Money Wars At the Vatican. With the Pope Among the Belligerents
During the same days in which Pope Francis is in Thailand and Japan to preach peace, at the Vatican there is a war of all against all, on questions of money.
Before departing, the pope had announced two key appointments. The one and the other, however, anything but pacifying.
The first appointment, made public on November 14, is that of the new prefect of the secretariat for the economy, in the person of the Spanish Jesuit Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, with a background as treasurer in the Society of Jesus.
The position of prefect had in fact been vacant since Cardinal George Pell, its previous officeholder, had left Rome for Australia, hammered with accusations of sexual abuse for which he is now in prison, but which the supreme court has recently decided to take under reexamination, seeing their doubtful reliability.
It must however be noted that the powers of the secretariat for the economy, which were very strong at the time of its foundation in 2014, had already been gutted by Pope Francis well before Pell left Rome, to the great satisfaction above all of the secretariat of state and of the APSA, Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, the one and the other intolerant of any supervision and external control of their respective financial operations.
It is not known, therefore, what actual powers the new prefect will have. There is skepticism even among the most ardent supporters of pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio. One of them, the Jesuit Thomas Reese, has written that “in order to succeed, Guerrero will need four things, which the pope will probably not give him.”
The second key appointment, announced on November 18, is that of the new president of the AIF, Financial Information Authority, the institute that oversees the correctness of Vatican financial operations, with respect to the international norms and in contact with the “intelligences” of numerous other states.
In making the announcement, the Vatican press office cautioned that the new president has already been designated but his name will be made public only after the pope returns from Japan.
But what about the outgoing president, the Swiss René Brüelhart, in office for five years? The Vatican statement of November 18 says that he had come to “the expiration of his mandate.” But that same day, Brüelhart told Reuters that his role did not have any temporal expiration at all, and that he had been the one to resign.
Not only that. With him there also resigned one of the four members of the board of directors, the Swiss Marc Odendall, who told the Associated Press that as of October 1 the AIF has now been reduced to “an empty shell.”
October 1 is the day on which, on orders from the tribunal of the Holy See, the Vatican gendarmerie under the command of Domenico Giani made a surprise search of the offices of the AIF and of the secretariat of state to confiscate documents, computers, and telephones. And the next day, five Vatican officials were suspended from service, including Tommaso Di Ruzza, director of the AIF.
The result was that the Egmont Group – the network of financial “intelligences” of 164 states, including the Holy See, that with the confidential exchange of information combat money laundering and other financial crimes – excluded the AIF from this circuit, not tolerating that confidential information in its possession, originating from other states, might fall into the hands of the Vatican gendarmerie or others, as took place with that search.
Over the following days, the AIF released a statement to reiterate the correctness of its operations, and in particular of its director, Di Ruzza. Meanwhile, however, the judicial investigation opened by the Vatican magistracy moved forward.
What started this investigation – as made known by a Vatican statement of October 1 – were the “charges made at the beginning of last summer by the Institute for the Works of Religion and by the Office of the Auditor General, concerning financial operations carried out over time.”
There has already been one victim of these charges, and it is the AIF, reduced indeed to “an empty shell” and mutilated of its key men.
But under fire is above all the secretariat of state, the main target of the charges of the IOR.
THE POPE’S BANK
In the IOR, Pope Francis has two men under strict obedience to him, in two crucial rules, both of them placed there personally by him: director general Gian Franco Mammì, former head of client relations for the Vatican “bank” in Latin America and close to Bergoglio since then, and the “prelate” Battista Ricca, a former career diplomat called back to Rome on account of his homosexual excesses but publicly absolved by Pope Francis at the beginning of his pontificate with the famous phrase: “Who am I to judge?”
It is unthinkable, therefore, that the charges of the IOR were made, in the summer, without the pope’s assent.
But what are the”financial operations” that have ended up under investigation, not specified in the Vatican statement of October 1?
It is well known by now that among these operations the main one concerns the purchase, on the part of the secretariat of state, of a large building in a prestigious neighborhood in London, at no. 60 Sloane Avenue. A very extravagant purchase carried out through convoluted means of dubious integrity by the first section of the secretariat, the one directed by the “substitute,” who until a year ago was Giovanni Angelo Becciu, now a cardinal, while currently it is the Venezuelan Edgar Peña Parra. In November 2015 Cardinal Pell, at the time still in Rome, made known to Becciu his complete opposition to the operation, but this was not even taken into consideration.
To close the deal, at the beginning of 2019, Becciu’s successor as head of the first section of the secretariat of state asked the IOR for another large amount. And it was there that the disagreement broke out that led to the blitz of the gendarmerie on October 1. The IOR not only refused to furnish this sum, but it judged the entire operation as improper, on which it filed charges with the Vatican tribunal, also involving the AIF, accused of neglectful oversight.
CLASH AT THE TOP OF THE SECRETARIAT OF STATE
But more than Peña Parra, the one who ended up in the eye of the hurricane was Becciu, under whose authority and at whose prompting the main part of the London operation developed. It is no coincidence that among the officials suspended from service on October 2 was also Monsignor Mauro Carlino, head of the information office of the secretariat of state and previously secretary to Becciu.
Becciu immediately and forcefully defended, in various public statements, the propriety of his operations. Bt on October 30 cardinal secretary of state Pietro Parolin, who until then had kept himself out of the fray, also took the field against him, calling “opaque” the operation to purchase that building and leaving to the Vatican magistrates the task of bringing clarity.
Becciu’s reaction was immediate and furious. “There was nothing opaque,” he said, and these accusations are only “mudslinging against my person.” Meanwhile, however, another intricate Vatican operation came to the attention of the media, this one also attributed primarily to him: the purchase by the secretariat of state of a substantial share in a specialized hospital in Rome, the Dermatopathic Institute of the Immaculate, IDI, owned by a religious order and ultimately bankrupt.
For this purchase Becciu had asked in 2015 for a large loan from the IOR, which had refused to give it to him in the conviction that the loan would never be repaid. And Cardinal Pell had also said he was against it.
Becciu then switched the request for money to the APSA, at the time headed by a cardinal who had entered into the good graces of Pope Francis, Domenico Calcagno. And this time the money came. But with a subsequent precautionary move. To protect itself from the foreseeable failure to repay the loan, the APSA asked for a donation of 25 million dollars from the Papal Foundation in the United States. And to overcome the foundation’s reluctance over the expenditure two cardinals swung into action, Donald Wuerl and Theodore McCarrick, this latter still going strong at the time. In 2017, the foundation released 13 million dollars, and at the beginning of 2019 it got this sum turned from a donation into a loan, to be repaid.
When these events occurred, it was common knowledge at the Vatican that Becciu played a leading role in the matter, at least as long as he held the office of “substitute” at the secretariat of state, that is until June 29, 2018.
Today, however, Becciu denies that he was the one who managed the purchase of the IDI. And a few days ago, all of a sudden, Cardinal Parolin also came to his aid.
Questioned on November 20 by the US-based Catholic News Agency, the cardinal secretary of state claimed that he was the one who had conducted the operation of the purchase of the IDI, with the involvement of the APSA and of the Papal Foundation.
Parolin denied that there had been a “curial plot” to blame the deal on Becciu and muddy his reputation. And in any case he kept himself out of it: “I am completely extraneous to any operation of the kind: if there were such an operation I would condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
Above all he took pains to emphasize that the purchase of the IDI was “carried out with fair intentions and honest means.”
To an outside observer it is not clear how much is true or put on in this role play between the cardinal secretary of state in office and the one who from 2013 to 2018 was his “substitute.”
There remains the fact that the purchase made by the secretariat of state through the APSA of a substantial share in the IDI seems to violate the European banking laws agreed on in 2012 and kept under observation by Moneyval, which prohibit the APSA, as the Vatican central bank, from making loans to individuals and from taking part in commercial transactions.
ARREST WARRANT FOR THE ASSESSOR OF THE APSA
But that’s not all. Because on his return from Rome Francis will find himself facing a question that for him is even more pressing, which also has to do with the APSA but more properly with the man who two years ago was placed by the pope in the brand-new role of “assessor,” Argentine bishop Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta (in the photo).
Zanchetta has been a friend and spiritual son of Bergoglio since this latter was archbishop of Buenos Aires and he himself was undersecretary of the Argentine episcopal conference. After becoming pope, Bergoglio immediately promoted him as bishop of Orán, from which however Zanchetta resigned for unspecified “health reasons” in 2017. And in December of that same year the pope called him to the Vatican at the APSA, as none other than “assessor,” in spite of the fact that he had no proficiency in administrative matters. The reason for this appointment, in fact, was entirely different. It was to shelter his friend from the consequences of substantiated accusations of his sexual offenses against his seminarians, forwarded to Rome beginning in 2015 by churchmen from the diocese of Orán.
There followed the opening of a double proceeding against him, canonical and civil. About the former there has been no news. But the second is in full swing in Argentina, and on November 21 it arrived at the request for an international arrest warrant for Zanchetta, who is still domiciled in Vatican City State, in the residence of Santa Marta.
The request for the arrest warrant was forwarded to the adjudicatory tribunal of Orán by public minister Maria Soledad Filtrin Cuezzo, criminal prosecutor of the office on gender violence and on crimes against sexual integrity.
But it will not need to be put into effect, because on the evening of Saturday, November 23 Zanchetta’s canonical defender, Javier Belda Iniesta, announced that the defendant – who continues to proclaim his innocence – “on the afternoon of Monday November 25 will get on a plane and land at the Salta airport on the morning of November 26.”Condividi:
- 25 novembre 2019