Monday 23 September 2019

'Vatileaks' books claim that Pope's reforms are in turmoil

Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda (R) stands next to social media expert Francesca Chaouqui. The Vatican has arrested Vallejo and Chaouqui for allegedly stealing and leaking classified documents.
Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda (R) stands next to social media expert Francesca Chaouqui. The Vatican has arrested Vallejo and Chaouqui for allegedly stealing and leaking classified documents.

Nadia Elisia in Rome

The Vatican's leaks scandal intensified yesterday as a book detailed the mismanagement and internal resistance that has been thwarting Pope Francis's financial reform efforts.

Citing confidential documents, it exposed millions of euro in potential lost rental revenue, the scandal of the Vatican's saint-making machine, greedy monsignors and a professional-style break-in at the Vatican.

'Merchants in the Temple', by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, is due today but an advance copy was obtained yesterday. Its publication, and that of a second book, come days after the Vatican arrested two people involved with the Pope's financial reform commission in an investigation into stolen documents.


On Monday, 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".

"Publications of this nature do not help in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather generate confusion and partial and tendentious conclusions," the Vatican said.

The books mark a new phase in the so-called 'Vatileaks' scandal. The saga began in 2012 with an earlier Nuzzi exposé, peaked with the conviction of Pope Benedict XVI's butler on charges he supplied Nuzzi with stolen documents, and ended a year later when a clearly exhausted Benedict XVI resigned, unable to carry on.

With the scandal still fresh, Pope Francis was elected in 2013 on a mandate from his fellow cardinals to reform the Vatican bureaucracy and clean up its opaque finances. He set out promptly by creating a commission of eight experts to gather information from all Vatican offices on the Holy See's overall financial situation, which by that time was dire.

Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, a high-ranking Vatican official affiliated with the Opus Dei movement, and Francesca Chaouqui, an Italian public relations executive, were both members - and now are accused in the leaks investigation.

Citing emails, minutes of meetings, recorded private conversations and memos, the book paints a picture of a Vatican bureaucracy entrenched in a culture of mismanagement, waste and secrecy.

That said, the book is clearly written from the point of view of the commission members and is sympathetic to their plight.

The book cites a memo listing six priorities when the commission began work, starting with the need to get a handle on the Vatican's vast real estate holdings. A report allegedly found that the value of the real estate was some €2.7 billion, seven times higher than the amount entered onto the balance sheets.

Rents were sometimes 30 to 100pc below market value, the commission found, including some apartments that were given free to cardinals and bureaucrats.

The book says that if market rates were applied, homes given to employees would generate income of €19.4 million rather than the €6.2 million currently recorded, while other "institutional" buildings would generate income of €30.4 million.

The second priority on the commission's list was to get a handle on the management of bank accounts for the Vatican's "postulators", the officials who spearhead candidates for sainthood. The process has always been steeped in secrecy.


Nuzzi estimates that the average price tag for a single cause is around €500,000 and has gone as high as €750,000 for one beatification.

After the Vatican's saint-making office told the commission it had no documentation about the postulators' funding or bank accounts, the commission had the postulators' accounts frozen at the Vatican bank, Nuzzi said.

The author also recounts the tale of Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, the number two in the Vatican City State administration, who wanted a fancier apartment.

When Sciacca's neighbour, an elderly priest, was admitted to hospital, Sciacca took advantage of the absence to break through a wall separating their flats and incorporated an extra room into his apartment, furniture and all, Nuzzi recounts.

The priest eventually came home to find his things in boxes, and died a short time later.

The Pope, who lives in a hotel room, summarily demoted Sciacca, forcing him to move out. Sciacca did not comment on the claims.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News