9. Dec, 2017

Tensions are running high in the Vatican

The Dictator Pope propels the Vatican into uncharted waters


TESS LIVINGSTONE, The Australian, December 8, 2017

“Might we see the Italian state denounce the Lateran treaty of 1929 that made the Vatican a foreign state, thus creating the lawless, corrupt playground that it has become?’’

The answer to that question, posed in a book released this week, The Dictator Pope, is almost certainly no — after all, Italy is no paragon of propriety itself.

The blunt “lawless, corrupt playground’’ epithet, however, is apt judging by recent events.

The book’s website says its author, writing under the pseudonym Marcantonio Colonna (a Vatican admiral in the Battle of Lepanto against the Ottoman Turks in 1571) is an Oxford-educated historian living in Rome. The book is purportedly “the fruit of close contacts with many of those working in the Vatican, including the leading Cardinals and other figures mentioned in the narrative’’.

It shows — especially in the accounts of Pope Francis’s close relationships with four Vatican cardinals and their underlings who have stymied sweeping financial reforms enacted mainly by Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, who uncovered 1.4 billion euros in various Vatican departments not previously entered in the balance sheets.

The man described as “the most scandalous’’ of the four, gun enthusiast Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, president of APSA, the body that manages Vatican assets, dines with Francis most nights. Calcagno is under investigation for real estate dealings in his previous Italian diocese.

Financial corruption has dogged the church for half a century, since Pope Paul VI called in a US archbishop, Paul Marcinkus from Chicago in the 1960s. Far from improving efficiency, Marcinkus engaged freemason Mafia bankers Roberto Calvi (known as “God’s banker”, who was found hung under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982) and Michele Sindona (who died from cyanide in his coffee in an Italian jail in 1986).

The current reform effort, designed to improve transparency and accountability, took a major blow in June when Vatican auditor Libero Milone, a former chairman and chief executive of Deloitte in Italy, was sacked after an extraordinary raid on his office by Vatican police and firemen. Despite the office being on Italian, not Vatican territory, the Vatican officials burst in unexpectedly, confiscating electronic equipment and forcing open the safe with axes and crowbars. Milone’s offence, it appears, was doing his job properly.

The Vatican’s notorious homosexual lobby also remains a problem. One of its players Monsignor Luigi Capozzi, emerged from the shadows in June. Capozzi, secretary to Vatican Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio — described as “the foremost of Pope Francis’s yes-men’’ – was caught running a drugs party in his Vatican flat. Cardinal Coccopalmerio had reportedly proposed his underling for a bishopric.

Despite the crime and colour, Dictator Pope does not belong to the “Vatican potboiler’’ genre. It is sober, blunt and forensic. Four days after its release in English on Monday, Amazon listed it as an e-book bestseller.

The world it describes is a hothouse, in which gossip, secrecy, personal hostilities and the craving for power thrive. Free speech is barely tolerated.

The head of the Roman Rota (the Vatican court), for example, Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto — whose name appeared on a notorious list of alleged Vatican freemasons decades ago — suggested last year that four cardinals who criticised a controversial papal document on marriage, Amoris Laetitia, were guilty of “grave scandal’’ for doing so and deserved to be stripped of their cardinals’ hats.

As the book’s name suggests, it is primarily about Francis, emphasising the adroit political skills he employed in Argentina and Rome to win the papacy and build his image. His much lauded humility — travelling on the Buenos Aires rail underground and paying his hotel bill in Rome after being elected Pope, for example — has been conveniently captured on camera and disseminated by press secretaries. Such savvy media management, the author suggests, begs the question “to what extent the smell of sheep was applied aroma and how much the mysticism was part of the manifesto’’.

In contrast, the dedicated but politically hapless Benedict XVI, it emerges, was deceived in more ways than one by his power hungry, avaricious long-time secretary, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Among other achievements, Bertone, without his former boss’s knowledge, allowed more than 400,000 euros from the papal children’s hospital to be streamed into the restoration of his vast apartment.

Bertone duped Benedict to the last, when the former pope entrusted him with the task of lobbying for the tough, orthodox patriarch of Venice, Angelo Scola, to succeed him as Pope when he resigned in February 2013. Bertone did not want Scola and ignored the instruction. It opened the way for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, who, in a curious twist, appears to have been expecting Benedict’s abdication. He had been subtly lobbying US cardinals for some time and he had the backing of the “St Gallen mafia’’, a liberal, anti-Ratzinger cabal of European cardinals.

What is not in dispute is Francis’s increasing embrace of the Left and his penchant for extraordinary political pronouncements — that have prompted the Wall Street Journal to describe him as “the leader of the global left’’.

A prime example, not in the book, but pertinent to Australia, was Francis’s recent address to Pacific island leaders in the Vatican. At a time when China is increasingly exerting its influence in the South Pacific, Vatican Radio reported that the Pope evoked “the vision of an earth without borders” that “calls for the need for a global outlook, international co-operation and solidarity, and a shared strategy, to address environmental problems’’.

Readers more interested in religion than politics will find a minefield of detail in the chapters on the pope’s interference in the Kings of Malta and the persecution of a traditional order of Franciscan friars.

The book raises issues that are too serious for the Vatican to ignore.

Tensions are running high, with reports of a high-decibel slanging match between Francis and a senior cardinal, formerly an avid supporter, who told him told him he was elected to make reforms, not to “smash’’ everything.

The Dictator Pope and its subject have taken the church leadership into uncharted waters.

The Dictator Pope. Amazon Kindle. $12.47