Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Books on the Vatican

There is a lot of print but it tells you next to nothing:

"Vatican arrests 2 after confidential documents leaked; Presidential power a key issue" by Elisabetta Povoledo New York Times   November 03, 2015

ROME — The Vatican announced Monday that two members of a commission set up by Pope Francis to study financial operations at the Holy See had been arrested on suspicion of leaking confidential documents to journalists.

The arrests immediately added to the intrigue and infighting that appear to be intensifying around Francis.

The pope’s push to liberalize certain aspects of the Roman Catholic Church and to shake up the Vatican’s administrative body, or Curia, has met with stiff resistance from traditionalists and vested interests inside the Vatican and beyond.

The arrests came just days before the publication of two books — “Avarizia,” or “Avarice,” by Emiliano Fittipaldi, and “Merchants in the Temple,” by Gianluigi Nuzzi — purporting to raise the lid on old and new scandals at the Vatican.

Both books claim to offer glimpses of the turmoil surrounding Francis as he pursues an overhaul of Vatican finances, the operations of the Curia, and the Vatican bank.

Those institutions had long been plagued by scandal and corruption that contributed to the resignation in 2013 of Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years.

Divulging confidential documents has been considered a crime in the Vatican since July 2013, after the leak of a cache of Vatican documents.

After the publication of that book, the pope’s personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested on charges of leaking the documents to Nuzzi. Gabriele was tried and was sentenced in October 2012 to 18 months in prison. He was pardoned two months later by Benedict.

The Vatican said Monday that the coming books were “the fruit of a grave betrayal of the pope’s trust.” The authors of the books have been warned that the Vatican’s lawyers are considering legal action.

In an interview, Fittipaldi, the author of “Avarice,” said it was no coincidence that the arrests had taken place just before Thursday’s scheduled publication of the books.

Besides reporting on the church’s vast financial holdings and the lavish lifestyles of cardinals, Fittipaldi said he had also discovered that money given to the church for the poor was actually used for other purposes.

Nuzzi’s book, which will be published in several countries, is based on “unpublished documents and tape recordings,” according to a news release.

It suggests that the Vatican’s finances were in such chaos that Benedict had no choice but to resign.

The book also promises to reveal the “poisons of those who would sabotage the pope’s vigorous revolution.”


"Vatican finances a mess, book says; Francis’ foes accused of greed, mismanagement" by Gaia Pianigiani New York Times  November 04, 2015

ROME — Pope John Paul I, who died in 1978, still holds more than $120,000 in a Vatican bank account. The Vatican pension fund is running an $877 million deficit. The Vatican’s real estate holdings total nearly $3 billion, seven times more than what is listed on its balance sheets. And the Vatican’s governing body had agreed to push Philip Morris cigarettes, for a fee.

If they are to be believed, those are some of the revelations set to be published in a new book by Gianluigi Nuzzi, “Merchants in the Temple.” The sources of the claims are not revealed in the book, an advance copy of which was provided by the publisher to The New York Times, and the claims are impossible to verify.

But the Vatican has apparently taken the leaks of internal documents seriously enough to arrest two people who had worked on a special commission set up by Pope Francis to overhaul the Roman Catholic Church’s deeply troubled financial management.

The arrests over the weekend came just days before the publication on Thursday of Nuzzi’s book and that of another book, “Avarice,” by an Italian reporter, Emiliano Fittipaldi, who also claims to reveal widespread misuse of Vatican finances.

Nuzzi wrote an exposé in 2012 that spawned the so-called VatiLeaks scandal, which helped precipitate the surprising resignation of Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, and led to the arrest of his butler for stealing papal documents.

Nuzzi has now written a book describing a nest of greed, cronyism, and mismanagement at the Vatican and its administrative body, called the Curia, “that couldn’t be farther from Francis’ words,” as he described it in an interview Monday.

Perhaps more important, both he and Fittipaldi claim to show the forces arrayed against Francis as he tries to both liberalize aspects of the church and overhaul what is depicted as a financial morass whose vested interests inside the Vatican have resisted previous attempts at housecleaning.

In an advance copy of “Merchants in the Temple,” Nuzzi cites confidential documents, minutes of meetings, and recorded conversations between the pope and bishops, cardinals, and advisers in which Francis, four months into his papacy, rebukes them for their financial mismanagement.

“There is a complete absence of transparency in the bookkeeping both of the Holy See and the Governorate,” five international auditors wrote to Francis in June 2013, according to Nuzzi’s book, adding that they suspected a “serious structural deficit” for the Vatican.

Among the troubles, Nuzzi reports large losses on merchandising sold in Vatican shops and rental revenues, as well as “out of control” costs.

He also describes rentals of Vatican apartments and other properties at extremely favorable rates to cardinals and functionaries, including a 1,044-square-foot apartment rented to an unnamed Vatican employee near St. Peter’s Basilica for less than $25 euros a year.

According to the commission, the Vatican’s real estate holdings, which Nuzzi says include properties in France, Britain, and Switzerland worth over $600 million, could bring in more than triple what they now generate.

The book also recounts hugely expensive maintenance works, at inflated prices, and claims that the Holy See’s Governorate was in negotiations to promote Philip Morris cigarettes for a fee, while some cardinals receive a discount on up to 200 packs of cigarettes a month.

Nuzzi paints a picture of a constant battle between the old guard, sworn to secrecy and maintaining the status quo, and the new guard — mostly represented by the commission set up by Francis soon after he was elected in 2013 to scrutinize the Vatican’s financial holdings and economic structures.

Those arrested this week, Francesca Chaouqui — who has already been released and spoken to several national dailies, denying any connection to the leaks — and Monsignor Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, were members of the commission, which was dissolved after completing its mandate last year.

The Vatican called the books a “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.”

It also added that “publications of this nature do not help in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather generate confusion and partial and tendentious conclusions.”

Even so, Vatican specialists say they expect the effect of the latest round of leaks to be less powerful than that of the “VatiLeaks” scandal.


"Why there’s still a case for hope on Vatican financial reform" by John L. Allen Jr., Associate editor November 8, 2015

This week brought fresh embarrassments for the Vatican on the financial front, raising questions anew about whether Pope Francis’ pledge to impose transparency and accountability can succeed in an institution historically more inclined to cronyism and operating under cover of darkness.

It began with the arrest of two Vatican insiders on charges of leaking secret reports to journalists. Both are former members of a now-dissolved commission created by Francis in the summer of 2013 to get a handle on the financial situation.

Mid-week, two new books on the Vatican’s money woes appeared, to some extent based on those leaked documents.

The books are Avarizia (“Avarice”), by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, and Via Crucis (released in English as “Merchants in the Temple”) by Gianluigi Nuzzi, another Italian journalist who was at the heart of the Vatican leaks affair under Pope Benedict XVI.

Both offer enough ugly detail to raise fears about whether reform efforts can prevail.

For instance, we learn that having someone declared a saint can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that “postulators,” officials who manage sainthood cases, sometimes command impressive fees to speed things up – raising the suspicion that, in some cases, halos are being bought rather than earned.


The Vatican Bank controls just under $9 billion in assets, which is nobody’s idea of chump change. By the standards of major commercial banks, however, it’s small potatoes. J.P. Morgan, for instance, controls an astronomic $2 trillion.

Yes, there’s real money involved, but the Vatican isn’t a financial colossus.

So the money-laundering for drugs gangs all and the other shenanigans going on, no big deal.

The scandals documented in the new books are two years old. They’re based largely on documents generated by that study commission, known by its Italian acronym COSEA, which expired in early 2014 after making recommendations to the pope.

Since that time, new structures — including a Council for the Economy, a Secretariat for the Economy, and an independent auditor general, as well as a beefed-up watchdog agency in the Financial Information Authority — have brought new systems of vigilance on-line.

In other words, the books provide a snapshot of the situation shortly before the pope’s reform effort got real.

The key point is that this week’s revelations never would have happened had the pontiff himself not demanded that such things be revealed — to him, that is, not necessarily to Italian journalists.

The reason there were internal reports to leak from a study commission is because Francis launched that commission and backed it at key moments.

In an interview with a newspaper for homeless people released on Friday, he insisted Church leaders can’t serve the poor if they’re seen to “lead the life of a Pharaoh.”


RelatedLeaks were a crime, but my reform will continue

"Pope pledges to continue reforms in face of leaks

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis said that publishing the documents in two books released last week “was a deplorable act that doesn’t help.” The books, “Merchants in the Temple” by Gianluigi Nuzzi and “Avarice” by Emiliano Fittipaldi, detail mismanagement and alleged greed in the Vatican, and are seen as part of a bitter internal struggle between reformers and the old guard.

Fittipaldi claimed that a children’s hospital foundation had paid $215,000 toward the renovation of the apartment of the Vatican’s No. 2 at the time, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and that nearly $420,000 donated by parishioners worldwide to help the poor was funneled to pay for Vatican administration.

The pope underlined that the leaked documents were the result of the reform course that he began and that measures had already been taken to address problems, “with some visible results.”

Pope Francis has made it a top priority to reform the Vatican bureaucracy known as the Curia, a hive of intrigue and gossip.

Last week the Vatican described the books as “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.” It added that the publication did not help “in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather generate confusion and partial and tendentious conclusions.”


"Pope calls on church to shun power" by Gregorio Borgia and Nicole Winfield Associated Press  November 11, 2015

FLORENCE, Italy — Pope Francis insisted Tuesday that the Catholic Church shun all temptations of power, prestige, and money as he pressed his reform agenda amid a new scandal at the Vatican.

Francis outlined his vision of the church in a lengthy speech to Italian bishops gathered in Florence, leaving behind a Vatican reeling from revelations of internal resistance to his reform agenda.

The Argentine Jesuit told the bishops he wanted a church that was humble and poor and not obsessed with preaching doctrine or acquiring power. He said Christian doctrine wasn’t a closed or rigid system but rather one that lives and develops.

‘‘May God protect the Italian church from every pretense of power, image, and money,’’ he told them. He said Christians shouldn’t be obsessed with power ‘‘even when it takes the shape of a power that is useful to the social image of the church.’’

As if to prove his point, Francis chose to eat lunch not with the Tuscan church hierarchy but rather with Florence’s poor. He lined up with a few dozen people at a Caritas soup kitchen, getting a registration card like everyone else and tucking into a typical Florentine ribollita bean soup served in plastic bowls.

Francis’ visit comes as the Vatican copes with a new ‘‘Vatileaks’’ scandal, after two books laid bare the pope’s uphill battle to reform the Italian-dominated Vatican bureaucracy and get a handle on its finances. Citing leaked confidential documents, the books exposed the greed of cardinals and monsignors, mismanagement of Vatican assets, and the resistance to change.

A high-ranking Vatican monsignor and a laywoman have been arrested in the probe into the leaks. Francis has denounced the leaks as a crime but vowed to press ahead with his reforms.

Francis began his daylong visit to Tuscany with a stop in the industrial city of Prato, where a 2013 garment factory fire killed seven Chinese workers. In off-the-cuff comments to Prato residents gathered in a piazza, Francis decried the ‘‘inhuman’’ conditions illegal workers were forced to endure.

‘‘The life of every community requires that we fight the cancer of corruption, the cancer of human and labor exploitation and the poison of illegality,’’ he said to applause from the crowd.


Also see:

Vatican probe over leaked files widens
Pope to visit Mexico early next year
Wisconsin clergy sex victims get $21m
Reporter silent at Vatican inquiry on scandals

Wow, slept through the whole sermon.