Can the Pope End Corruption?
I’m shocked. Corruption in the Vatican?
The most opaque of institutions now heralds a new era of transparency. Watch out for bishops and cardinals. Your finances are going to be subjected to an inspection and terrible things can happen if you accept a gift worth more than € 40 (around $ 48).
The Pope’s understandable anger
Clearly, Pope Francis has had enough of the financial mysteries that swirl through the sacred halls of the Holy See.
His anger is not so much addressed to sins through the centuries, of which – in terms of illicit species – there have been too many to count.
His anger is directed at the seemingly unstoppable flow of financial embarrassment who had a bad habit of emerging during his eight-year tenure at the Vatican.
The papal decree, known as the “motu proprio”, prohibits members of the Roman Catholic clergy and those who work for them from practices such as running secret offshore holding companies in tax havens, entering into mysterious real estate transactions. multi-million dollar and hiding financial assets.
The decree includes new regulations on public procurement. It claims to bring the Vatican into conformity with the standards and norms embodied in the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
The spark that ultimately pushed the Pope to root out corruption was the alleged curious involvement of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, an Italian prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, in a $ 200 million Vatican investment in a London property.
The cardinal, once one of the Vatican’s most powerful officials, has now lost his influence, even his title.
Can anyone stop this?
Investigations of one kind or another have been going on for years in the Vatican. The Vatican Bank was allegedly involved in money laundering.
Its senior management has been replaced and international forensic auditors have been hired. They reported widespread mismanagement.
The Pope, however, in announcing his new decree, avoided any mention of any suspected cardinals or bishops.
Corruption is too deep
If I seem somewhat skeptical of the impact that the Pope’s new measures are likely to have, there is a good reason for it. Too many people close to Vatican officials hold too many secrets.
And they have too many connections beyond the Holy See to allow the dawn of meaningful transparency. It has always been like this.
When I arrived in Washington DC as a journalist in early 1974, it was around the time the Richard Nixon Watergate scandal had reached its peak. I was intrigued by the question of who owned the Watergate.
The sprawling office, apartment and hotel complex on the banks of the Potomac River was built by a large Italian construction company, Societa Generale Immobiliare (SGI).
The man with ties to SGI funding was apparently Michele Sindona, then the head of Franklin National Bank in New York, the 20th largest bank in the United States. Sindona wouldn’t tell me anything about her dealings with SGI or Watergate.
Franklin National Bank declared bankruptcy in October 1974. Later it emerged that some of its transactions were with the Italian Mafia and with Banco Ambrosiano of Milan, who in turn had close ties to the Vatican.
Sindona and Calvi
Sindona died in an Italian prison in 1986. It was never clear if he had committed suicide or if he had been poisoned. His former close friend, Roberto Calvi, former chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, was found hanged in June 1984 at London’s Blackfriars Bridge.
Calvi was closely associated with the Institute of Works of Religion, better known as the Vatican Bank. This institution was also the main shareholder of Banco Ambrosiano.
As journalist Rupert Cornwell wrote in his 1984 book “God’s Banker,” Calvi’s ties to many cardinals ran very deep.
The link with Italian politics
Banco Ambrosiano also had close ties to prominent Italian politicians, who also had close ties with the Vatican.
The sordid corruption that implicated them all was at the heart of major corruption investigations launched by Milan prosecutors who have brought prominent businessmen and political leaders to justice.
The full role of the Vatican in international relations with people like Sindona and Calvi has never been disclosed.
The concealment operation
This brings us back to the news. In 2018, the Vatican accused Gianluigi Torzi, who had worked in the offices of the Vatican Secretary of State, of being behind an alleged fraud that used Vatican money to buy property in Chelsea. in London.
Under pressure from the Vatican, Torzi’s British bank accounts were frozen for some time until a British judge, Tony Baumgartner, overturned a lower court ruling. Judge Baumgartner said there had been appalling non-disclosure and misrepresentation by the Vatican.
Once again, as so often in the past, the Vatican preferred to keep its financial secrets to itself rather than reveal them in court. It is a long tradition and one that Pope Francis is now seeking to end.