Vatican pledges to help police in cardinal corruption probe
THE Vatican promised last night to co-operate fully with a major corruption investigation focussing on Cardinal Sepe of Naples.
Investigators have been untangling an alleged web of pay-off favours, purportedly including sexual ones, involving businessmen, the church hierarchy and public officials.
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe's real-estate deals and other transactions while he headed the Vatican's Propaganda Fide office -- as the influential Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples is popularly known -- are being examined by police in the widening 'Great Works' scandal.
Among those being investigated is a top aide to premier Silvio Berlusconi, disaster chief Guido Bertolaso.
The cardinal is being investigated for alleged corruption while he led the Holy See office that finances missionary work abroad.
Prosecutors aim to determine if corruption influenced the awarding of billions of euro worth of contracts for such mega-projects as preparing 2000 Holy Year events in Rome and rebuilding the quake-shattered town of L'Aquila.
Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi said that while Cardinal Sepe had "the right to be respected and esteemed", the Vatican wanted the "situation to be cleared up fully and rapidly".
Yesterday in Naples' cathedral, however, the faithful crowded around Sepe in a show of solidarity after Mass. He told journalists he was "absolutely" tranquil about the probe.
Mr Bertolaso, who heads the Civil Protection Agency, said after his recent interrogation by prosecutors that he was allowed live rent-free in a palazzo owned by Propaganda Fide and located on one of Rome's priciest streets, Via Giulia.
News reports have said others investigated in the scandal told magistrates that the rent was paid by Diego Anemone, a constructor at the heart of the alleged fraud ring.
Italian newspapers have reported that also under investigation are several remodelling contracts for Propaganda Fide properties given to figures in the probe during Sepe's tenure at the well-financed Vatican Missionary Office.
Also under investigation is Pietro Lunardi, who allegedly purchased a Propaganda Fide palazzo in Rome in 2004 -- while minister of infrastructure -- for a fraction of its real worth.
Berlusconi's industry minister, Claudio Scajola, has been forced by the probe to quit. Mr Scajola purchased an apartment with a view of the Colosseum with the alleged help of €900,000 from an Anemone associate.
Cardinal Sepe won favour with John Paul II when he oversaw the smooth running of the 2000 Holy Year, which drew millions of pilgrims to Rome amid a flurry of construction.
John Paul bestowed the red cardinal's hat in early 2001 on the then 57-year-old Sepe.
Among those arrested in the current scandal have been Mr Anemone and a former government official for public works, Angelo Balducci, who was quietly dropped from the ranks of those serving as honorary ushers at Vatican ceremonies.