Opinion: In Pope Francis’ Vatican, suspected financial misconduct is now a deadly sin
Michael W. Higgins is acting president of St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi Colleges, Principal Investigator at Massey College and author of The Church Needs the Laity: The Wisdom of John Henry Newman.
It’s been a decade of surprises at the top of the Vatican: a pope has resigned, a butler has been jailed (then pardoned), cardinals have been fired, and a powerful dollop of internal restructuring has been applied, putting teeth on edge. of skin. and booming careers.
Welcome to the world of the Pontificate Francis. There have been firsts on several fronts: women appointed to higher levels of Vatican governance, new legislation enacted to hold high-ranking prelates accountable for faulty leadership in cases of sexual abuse (over free exit for bishops) and unprecedented modeling at the highest level of the Church. level, with Pope Francis living in modest excavations, avoiding the perks of office and thinking nothing to break with conventions.
But the biggest challenge is not yet the reform of the offices of the Vatican Curia; despite strong resistance, the reform is proceeding and remains focused. What Pope Francis has yet to master are the Byzantine complexities of Vatican finances.
The last month brought another first, in this regard. Cardinal Angelo Becciu – the former Chief of Staff (or sostituto) at the Vatican Secretariat of State – was tried in the Vatican before a panel of secular and non-religious judges to face several allegations of financial corruption. The charges relate specifically to a real estate investment in the London Borough of Chelsea involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Many officials were involved in the shady deal; the Sardinian cardinal, however, is the most prominent of them, and he fiercely protested his innocence, insisting on attending the trial in person when most of the other defendants chose to be tried in absentia. The trial lasted only one day, to be adjourned until October 5 at the request of the defense.
This is not the first time that the Vatican bishops have been accused of financial scheming. Indeed, many lower-ranking clergy, My lord, have even been convicted and imprisoned in the past, especially as part of the methodical purge of the venality of Pope Francis to the Holy See. But bishops – and cardinals in particular – have never been the subject of a public trial over issues of financial mismanagement. And while the charges have yet to be proven in court, it should be noted that Cardinal Becciu – a veteran Vatican official who has professed strong allegiance to Pope Francis – has been removed from office by his boss.
What is perhaps most surprising is the simple fact that a cardinal is indicted by the Vatican itself. Cardinals have recently been indicted in other jurisdictions, including George Pell in Australia (who was jailed and then acquitted) and Theodore McCarrick in the United States (who was stripped of his clerical status by Pope Francis and recently sentenced to the jail). A fully transparent internal trial of a cardinal for alleged complicity in financial wrongdoing is a surprising innovation.
Of course, there were rumblings and purges before Pope Francis. In 1987, I spoke to Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, director of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (the Vatican Bank), who was furious that the then Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Throws it under the bus because of the aftershocks of the 1982 collapse of the Milan-based Banco Ambrosiano, which cost the Vatican a small fortune. At one point Archbishop Marcinkus remarked, âThey wouldn’t treat an altar boy that way. It was not an ideal analogy.
At the end of our interview, he mentioned that he was going to play golf with comic book legend Bob Hope, then a 90-year-old convert and friend of his. When I asked how he could leave Vatican sovereignty while he was subpoenaed by Italian authorities, he said that Bob would come and pick him up by helicopter and the Carabinieri would signal him from the Palazzo di San Pietro. There isn’t much more Felliniesque than that.
Archbishop Marcinkus, a Lithuanian-American avuncularist from Chicago, was never charged and eventually retired to Arizona, where he died in 2006. He was convinced his enemies in the Curia had killed him. , had made them a scapegoat for their mismanagement of the budget and had little time for American-style reform.
Previous popes struggled with the Vatican’s financial frenzy, including Paul VI and John Paul II (as well as John Paul I, although he barely survived a month). But the man Vatican commentator Robert Mickens calls the “iron pope” might be the one who actually brought the monster to heel.
When Francis became Archbishop of Buenos Aires, personal austerity and economic probity defined his leadership. Now, as the bishop of Rome, we see the same thing. And whether he is found guilty or exonerated, the trial of Cardinal Becciu is sure to be a game-changer.
Keep your opinions sharp and informed. Receive the Opinion newsletter. register today.