“For parts of the Vatican establishment, Pope Francis is seen as an intruder. It is eaiser for him to reconcile the United States and Cuba than to reform the smallest state in the world.” – Henry Samuel
The Vatican is a financial “black hole” in which millions of euros are lost in waste and mismanagement, donations for the poor end up funding the lifestyles of greedy monsignors, and defenders of the status quo will stop at nothing—even theft and intimidation—to thwart Pope Francis’ financial reform drive, a new book reveals.
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.
It cites one recording of the Pope himself in a secret 2013 meeting warning: “A large part of our costs is out of control.”
“We won’t pay”, he adds, referring to contracts signed without the slightest tender or quote.
The book cites a memo listing the commission’s six priorities, starting with getting a handle on the Vatican’s vast real estate holdings. Mr Nuzzi cites one report concluding that the value of the real estate is €2.7 billion (£1.9 billion)—seven times higher than the amount figuring in the balance sheets. No detailed inventory exists of the estimated 5,000 buildings the Holy See owns in Rome.
It details free apartments for cardinals and bureaucrats as part of their overall compensation or retirement packages and rents of palatial lodgings up to 100 percent below market rates. The preferential treatment was losing the Vatican almost €20 million per year, it said.
Unhappy with his already regal lodgings, Mr Sciacca seized on the hospitalisation of a neighbour, an elderly priest, to break through a wall separating their residences and appropriate the extra room, furniture and all, Mr Nuzzi recounts.
The elderly prelate eventually came home to find the door to the former room walled up and his possessions in boxes. He died a short time later, the book says. Francis, who lives in a modest hotel room, summarily demoted Sciacca, forcing him to move out, it says.
The commission’s second priority was to clarify management of bank accounts for the Vatican’s “postulators,” the officials who consider candidates for sainthood. When it transpired that there was no documentation on the postulators’ funding or bank accounts, the commission had their accounts frozen at the Vatican bank, Mr Nuzzi said.
As a result of such waste and opacity, some 80 per cent of donations by churches worldwide to help the poor, the so-called Peter’s Pence, ended up plugging the Holy See’s financial deficit, the book says.
With some clearly unhappy with the commission’s prying eyes, Mr Nuzzi recounts a “professional” break-in at its offices in March 2014 in which specific documents were stolen in what appeared to be an inside job.
In another book out this week, Avarice, by Emiliano Fittipaldi, La Repubblica Vatican reporter, cites independent auditors who found that a foundation supporting a pediatric hospital in Rome paid €200,000 towards renovating the sprawling apartment of Tarcisio Bertone, the former Vatican secretary-of-state.
It also alleges that €378,000 donated in 2013 by churches worldwide to help the poor wound up in an off-the-books account previously used to pay Vatican department expenses.
The Vatican described the revelations as the “fruit of a grave betrayal of the trust given by the pope, and, as far as the authors go, of an operation to take advantage of a gravely illicit act of handing over confidential documentation.”
“Publications of this nature do not help in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather generate confusion and partial and tendentious conclusions,” it said.
The arrests and books mark the latest phase in the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal. It began in 2012 with an earlier Nuzzi expose, which saw Pope Benedict XVI’s butler convicted on charges he supplied the author with stolen documents.
In this case, two members of the audit commission—Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, a high-ranking Vatican official affiliated with the Opus Dei movement, and Francesca Chaouqui, an Italian public relations executive—are now accused in the leaks probe.
Ms Chaouqui was quoted by Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Stampa on Tuesday as saying she had nothing to do with the leaks and that she had tried to prevent Vallejo Balda from revealing Vatican secrets.
Mr Nuzzi declined to name his sources in an interview with Le Monde, but said: “The people who helped me also want certain things to be known because they can no longer do their work inside the Church.”
He added that for parts of the Vatican establishment, Pope Francis is seen as an “intruder”.
“It is easier for him to reconcile the United States and Cuba than to reform the smallest state in the world.” – The Telegraph, 3 November 2015