of part of a lung in his youth due to infection. He suffers from sciatica which sometimes causes him to limp around. But, before going to hospital for scheduled surgery last Sunday, he announced his intention to visit Hungary and Slovakia in September.
His attempts to reform the Vatican’s finances over the past eight years have not been without turmoil. In 2014, he appointed Australian Cardinal George Pell as the first head, or prefect, of the new Economic Secretariat which has authority over all Vatican economic activities.
Soon after, Cardinal Pell found “hundreds of millions of euros hidden in particular sectional accounts. [that] was not on the Vatican’s balance sheet, as he put it. He suspected nepotism and ordered an external audit of all Vatican departments.
Cardinal Becciu – still at the Secretariat of State – blocked it.
Then, in 2017, Cardinal Pell was charged with sexual abuse of minors in Australia decades earlier. He was tried in Australia and found guilty, becoming the highest official in the Catholic Church to be convicted of child sexual abuse. He served a year in prison before the Australian High Court overturned his conviction in April last year.
Allegations then began to appear in the Italian media that Cardinal Becciu had sent money to Australian bank accounts in payment for a testimony against Cardinal Pell. Cardinal Becciu vehemently denied this. The Australian who accused Cardinal Pell of sexually assaulting him also denied claims he could have been bribed.
However, upon his release from prison, the media asked Cardinal Pell if he believed the allegations against him were related to his fight against corruption at the Vatican. “I have no proof of this,” he said. But he added that “most old people in Rome who are in any way in favor of financial reform think they are.” When asked what motivates his accuser, Cardinal Pell replied, “I wonder if he was used?
If sentences are imposed on the 10 defendants in the Vatican statement last Saturday, they will be jailed in Italy with the costs covered by the Vatican, which does not have a penitentiary system. However, an exception occurred in 2012 when Pope Benedict XVI’s butler Paolo Gabriele was convicted of theft and leaking of letters and confidential documents addressed to the Pope, to the media. Some of these documents contained allegations of corruption, abuse of power and lack of financial transparency at the Vatican.
Two months later, in December 2012, he was pardoned by Pope Benedict
In October 2012, Gabriele was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but to serve in the Vatican himself for fear he would divulge further secrets. He did so in a detention room at the headquarters of the Pope’s private police, the Vatican Gendarmerie. Two months later, in December 2012, he was pardoned by Pope Benedict. Last November, he died at the age of 54 after a long illness.
This latest Vatican financial scandal pales somewhat compared to others in the recent past. These have mainly focused on the activities of the Vatican Bank, or the Institute of Works of Religion, to give it its proper name. The most infamous of these probably concerned Banco Ambrosiano, of which the Vatican Bank was the major shareholder.
It collapsed in 1982, four years after the start of the papacy of Pope John Paul II. Shortly before, its chairman, Roberto Calvi, had been found hanged at Blackfriars Bridge in London. Known as the “Banker of God” due to his ties to the Vatican, his body was found hanging from the scaffolding of the bridge with its pockets full of bricks and over € 12,000 in cash in three different currencies.
Investigations later concluded that he had been murdered. The day before Calvi’s death, his secretary Teresa Corchent committed suicide in Milan by jumping from the fourth floor of Banco Ambrosiano’s headquarters.
It later emerged that Calvi was a member of the illegal Masonic Lodge Propaganda Due (P2). The members were called frati neri or “black brothers”. This led to suggestions that Calvi was murdered at Blackfriars Bridge as a warning to others.
Calvi was close to the American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, then president of the Vatican Bank, whom he remained until 1989. Another associate of the Archbishop would be Michele Sindona, a Sicilian financier who had advised the Vatican on the movement of investments out of Italy. He was later convicted of a con artist who had Mafia connections and was jailed in 1984 for ordering the murder of a lawyer. In 1986, he died in an Italian prison after drinking coffee with cyanide added.
A priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Archbishop Marcinkus spent most of his clerical career in the Vatican, first as an English translator for Popes Saint John XXIII and Saint Paul VI. Tall at 6ft 4in and with a muscular build, Marcinkus also acted as a bodyguard for Pope St Paul VI. Known as “The Gorilla” in 1970, he saved Pope Paul VI during an assassination attempt at Manila airport in the Philippines by pouncing on a Bolivian artist who tried to stab the Pope.
Famously, Marcinkus accompanied Pope John Paul to Ireland in September 1979 when, seeing a group of nuns under the papal altar in Phoenix Park, he allegedly ordered “get these chicks out of here!” “
In 1982, he also saved the life of Pope John Paul in Fatima when he jumped on a disturbed Spanish priest who attempted to kill the Pope with a bayonet and spilled blood. The assassination attempt was denied by the Vatican at the time, but the priest was later sentenced to six years in prison, following which he was expelled from Portugal.
He vehemently denied the charges and escaped arrest by staying inside Vatican City
Following investigations after the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano in 1982, then accused of money laundering for the Mafia and the illegal Masonic Lodge P2, an Italian court in 1987 issued an arrest warrant against Marcinkus that they accused of being an accomplice in a fraudulent bankruptcy. He vehemently denied the charges and escaped arrest by remaining inside Vatican City until the warrant was rejected in 1991, after which he returned to the United States.
In America, he was deputy pastor in Sun City, Arizona until his death at the age of 84 in 2006. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1990 film The Godfather Part III stars Irish actor Donal Donnelly as Archbishop Gilday, a character based on Marcinkus.