Scandal and reform in Rome; the 'Francis effect'; papal simplicity; and more
John L. Allen Jr. | Jul. 5, 2013
There's something oddly fitting about the fact that Wimbledon is going on at the same time that each day seems to bring a fresh development on the Vatican bank front because contrasting signs of scandal and reform are rocketing back and forth in Rome like tennis balls during a heated volley.
Consider what June and early July have brought:
- News broke June 14 that Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, an accountant for the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which handles the Vatican's property and investments, was under investigation by Italian authorities for alleged money-laundering. The probe reportedly focused on accounts he held at the Institute for the Works of Religion, better known as the Vatican bank. The Vatican quickly said Scarano had been suspended from his position earlier in the month.
- One day later, Pope Francis appointed Msgr. Battista Ricca as the new prelate, or personal delegate of the pope, for the Vatican bank. Ricca had been the director of the Casa Santa Marta, where Francis has chosen to reside, and the appointment was hailed as a sign that the pope had tapped someone of personal trust to keep an eye on things.
- On June 26, the Vatican announced that Francis had set up a five-member commission to investigate the Vatican bank, giving it full authority to interview personnel and collect information. The body includes two Americans: Msgr. Peter Wells of the Secretariat of State and former Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon.
- Two days later, June 28, Italian police arrested Scarano along with an Italian secret service agent and a financier, charging all three with plotting to smuggle almost $30 million into Italy on behalf of a family of Italian shipping magnates. Wiretaps and emails collected during the probe suggested that Scarano, known in Rome as "Monsignor 500" for the 500-euro bills he flashed around, had a cozy relationship with officials of the Vatican bank and used his accounts to conceal the origins of his money.
- On Monday, the Vatican announced that the top two day-to-day officials at the bank, director Paolo Cipriani and vice-director Massimo Tulli, had resigned, effective immediately, in order to "increase the pace" of the bank's "transformation." The statement also said that officials of the Washington, D.C.-based Promontory Group, global experts on anti-money-laundering efforts, will be brought in to advise the bank.
- During his homily at his daily Mass at the Casa Santa Marta the next morning, Francis said it's important to "flee from sin" without nostalgia or fear of change. Although he never referred to the bank scandals, many observers couldn't help reading his comments in that context.
- The same day, Italian investigators said a criminal probe against Cipriani and Tulli had flagged at least 13 suspect transactions between 2011 and 2012, for which the two men could theoretically face up to three years in jail. They also revealed wiretaps that showed Scarano advising friends who needed something from the Vatican bank to deal directly with Tulli, describing him as amenable.
- On Wednesday, respected journalist Sandro Magister dropped hints that Ricca, the pope's newly appointed prelate, could face pressure to resign because of skeletons in the closest from his time as a diplomat in Uruguay from 1999 to 2000. Magister said Francis was informed of the rumors during a late June meeting with Vatican envoys, writing that they fall into the category of "pink power" and "scandalous conduct."
- Also on Wednesday, the Vatican announced that its new financial watchdog agency, the Financial Intelligence Authority, has been admitted as a full member of the Egmont Group, a global network of 130 financial intelligence units. According to Swiss lawyer René Brülhart, director of the Vatican agency, the decision marks "a recognition of the Holy See's and the Vatican City State's systematic efforts in tracking and fighting money laundering and financing of terrorism."
- On Thursday, the Vatican released its consolidated financial statement for 2012, showing a profit of $2.85 million for the Holy See and almost $30 million for the Vatican City State, despite a 7.45 percent decline in contributions from both individual faithful and religious orders. As in past years, the Vatican bank provided a contribution of just over $70 million to fund papal activity. (The Holy See's annual budget is around $330 million.)
Honestly, it's enough to make your head spin. A Wimbledon final on center court has nothing on the baseline-to-baseline intensity of this match between signs of change and reminders of just how deep the hole goes.
Although the story is still a moving target, three early conclusions seem possible.
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