Goodwoman614
God’s Racket: Why It’s High Time to Shut Down the Vatican Bank
February 28, 2013 at 4:04 AM


Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

It’s a place where angels fear to tread; where criminals, frauds and mysterious corpses turn up as regularly as rats in the metro. The Institute for Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank, was set up in 1942 by Pope Pius XII to manage the vast Vatican finances. Often referred to as the world’s most secret bank, the operation is run by a CEO and overseen by five cardinals who report directly to the Pope.

The bank’s official role is to safeguard and administer property intended for works of religion or charity. The actual activities of the bank are somewhat different. They include money laundering for narcotics traffickers, bribery, skimming charitable funds to enrich priests, and tax evasion for wealthy Italians.

Finance, Vatican-Style

The scandals associated with the Vatican bank, particularly over the last four decades, are so sordid and improbable as to strain the creativity of a supermarket tabloid. The Church’s past offenses of selling indulgences and charging fees for sacraments have been updated for the world of modern finance, complete with shell companies, speculation and secret transfers. (For more on the antecedents of the current bank, see Betty Clermont’s handy synopsis at Daily Kos.) Last year, Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published a book delving into the intrigue and corruption swirling in a bank that has been answerable to no one. It was an eye-opener.

In May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI’s butler was arrested for leaking documents bristling with claims of financial corruption and criminal activity involving major Italian companies. The last Vatican bank chairman, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was shown the door when it was revealed that the bank was running afoul of international money-laundering standards. Leaked material and reporting reveals a bank that appears to be a kind of rogue offshore vehicle favored by various kinds of miscreants, including right-wing politicians, mafia types and tax evaders who wish to hide their financial transactions. Kind of like HSBC, only with God’s imprimatur.

Subsequent investigations have resulted in a shutdown of credit card transactions at all Vatican venues; right now, God can only take cash. In an attempt to restore relations with the international financial community, outgoing Pope Benedict appointed a new director of the bank, German lawyer Ernst von Freyberg, as one of his final acts. So far that’s not looking so good, as Freyberg has been revealed to have unfortunate links with a company with a history of making warships, including those produced for Nazi Germany.

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Skeletons In the Vault

The same month the butler story broke, sinister echoes of earlier scandals emerged when the Catholic Church’s top exorcist (yes, you got that right)claimed that a pile of bones buried in the tomb of a notorious gangster – and church doner -- belonged to a missing schoolgirl who was forced to perform for priests' sex parties. The gangster’s girlfriend at the time claimed that American monsignor Paul Marcinkus, the scandal-ridden chief of the Vatican bank from 1971 to 1989, was behind the abduction. Whether or not that’s true, the years of Marcinkus’ reign were certainlyunusual.  

In the 1980s, the Vatican bank was involved in a major political and financial ruckus involving the $4.7 billion collapse of Banco Ambrosiano. Marcinkus was under consideration for indictment in 1982 in Italy as an accessory to the bankruptcy, but he escaped earthly justice when the Italian courts ruled that his status as a priest and high-ranking prelate of the Vatican gave him diplomatic immunity from prosecution. One Roberto Calvi, known as “God’s banker” because of his close association with the Holy See, was the chairman of Banco Ambrosiano. He also did business with the Mafia, and was found in June 1982 swinging from Blackfriars Bridge in London the day after his dismissal from the bank. The death was ruled a murder, and is widely suspected to have been a mob hit.

Some years earlier, in 1968, we meet the shady figure of Michele “The Shark” Sindona, who became a Vatican financial adviser despite the small matter of his past job as manager of heroin operations for the Gambino crime family. A world-class hustler who specialized in money-laundering, he was a member of the notorious P2 Lodge, a bogus ''Masonic'' lodge considered to have operated something like a right-wing shadow government. Like other Italian bankers associated with the Vatican, Sindonatrumpeted his sleazy activities as the defense of free enterprise against leftist political forces. 

Sindona ended up in prison for bank fraud and ordering the murder of a lawyer appointed to liquidate his Italian banks. He later died there after drinking a cyanide-laced coffee. Some say his poisoning was an attempt to keep him from talking about the sudden death of 65-year-old Pope John Paul I just 33 days after taking office. The reform-minded Pope had been speaking out against the profiteering of the Vatican Bank, and theologian Abbé George de Nantes, among others, has made a case for murder. (If you saw The Godfather Part III, you may recall a storyline involving the Vatican bank, organized crime and the sudden death of a fictional pope.)

Too Corrupt to Exist

Right now there’s a power struggle going on in the Vatican concerning how the bank should operate, whether to modernize and become more transparent, or to keep on operating under the radar and doing all the shady business it can get away with.

If anyone thinks that the Vatican bank could be cleaned up, I would suggest thinking of the mythic Augean stables. Essentially, a racketeering entity has been operating as a non-profit dedicated to doing God’s work. Jesus was famed for throwing the money-lenders out of the temple. In the Vatican, they run the temple.

The Vatican needs cash, and as its influence in the West declines in favor of poorer areas of the globe, there is no telling what else it will do to get it. The bank has had multiple opportunities to clean up its act after noxious scandals, and has repeatedly failed to do so.

Andreas Wassermann and Peter Wensierski of Der Spiegel described the corruption at the heart of the bank:

“Its business model depends on keeping things as shrouded as possible from all financial authorities. Capital gains are untaxed, financial statements are not disclosed and anonymity is guaranteed. The bank's exotic status of belonging to a religious monarchy in a sovereign state the size of a city park has shielded it from investigations and unpleasant external monitoring.”

Here’s an idea: Shut it down. Why shouldn’t priests use regular banks just like everybody else? Why should a bank housed in a medieval defense tower gobble donations and launder illicit funds, giving haven to cheats, criminals and wealthy parasites? The Vatican bank is too corrupt to exist.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of 'Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.' She received her Ph.d in English and Cultural Theory from NYU, where she has taught essay writing and semiotics. She is the Director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

Replies

  • Sisteract
    February 28, 2013 at 10:09 AM
    And members are starving in some parts of the world. The RCC is no more innocent than many corrupt dictators.
  • coolmommy2x
    February 28, 2013 at 10:10 AM
    I do too. Seems odd but they're so shrouded in secrecy, no one will know the truth. JMO.

    Quoting Ms.KitKat:

     


    Quoting mehamil1:


    And the beginning of the end. Or not. This should be interesting. I predict in 10 - 20 years the whole thing will implode on itself. 


     It won't implode. It's too powerful.


    I do wonder though why the pope is stepping down. I smell a conspiracy theory

  • Ms.KitKat
    February 28, 2013 at 10:23 AM

     

    Quoting FromAtoZ:


    Quoting Ms.KitKat:

     

    Quoting mehamil1:

    And the beginning of the end. Or not. This should be interesting. I predict in 10 - 20 years the whole thing will implode on itself. 

     It won't implode. It's too powerful.

    I do wonder though why the pope is stepping down. I smell a conspiracy theory

    I have no doubt there are reasons for his stepping down.  In my opinion, this man exudes evil.  

    Considering that he can now spend his days praying and hiding behind the walls of the Vatican, he cannot be prosecuted for any crimes he may have been, or will be, a part of.

    He is making history, although I do not think his 'history' is all that glorifying as the Vatican would like people to believe.  

    I've never felt so strongly about the evil within a man as I have with this Pope.

     Can you explain this to me? Your feelings and impressions. Even though I am RC, I have no opinions on him as a man or a preist (or pope). I probably 'should" but I just don;t for some reason. So, I'm curious about your impressions. 

  • FromAtoZ
    February 28, 2013 at 10:25 AM


    Quoting Ms.KitKat:

     

    Quoting FromAtoZ:


    Quoting Ms.KitKat:

     

    Quoting mehamil1:

    And the beginning of the end. Or not. This should be interesting. I predict in 10 - 20 years the whole thing will implode on itself. 

     It won't implode. It's too powerful.

    I do wonder though why the pope is stepping down. I smell a conspiracy theory

    I have no doubt there are reasons for his stepping down.  In my opinion, this man exudes evil.  

    Considering that he can now spend his days praying and hiding behind the walls of the Vatican, he cannot be prosecuted for any crimes he may have been, or will be, a part of.

    He is making history, although I do not think his 'history' is all that glorifying as the Vatican would like people to believe.  

    I've never felt so strongly about the evil within a man as I have with this Pope.

     Can you explain this to me? Your feelings and impressions. Even though I am RC, I have no opinions on him as a man or a preist (or pope). I probably 'should" but I just don;t for some reason. So, I'm curious about your impressions. 

    I have to head to work in a few moments but let me just say, simply put, my initial reaction to his becoming Pope was mournful.  I am no longer RC but I was hoping the Church would take a turn for the better.  With this man, they started in the other direction.

    Some times, a feeling can't be fully explained to where others will agree, or even understand.  He is evil, sure as I breath.

    Maybe after work, I can go in to more detail.  

  • Ms.KitKat
    February 28, 2013 at 10:29 AM

     REALLY?! I had no idea. I need to get out more. I am not surprised (sadly). The people are purposefully kept in the dark.

    My child goes to a RC school and I know they have their 'secrets" as well. If a teacher is fired its all hush-hush. Just one day, she is gone and another is there to replace her. There have been other instances which I can never put my finger on but i have this feeling that I am not being told the whole truth. And the 'guy" who runs the school (a lay person) is clearly connected. I think I will stop speaking now........LOL

    Quoting tscritch:

     From what I know (which is very little on this subject) there were two factions claiming popehood (?) one stepped down to end the fighting. I am POSITIVE there is much more to it, but that is all I know.

    Quoting Ms.KitKat:

     I did not read about this but I did suspect his stepping down had something to do with the sex scandals as well. Somebody has something on him and he needs to leave but not so far away so that he can be called to answer for KWIM? 

    Every other pope was 1 breath away from death and they still stayed. This pope is still very spry.

    I wish I knew more about the other 1 pope who stepped down and why. Although I'm sure there is nothing written about it- at least not for the public to view.

    Quoting mehamil1:

    I read somewhere that it was to protect him from prosecution because of these sex scandals. As pope, he has to travel. If he steps down, he can just hang out in the Vatican. The Vatican is its own sovereign nation. He can't be extradited out of there. They are protecting their asses. 

    Quoting Ms.KitKat:
    Quoting mehamil1:

    And the beginning of the end. Or not. This should be interesting. I predict in 10 - 20 years the whole thing will implode on itself. 

     It won't implode. It's too powerful.

    I do wonder though why the pope is stepping down. I smell a conspiracy theory

     

     

     

  • Ms.KitKat
    February 28, 2013 at 10:30 AM

     

    Quoting FromAtoZ:


    Quoting Ms.KitKat:

     

    Quoting FromAtoZ:


    Quoting Ms.KitKat:

     

    Quoting mehamil1:

    And the beginning of the end. Or not. This should be interesting. I predict in 10 - 20 years the whole thing will implode on itself. 

     It won't implode. It's too powerful.

    I do wonder though why the pope is stepping down. I smell a conspiracy theory

    I have no doubt there are reasons for his stepping down.  In my opinion, this man exudes evil.  

    Considering that he can now spend his days praying and hiding behind the walls of the Vatican, he cannot be prosecuted for any crimes he may have been, or will be, a part of.

    He is making history, although I do not think his 'history' is all that glorifying as the Vatican would like people to believe.  

    I've never felt so strongly about the evil within a man as I have with this Pope.

     Can you explain this to me? Your feelings and impressions. Even though I am RC, I have no opinions on him as a man or a preist (or pope). I probably 'should" but I just don;t for some reason. So, I'm curious about your impressions. 

    I have to head to work in a few moments but let me just say, simply put, my initial reaction to his becoming Pope was mournful.  I am no longer RC but I was hoping the Church would take a turn for the better.  With this man, they started in the other direction.

    Some times, a feeling can't be fully explained to where others will agree, or even understand.  He is evil, sure as I breath.

    Maybe after work, I can go in to more detail.  

     I know what you mean- that sense of knowing. Ok- then, after work please come back! My curiousity is piqued!!!!!!

  • Ms.KitKat
    February 28, 2013 at 10:38 AM

     

    Quoting FromAtoZ:

    I wanted to say one more thing.............all of this is not God's racket.  This is man's racket......................the Catholic Church's racket.


     Yes. Exactly! Thank you for adding this. This thread could very easily be turned to bashing the faith when in fact this is all about the "machine" 

  • Sisteract
    February 28, 2013 at 10:58 AM
    Trust and faith in leadership and an institution requires transparency and honesty throughout the ranks of an organization. The hubs and I became former practicing members when we lost that trust. It's a brand new day and church would be best served by accepting that fact.
  • Sisteract
    February 28, 2013 at 11:01 AM
    If the pope is one with the church( Peter and the rock) and a direct conduit to JC, how does one separate his decisions and behaviors from the institution and faith? As a logic, rational person, I can not separate the 2.

    Quoting Ms.KitKat:

     


    Quoting FromAtoZ:


    I wanted to say one more thing.............all of this is not God's racket.  This is man's racket......................the Catholic Church's racket.




     Yes. Exactly! Thank you for adding this. This thread could very easily be turned to bashing the faith when in fact this is all about the "machine" 

  • mikiemom
    February 28, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    I was already a fallen away catholic when I visited the Vatican, the opulance and lavish wealth were the final blows of turning me away from the church. Plus the process for having a blessed person become a saint. - looke up St. phillipine duchesne, her assension was all about money - nothing else.