Render unto God the Things that are Caesar’s

Render unto God the Things that are Caesar’s

[March 6, 2014]

Overview

Last week Pope Francis released a motu proprio restructuring the economic and financial organizations within the Holy See, and creating:

A Council for the Economy; a consultative body headed by a Cardinal coordinator reporting to the Pope;

A Secretariat for the Economy; a supervisory body with jurisdiction over the administrative and financial institutions throughout the Holy See, headed by a Cardinal Prefect reporting to the Pope; and

An Auditor General; appointed by the Pope.

A motu proprio, ‘his own word’, is something like an administrative statement from the top; not quite an encyclical, a papal bull, or an exhortation; but very authoritative – think of it as a presidential Executive Order.

The media pick-up was extensive but shallow – mostly accolades rather than analysis very much needed when dealing with the Vatican’s financial and administrative power centers being reorganized by a subtle decider-in-chief who is unconstrained by parliamentary procedures.

There are at least five principal entities involved:

APSA, set up in 1967 as the holding entity for the Vatican’s financial portfolio;

AIF, the (would-be) regulator of financial activities within the Vatican, set up in 2010 in response to a history of money-laundering;

IOR, the Vatican Bank of song and legend, set up in 1942, and the catalyst for creating the AIF;

The Prefecture for Economic Affairs, set up in 1967 with oversight for the budgets of the Curia (congregations, i.e. departments); and

The Governorship of the State of the Vatican City, set up through the Lateran Pacts of 1929 with Fascist Italy to normalize the governance of sovereign Vatican territory within Italy.

The discussion below is focused on two key aspects of Francis’ historic management move, the Council for the Economy and the Secretariat for the Economy; followed by some end-comments.

The Motu Proprio

 

Foreword

Before you wander off to more important pursuits, probably thinking that this is inside-the-Vatican baseball with limited impact beyond the Leonine Walls which gird the Vatican, please keep in mind the following:

  • The Holy See is an absolute monarchy: no separation of powers, no troublesome checks and balances; its global reach includes 5,000 dioceses and 220,000 parishes over which Rome exercises authority, direct or de facto ownership, and tight management control;
  • The patrimonial value of the Holy See’s holdings is literally incalculable…what would the Pietà go for on eBay?  But the market value of its world-wide real estate is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, maybe half a trillion (!); or euros, or Bitcoins; and
  • Its liquid portfolio is in the dozens of billions, probably comparable to the cash stash of Apple or Google (two secular empires also with global reach).

 

  One.  The Council for the Economy

 

This body

“…has the task of offering guidance on economic management and supervising the administrative and financial activities of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, of the Institutions connected to the Holy See, and of the Vatican City State.”

Coordinated by a cardinal, the Council will have 15 members consisting of eight collars and seven civilians.  It is worth parsing some of the words in its charter.  The scope of the Council’s domain is vast; it includes:

Twenty-one ‘dicasteries’, i.e. congregations, or departments of the Vatican government; and papal councils.

There is also mention of the ‘institutions connected’, a delightfully vague phrase which puts a semantic fig leaf over that well-connected institution whose name must not be mentioned, the Istituto per le Opere di Religione; yes, sigh, the Vatican Bank.

Sidebar on the bank:

Its history goes back to its establishment in 1942, as Mussolini’s fascist regime was beginning to disintegrate and smart local money was looking for an exit to Switzerland; throughout, the bank has had a direct-report relationship with the Pope, and has never been part of the Vatican Curia.  With such direct access, behind the scenes it has always been very influential, and without meaningful accountability within the Vatican government [not unlike Hillary Clinton during Bill’s presidency].

Lastly, there is mention of the “Vatican City State,” namely the Governorship of the Vatican City State.

The governorship is headed by a cardinal with oversight of property and activity within 105 acres of sovereign territory, as well as a few extra-territorial enclaves elsewhere in Italy.

It is worth recalling that the deputy governor’s memorandum of a few years ago to Pope Benedict, denouncing corruption, was one of the smoking guns during the Vatileaks scandal, and probably the catalyst for Benedict’s sudden resignation in February of last year.

The deputy governor, who imprudently put in writing what many made-members of the Curia knew, was rewarded for his efforts by being exiled to Washington D.C. where he now serves as the Papal Nuncio.

Guidance’ and ‘supervision’ are the operative words for the Council’s functions in the motu proprio.  Cynics might dismiss the importance of these functions, noting that ‘guidance’ issued from the Throne of St. Peter has been ignored for centuries, by clergy and laity alike; and super-vision could mean looking in from above, without the ability to grasp the inner workings.  Ah, those crafty Curiales.

But one must look at the charter of the next entity to realize that a radically new and powerful mechanism for what the organizational wizards call ‘deep-reach management’ has been created, the Secretariat for the Economy.

 

  Two.  The Secretariat for the Economy

 

The Secretariat is headed by a Cardinal Prefect already named, Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney.  The Secretariat is directed by the Pope to

“…undertake the economic audit and supervision of the Bodies [named above], along with the policies and procedures regarding procurement and the allocation of human resources.”

With a finely tuned ear one may pick up the sound of the OMGs ringing throughout the Curia, the connected institutions, and the Governatorato.

What commentators have grasped, correctly, is that this creates a super-department, a secretariat, where to date there has been only one such coordinating entity within the Vatican, the Secretariat of State.

And by media reports, it may be concluded that the secretariat’s capo, 6’3” Cardinal Pell, has the nuanced management style of his (Christian) namesake, George S. Patton, Jr.  Let’s hope that Pell will go through the frescoed Vatican corridors in the manner of General Patton’s Third Army knifing across France in the summer of 1944; as the general put it, like bleep through a goose.

The combination of budgetary, personnel and procurement control gives the secretariat the combined firepower of the U.S. executive branch’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB, [not OMG]); the Office of Personnel Management (OPM); and the General Services Administration (GSA).

However, the media have generally missed some vital aspects of this new order of things, through their failure to get beyond their cheer-leading, and do some actual analysis of the radical changes in the Vatican’s power flows.  Drilling down, here are some likely first-order consequences.

a)  The secretariat has the mandate to break up a little-known real estate empire nested within the Curia, the vast holdings of the legendary Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples commonly known as Propaganda Fide.

This ‘dicastery’ is nested quietly in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, conveniently offsite, with its own real estate portfolio probably worth over €50 billion (almost $70 billion at current exchange rates).

There have been recurring reports in the Italian press about sweetheart real estate deals between Propaganda Fide and favored friends and politicos.  But to date Propaganda Fide has been immune from outside interference or adult supervision.

Historical footnote about Propaganda Fide…About 80 years ago a former Jesuit seminarian from Germany’s Rhineland adopted some of the congregation’s evangelizing techniques for his home country, borrowing the word propaganda as the chosen name for his own government department created in Berlin circa 1933, the Ministry of Public Enlightment and Propaganda.

b)  In this new order of things, where is the center of gravity and control, Clergy or Laity?

Some media commentators have seized on this as the key issue, with one Rome-based American esperto reporting that to date money management has been in the hands of clergy lacking ‘formation’ in business management.

This is unhelpful, for two reasons:

It misses what is in plain site, the deliberate misdeeds of high-ranking Vatican prelates in recent history, as detailed below; and

It whitewashes these prelates, absolving them of responsibility for financial scandals that stretch from the recent past to the mid-1970s, at least.

Probably the worst money manager in the Curia was the late Archbishop Paul Marcinkus in the 1970s and 1980s; what he lacked in business ‘formation’ he made up for in sheer chutzpah, “you can’t run the Church on Hail Marys; and he ended up (a) costing the Vatican about $250 million in a settlement with aggrieved creditor/depositors (with pinky rings and large neck-sizes); and (b) living as a virtual prisoner in the Vatican until a deal was made to allow him safe passage through Italy to the U.S. and his last post as a parochial vicar in Scottsdale, AZ.

More recently, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, formerly a high-ranking official in APSA (the Vatican’s holding company), and since June of last year a guest of the Republic of Italy in a prison in Rome, after being nabbed with a suitcase containing €20 million at Rome’s Ciampino airport; handling financial matters for some of Italy’s richest families, the clever monsignore was not definitely not lacking in business ‘formation’.

Finally, say what you will about former Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, through his iron control over the Vatican Bank he showed no lack of business ‘formation’,

Whether through his chosen staffer to follow the bank’s day-to-day operations, under secretary of state Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, who days after Pope Benedict’s announced resignation was promoted to archbishop, and sent quickly away from Rome to Bogotà as papal nuncio with diplomatic immunity; or

Cardinal Bertone’s hands-on supervisory role in the hiring and then ousting of the bank’s chairman, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi (a lifer and senior executive of Spain’s Banco Santander, always close to Opus Dei).

Giving a pass to the Vatican’s clergy at the leadership level because of its lack of business ‘formation’ is to miss entirely the main point, or perhaps choose to overlook it.

c)  The secretariat also has effective control over the Congregation for the Clergy, and through this ‘dicastery’ may choose to have final say in the fate of some 220,000 parishes world-wide, including 17,000 in the U.S.

This new scope of authority vested in the secretariat may have enormous considerable significance.

Over the past decade the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy has been mostly a rubberstamp for American diocesan bishops hell-bent (in the literal sense) on closing parishes and selling off churches, especially in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West where over 60% of U.S. faithful reside.  Essentially, the bishops in these areas are in full retreat, writing off what they view as the Catholic rustbelt, and downsizing to a comfortable life in upscale suburbs.  Catholic Boston’s pastoral planning trajectory since the quick exit of Bernard Law in 2002 has been from almost 400 parishes to a current level of about 288; and the current round of pastoral planning will reduce this further to 125 ‘collaboratives’ in a few years.

Clergy’ has been abetted in this by the Congregation for the Bishops, which is fiercely protective of the worthy prelates installed in the dioceses, after vetting and short-listing by ‘Bishops’ itself.

There are indeed a few cases where ‘Clergy’ has granted parishioners some relief by reversing the local bishop’s parish suppression decrees, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule, not new jurisprudence.

The eleven parish suppression decrees of Cleveland’s bishop reversed by ‘Clergy’ a few years ago, were a function of local circumstances – and I state this with direct knowledge.

But there is growing displeasure in Rome over the American ordinaries’ continuing destruction of the Catholic grass-roots presence through ‘pastoral planning’, the sham process for selecting parishes for suppression and churches for sell-offs (cfr. dozens of dioceses; notably Boston (supra), Philadelphia, Springfield MA, Allentown, Metuchen NJ, Saginaw MI, Greensburg PA, Youngstown, etc. etc.).

With its mandate to supervise…financial activities of the Dicasteries, and powered by vigorous leadership, the Secretariat for the Economy has clout to override the spreading systematic destruction of the Church’s spiritual infrastructure – parishes and churches – by American diocesan bishops.  This requires breaking the protective grip of the two congregations that have been enablers of parish destruction in the U.S. –  Clergy and Bishops.

Why would the secretariat engage in this?

What is the answer to the actor’s perennial question to the director, ‘what’s my motivation?”

The secretariat’s reason for asserting its authority over parish and church closings would be to resolve a fundamental contradiction in the governance of the Church:

The profound inconsistency between the objective of evangelizing, on the one hand; versus the American bishops’ ongoing campaign of destroying parishes and churches – the essential means for attaining the objective;

cfr. Vietnam during the Tet offensive of 1968, ‘we had to destroy the village to save it’.

End-Comments

It is naïve in the extreme to attribute the economic and financial dysfunction within the Vatican to innocent clerics manipulated by evil (lay) functionaries.  That is a trope used by apologists and media ‘experts’ in residence in Rome ought to know better.

In a recent Special Report on Tech Startups, The Economist gave a shout-out to “Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar and mathematician, [who] wrote down the principles of double-entry book-keeping as used by merchants in Venice in the late 15th century.”

Of course, double-entry book-keeping should not be confused with double book-keeping, something else that may probably originated in the Boot.

There is a deep tradition of financial savvy under the cassocks, going back for centuries.

It is not a matter of putting some cardinals and bishops through a quickie Finance 101 online tutorial; it is a matter of cleaning out what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger referred to as ‘filth in the Church’ shortly before the 2005 Conclave and his elevation to the Papacy.

The Vatican’s Money Game continues.

Just a couple of recent items, fresh from the 21st century:

Item #1

Italy’s respected daily, Corriere della Sera, reported a few weeks ago that the Vatican Bank has been linked by investigating prosecutors to the spectacular collapse of Monte dei Paschi (MdP), a Siena bank now in de facto receivership.  The facts, as always, are murky, but here are the essentials:

A few years ago Monte dei Paschi paid Banco Santander €9 billion to purchase Antonveneta bank, this just a few weeks after Santander had acquired Antonveneta for €6.6 billion.

So Santander cleared €2.4 billion (about $3.3 billion) in a few weeks.

According to Reuters  the Corriere article reported,

“…several sets of numbers it said identified IOR bank [Vatican bank] accounts used to transmit funds to Monte Paschi for the acquisition.  Prosecutors are looking into allegations that bribes were paid to secure the deal.”

Item #2

Just last week, according to a respected Vaticanista in Rome, there was a curious two-step involving the naming of the #2 official in the Secretariat for the Economy.

While Cardinal Pell was quickly named the prefect (CEO) of the secretariat, the key position of “prelate secretary general” i.e. the COO [Chief Operating Officer] had not yet been filled.

Days ago a prominent monsignore closely associated with Opus Dei let it be known – unofficially, but widely – that he was to be named as prelate secretary general.

So it must have come as a surprise to this worthy cleric that at the beginning of this week it was announced officially that the Pope’s personal secretary, Mons. Alfred Xuareb, would fill the post of COO.  The monsignore is from Malta.   Let’s hope he will be as sharp-eyed as local Maltese Falcons are reputed to be.

From a distance, all of this may strike some as office politics among celibate males.  Not so, this is deadly serious business involving an unrelenting fight over money, power and accountability.

There is an old joke that ran on Italian TV a few years ago after one of the bank’s scandale du jour and prompted a blast from the Vatican; abbreviated:

The Holy Trinity wins a quiz show, the prize – free trip anywhere.

God the Father opts for East Africa, “ancestral home of humankind.”

The Son picks Palestine, “grew up there, lived at home in Nazareth until I was 30.”

The Holy Spirit, “I’d like to go to the Vatican.”

The Emcee, “What, isn’t that a busman’s holiday for you?”

The Holy Spirit, “Haven’t been there in decades.”

Time for a visit.

Cardinal Points

Cardinal Points

[January 17, 2014]

Overview

In the past few days there have been newsworthy developments from Rome,

  • The official announcement of the 19 prelates to be elevated to the personal rank of cardinal at the upcoming February 22 consistory;
  • An in-depth front-page article above-the-fold in the New York Times issue of January 14, four columns wide, 2000+ words, pics;
  • The first visit to the Vatican by a U.S. secretary of state in nine years, on January 14, paving the way for an eventual meeting between the Pope and the President later this year.

Part of the ‘Francis effect’ is a surge in the relevance of what is happening within the Vatican, and the consequences throughout the world for 1.2 billion Catholics in over 200,000 parishes, clustered into 5,000 dioceses and eparchates.

The imminent investiture of 19 cardinals is one of the most noteworthy management actions by Pope Francis in the ten months since his election last March.  The commentary below picks up on what has been reported and adds some personal observations, including promotions that did not materialize and significant changes within the College of Cardinal Electors regional alignments.

In an absolute monarchy like the papal state, the geographic distribution and balance within the powerful College of Cardinal Electors is a closely watched indicator of shifts in the influence of regional blocs, particularly as secularization continues to sweep across Europe and North America, at present the most over-represented regions.

It appears that the tempo of activity is increasing after the years of stagnation under Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus.  As Lenin wrote,

“…sometimes decades pass and nothing happens, and then sometimes weeks pass and decades happen.”

Cardinal Electors and Regional Blocs

As widely reported, on January 12 last at the noon Angelus in Rome the names of 19 prelates who will receive their ‘red hats’ at the February 22 consistory were announced.

Sixteen of these men are under the age of 80, hence eligible to be cardinal-electors until they ‘time-out’ upon reaching their 80th birthdays.

The other three selected for red hats are ‘over-80s’ and become cardinals in recognition of their accomplishments, but they do not process into the Sistine Chapel for the conclave balloting, i.e. the papal election.

A few points should be kept firmly in mind:

  • There is by current statute an overall limit of 120 cardinal electors; this could be modified by the Pope, but he has chosen not to do this;
  • There is a two-thirds threshold among the cardinals present and voting, the super majority required for a candidate to be elected pope; and
  • Currently, there is the blatantly disproportionate influence of the Italian and the American cardinals’ clique:
  • At last March’s conclave, there were 39 cardinals from these two countries; this was precisely one-third of the total electors’ votes in the chapel, lodged in the hands of cardinals from two countries with only 10% of Catholics world-wide; the magic of the one-third number is that with a two-thirds super majority rule, these 39 cardinals could prevent (with one additional supporting cardinal) the election of someone not to their liking.

In summary,

The voting weight of the largest national contingent (from Italy) has been diluted, as the balance of power within the Electoral College shifts from the Developed Countries towards the Developing World, particularly Latin America;

No U.S. prelates were on the promotion list;

During 2014, there are 13 incumbent Cardinal-Electors who will time-out; assuming this pope has the opportunity of filling these positions in next year’s consistory, between the 16 to be elevated in a few weeks, and another 13 openings, Pope Francis has the ability to handpick almost one-fourth of the electors in a future conclave.

It is now more than a third of a century (36 years, actually) since an Italian sat on the Throne of San Pietro, with an intervening westward movement of popes from Poland to Germany to Argentina.

For the media, the headline after the announcement of the prelates’ names could have been:

  • U.S. breaks even; Italy down 18%; Latin America poised for growth.

The Roman Curia (four of the sixteen Electors)

Four Curial prelates were promoted.  No surprises, these nominations may be viewed as ex officio promotions, i.e. by virtue of the positions these individuals hold, since by tradition the incumbent is a cardinal:

Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, Italy;

Prefect of Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, Germany;

Prefect of Clergy Beniamino Stella, Italy; and

Secretary General of the Bishops Synod, Lorenzo Baldisseri, Italy

Not promoting these four Roman Curiales would have been as awkward as having a chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff held at the three-star rank, while responsible for coordinating his four-star colleagues – the chiefs of the uniformed services.

The Residential Sees (twelve of the sixteen Electors)

 

Here regional politics matter a lot, since these cardinals remain in their home countries, with large dioceses, involvement in local politics, and leading roles in the national and regional bishops conferences:

  • The Developing World gets nine red hats (Latin America with five, Asia with two, and Africa with two);
  • The Developed World gets three (Italy, Britain and Canada).

The United States:

[Eleven electors at the March 2013 conclave; no time-outs in 2014.]

Not a single one of the 19 cardinals-to-be is an American.  It is worth pondering this under-reported peculiarity, but many of the U.S. media failed to mention it.

Locally, the Boston Globe simply picked up an AP dispatch from the Vatican (which did not mention the U.S. shut-out), and failed to run anything of its own.  This just a few days after the Globe’s new owner gave a speech declaring the paper’s mission to be ‘aggressively relevant’; hmmm.

Another American angle that did not get much play was, as Sherlock once observed, the dog that did not bark…the fact that the incumbent archbishops of Philly and LA were NOT selected for promotion, although these important Sees are traditionally led by cardinals.

Perhaps what factored into the non-selection of LA’s Archbishop Jose Gomez and Philly’s Archbishop Charles Chaput is that both dioceses are still struggling with the after-shocks of clergy sexual abuse, and have awkward elephants in the room:

Their previous leaders, Cardinals Roger Mahony and Justin Rigali, are now retired, but remain eligible cardinal-electors until they time-out in 2016 and 2015 respectively.

Someone suggested that this is the impediment to the promotion of the incumbents…hogwash…Boston’s Archbishop Sean O’Malley received his red hat in 2006, at a time when his unlamented predecessor, Bernard Law, still had five years of shelf-life as an elector.

Or perhaps some of the cardinali americani are not as treasured as they were in the past, especially in light of the very public papal politicking of two of these luminaries during the March, 2013 conclave:

One of them actually blogged that no cardinal goes into the conclave with the ambition of being pope.

Italy:

[Twenty-eight electors at the March, 2013 conclave; five time-outs in 2014.]

Barring future nominations, by the beginning of 2015 the Italian electoral contingent drops down to 23, quite a reduction from the 28 cardinal electors at the March, 2013 conclave, who thought they had the luxury of splitting their support between two paesani  – Cardinals Bertone and Scola.

In anticipation of Francis’ first batch of cardinals, it had been expected that two leading Italian Sees currently headed by mere archbishops, the Archdioceses of Turin and Venice, would have their incumbents promoted to red hats.  Didn’t happen.

This is especially peculiar given that Venice enjoys the special status of ‘patriarchate’, and has been a launching pad for popes, with three of its patriarchs moving down to Rome over the past hundred years:

St. Pius X: Blessed John XXIII; and John Paul I (the 33-day pope; cfr. The Godfather: Part III for details).

 

Other Dioceses:

Rome:

One of the bizarre actions taken by Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict, during the strange interregnum between his resignation announcement (February 13) and his step-down (February 28), was to reshuffle the committee of cardinals tasked with the oversight of the (sigh) Vatican Bank, and to appoint his ‘Dick Cheney’ (apologies to the former Veep), Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as the committee chair for a five-year term.

[Imagine what the media would have reported if Richard Milhous Nixon had changed out the chairman of the Fed during that resignation week of August 5, 1974, between his announcement and his good-bye wave on August 9.]

Just two days ago, the Vatican announced that Cardinal Bertone had been removed from the IOR’s oversight committee.

Elegant timing.

Perugia:

The one Italian See that did have its archbishop awarded a red hat was Perugia, with the selection of Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti.  Since at least the early 20th century, this See has never had a cardinal as its ordinary.  It is not a stretch to conclude that because the archdiocese has Assisi in its territory, Pope Francis wished to send yet another signal about his strong affinity with his chosen name-sake.

Dublin:

On the other hand, Dublin’s ordinary, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, was not selected.  The AP reported that he

has angered some in the Vatican by strongly criticizing how the hierarchy handled the worldwide clerical sex abuse scandal.”

Boston:

Regarding a timed-out (and unlamented) cardinal from Boston, the current issue of Vanity Fair has an interview with singer/actor Diahann Carroll; she is asked the standard battery of Marcel Proust questions, and one of her responses is striking:

Question:  Which living person do you most despise?

Answer:    Cardinal Law.

It might have been ‘opportune’ if – at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis here – some of Boston’s church-going political apparatchiks had displayed at least a fraction of Ms. Carroll’s courage.

New York & Sydney:

A papal letter was issued a day after the release of the names of the 19 prelates selected for promotion, with some interesting words for the cardinals-designate from Pope Francis:

“…please, receive this designation with a simple and humble heart.  And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness, or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty [emphasis added]…

Hmmm, what is that all about?

Perhaps the habit of Sydney’s ordinary (and other red hats, to be fair) who on occasion flaunts the cappa magna, a bright red silk ‘train’ ten meters long (almost a first down in the NFL), requiring clerical attendants to hold the hem.

Or perhaps it refers to New York’s media-friendly ordinary who brought a large entourage to his Rome installation as cardinal in February, 2012, with:

Lavish festivities over several days;

Reports of two chartered 747s to accommodate the 1,000 accompagnatori from GothamCity; and

The title of ‘Mother of the Consistory” bestowed by the American press on the newly minted cardinal’s mamma.

The 98-year old cardinaldesignate:

One of the timed-out prelates to be elevated is really timed-out, Archbishop Loris Capovilla, former private secretary to Pope John XXIII; age 98.

This cardinal-designate was widely considered to be the good angel perched on the good pope’s shoulder, the source of much of the innovation during Pope John’s short but epochal papacy.  Volumes have been written about Vatican II, and the debate is by no means over.

But it may be lost to many that another major initiative of Pope John was an effort to steer the two superpowers away from nuclear confrontation, with his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris, released just a few months after things nearly spun out of control during the October, 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Archbishop Capovilla took a lot of flak, including ‘friendly fire’, for his role in bringing the Holy See into the Cold War debate.

Pope Francis recognition of Capovilla, decades after the fact, is a signal of how seriously he takes the spreading conflagrations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia.

Ouagadougou:

Finally, in sub-Sahara Africa the archbishop of Ouagadougou was selected for promotion to cardinal.

The media have not provided a translation of the name of the country in question, Burkina Faso.  Once upon a time it was known as Upper Volta, a colonial legacy.

The current name translates from a local dialect as ‘Land of the Erect Men’, according to a British friend, an old African hand out of a John LeCarre’ novel.

Global Catholic Demographics

Those of a certain age may recall the Washington debates during the 1960s about ‘one man, one vote’, with rural electoral districts having disproportionate influence at the ballot box when compared with urban and suburban districts.

If you think of the advanced economies of Europe and North America as the globe’s cities, and the developing countries mired in poverty as the rural areas (according to Chairman Mao, anyway), then the Catholic Church has stood this anomaly on its head by stacking its conclave with electors from wealthy nations that are secularizing and emptying out churches, while marginalizing the conclave influence of nations with high population growth, significant Catholic presence, and an acute need for material and pastoral care.

It’s all in the numbers, with two developed countries outweighing developing countries on the periferie by an ‘order of magnitude’ (a factor of ten, as Dr. Sheldon Cooper [The Big Bang Theory] would explain):

  • Italy today with 25 electors and 50 million Catholics has
    • one cardinal for every 2 million faithful;
  • The U.S. with 11 cardinal electors and about 70 million has about
    • one cardinal for every 6 million;
  • Latin America with 18 cardinals and 507 million Catholics has
    • one cardinal for every 28 million;
  • ThePhilippines, with two cardinals and 80 million Catholics has
    • one cardinal for every 40 million.

End Comment

Steering a 2,000 year old institution with truly global reach has been compared with trying to maneuver a 100,000 ton aircraft carrier.

Actually it may be tougher because of the enormous inertia of the status quo, built up during the last years of John Paul and the entire papacy of Benedict.

Moreover, while from the outside the Church may seem to be a monolith, the internal tensions are sharp.  Remember Vatileaks?  And the captain on the bridge turned 77 just one month ago.

In his first ten months of service he has certainly set a new tone, but perhaps most importantly, in world affairs he has made the Church relevant again to the resolution of many of the most intractable contemporary issues – poverty and war, to pick just a couple.

And by his personal example he is entirely serious about tackling the disgusting spectacle of clericalism with its trappings of opulence…he himself has used words like ‘leprosy’ and ‘unctuousness’ in describing these afflictions.

Through the upcoming consistory, he is promoting from the ranks a new cadre of four-stars, men (only men, for now) who are expected to share his vision.  A very tall order indeed.  But in a slow and deliberate fashion, the ground seems to be shifting.

Some in the Curia (and in the USCCB) are muttering that while Francis is a good and saintly fellow, he doesn’t seem to have a game plan, but is merely improvising.  This echoes the rap on Christopher Columbus,

 

…someone who didn’t know where he was going and didn’t know where he had arrived…

 

But here we are dealing with the first-ever Jesuit pope, a pontefice who has not lost his well-honed ability to think, his shrewdness in projecting his public persona, and his courage to speak clearly.

The most cynical French diplomat during the Revolutionary and the Napoleonic eras, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a former Catholic bishop laicized by Le Pape du Jour, had this to say about the Jesuits:

Whether you agree with them or not, everyone finds in the Jesuits that precious note of reason.”

 

Btw…In anticipation of next Sunday’s NFC conference title game, while I am on a plane headed to Rome:

Ite, patriae amantes’  [‘go pats’].

The Francis Effect…and Gorby-mania

The Francis Effect…and Gorby-mania

[December 27, 2013]

Overview

Pope Francis has captured the world’s imagination less than ten months after his March 13, 2013 election:

TIME’s Person of the Year;

The New Yorker’s recent 9,000 word profile by prominent Catholic author James Carroll;

Person of the Year from The Advocate, a gay-rights monthly; and

Rock-star crowds at Wednesday General Audiences in Rome.

Those of a certain age recall the Gorby-mania that swept us up in the mid-1980s after the Politburo’s surprise selection in March, 1985 of Mikhail Sergeyevitch Gorbachev (barely 54) as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

This came after almost twenty years of sclerotic leadership by Leonid Brezhnev (whose IQ was smaller than his wife’s bra size), followed briefly by two forgotten hacks in the Kremlin’s curia (ok, Yuri Andropov and Konstantine Chernenko, if you insist).

[Footnote: today is the 34th anniversary of the USSR’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, one of Brezhnev’s few proactive decisions, and a geopolitical blunder that Gorbachev reversed after a costly and fruitless decade of fighting.]

Gorby” was selected by TIME as ‘Man of the Decade’ in early 1990. But two years later he resigned as head of state upon the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Sic transit gloria Gorby.

What are the lessons learned, apart from the obvious one, i.e. the curse that descends on many athletes who grace the cover of TIME’s Sports Illustrated publication?

That faith-based empires, whether the USSR, the Church or TIME Inc. itself, are increasingly vulnerable to instability caused by the pervasive effects of media that democratize information and move it globally at warp speed (faster, actually).

Media paradigm shifts are not kind to empires that seek to control information flows. The catalyst for the Reformation in the 16th century is generally considered to have been the introduction of the movable-type printing press in Europe in 1450 (‘introduction’, not ‘invention’, since this was old stuff in Asia).

The TIME story, probably the most widely read assessment of this young papacy in the U.S., is important as a shaper of popular attitudes. Generally, it is (as intended) a wide-ranging review of a papacy with great promise, made accessible by minimizing the clerical-speak; and by touching on most (but not all) important issues, but to varying degrees.

IMO, however, two important themes that run throughout the article that should have been developed much further:

Bergoglio’s formation as a Argentine Jesuit, entering the seminary in 1956 and taking final vows in 1970, with his priestly local service spanning more than five decades; and

The vexing issues facing the Church, dating back to Pope Paul’s encyclical on birth control in 1968.

In addition the TIME article has a fascinating centerfold (not that kind, please) with a graphic on the Church’s presence in major continental regions. It may come as a surprise that the U.S. Catholics account for only 5% of the global Catholic flock, which – strangely – tracks almost precisely with the U.S. share of global population, also 5%. This would have been worth more commentary because demographics, religious and secular, are important shapers of the future. But in the interest of brevity (not my default setting) I will leave this for a later post.

The Argentine Years of Jorge Mario Bergoglio

(Don’t cry for me Argentina, I’m the one who should cry)

A few aspects of Bergoglio’s formation are touched upon, but would have benefited from more analysis (The Economist), and less coloratura (People Magazine):

His late blooming vocation and final orders,

His selection of the Society of Jesus,

The turbulent political/economic context of Argentina.

Unlike most priestly vocations, including many American clerics who process directly from high school to the seminary (or even earlier, into the junior seminary in their mid-teens), Bergoglio entered the Jesuit novitiate at age 21, and did not take final vows until 1973 – in his mid-30s. Par for the grueling Jesuit apprenticeship course before final vows, which means that young Bergoglio was probably a full decade older than the typical diocesan priest at ordination. Contrast this depth of life experience and maturity with that of many seminary graduates in their early 20s.

Regarding his chosen priestly path as a Jesuit, with all due respect in the closed universe of Catholic religious training the difference between a diocesan recruit and a Jesuit novice is something like what separates an Army private from an aspiring Navy SEAL.

Over almost five centuries since the order’s founding by a convalescent Spanish soldier, the Jesuits’ discipline and single-mindedness have been become the stuff of legend. And these were probably factors in banning of the order by several nations, as well as by one pope (Clement XIV in 1773).

The Jesuits’ well-honed ability to reason, parse and dissect has given several languages an adjective that is not altogether flattering. From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “Jesuitical…given to intrigue or equivocation.” TIME sanitizes all this into a casual phrase, “a very canny operator’.

But the Jesuits’ masterful use of words and dialectics suggests that the statements of the first-ever Jesuit pope should be assessed very carefully; count the syllables. It also suggests that being mindful of the enormous reach of his words, some of his off-the-cuff comments (“a braccio”) may actually be the product of well-rehearsed spontaneity.

Interestingly, Francis’ most discussed statements do not come from his 48,000-word Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, but from comments delivered in extra-papal settings, notably,

Who am I to judge;” in a flight from Brazil to Italy; and

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods;” summer interview Jesuit publication La Civilta’ Cattolica.

Perhaps his most surprising comment, at least for the conservative wing of the episcopate and the flock, was something not featured in TIME, but picked up in Carroll’s New Yorker article. In correspondence with one of Italy’s most prominent atheists, co-founder and editor of L’espresso (no, not the caffe; but the leading weekly for the Italian secular left), Francis wrote:

I would not speak about ‘absolute’ truths even for believers…Truth is a relationship. As such, each of us receives the truth…according to one’s own circumstances, culture, and situation in life…

Finally, what about Bergoglio’s 76 years of life experience in Argentina until his elevation to the papacy?

The history of Argentina since World War II is not a happy one. Coming out of that global conflict as a neutral with a strong economy that benefited from lucrative trade with belligerents on both sides, but none of the shattering human and material losses of many of the warring nations, it might have been thought that Argentina would thrive in the postwar era, blessed by economic prosperity and political stability.

Not so…its political economy is a puzzlement to the experts, considering the nation’s rich resource endowment and its potential. But that has not materialized, judging by chronic government instability and economic crises.

Politically, Argentina has had a sequence of just about every imaginable regime, excluding perhaps the Leninist model of a ‘peoples democracy’, but including fragile democracies; military juntas; and bouts of populism pushed to Peronista extremes. This eclectic mixture – and especially the recurring bouts of Peronismo – has shaped Francis’ views on economics, to the audible dismay of Rush Limbaugh et al.

The widows of two presidents of Argentina have risen to national leadership:

Not Evita, as Broadway fans might conclude, but Juan Peron’s second wife, Isabel Martinez de Peron; and

The incumbent president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, known as CFK.

The mid-1970s to early 1980s were especially bad, with a Dirty War marking the years of the military dictatorship, 1976 through 1983. Perhaps ironically, it was another woman who brought about the junta’s eventual downfall: The Iron Lady herself, Maggie Thatcher.

During many of these years of near civil war, Bergoglio served a six-year term as leader of the Jesuit order in Argentina, from 1973 through 1979. Given the strength of the Church in Argentina, the important role of the Jesuits, and the viciousness of the urban warfare that erupted at the time, it was probably impossible for Father Bergoglio, S.J. to come through this period without criticism.

Retrospectively, he has acknowledged ‘errors’ and ‘sins’, and criticized his own leadership in fairly scathing terms. From Carroll’s profile, quoting Francis self-assessment:

My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems…”

Francis is not the only Catholic prelate to have been scarred by the terrible moral choices that arise under the circumstances of civil war. But he is perhaps unique in having accepted fulsomely his personal responsibility.

And it is a damn sight better than anything that was ever heard from such American luminaries as Bernard Law, Justin Rigali and Roger Mahony regarding clerical sex abuse during their diocesan watches in Boston, Philly and LA.

Beyond that, and what is missing from the soft-focus of the TIME article, is the fact that someone, endowed with ex cathedra infallibility (a piece of dogma jammed through in very dubious fashion by Pope Pius IX at the tail end of his Ecumenical Council of 1870), can man up to a human failing.

Those Pesky Pelvic Issues (plus a few profane ones)

we cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage…

Predictably, some in the American hierarchy are trying to explain this away…media distortion, out of context, wait for clarification, give him more time, and other weasel words of this genre.

But a few bishops have ventured into outright criticism of Christ’s vicar on earth, notably Rhode Island’s Bishop Thomas Tobin, perhaps emboldened by the fact that his diocese, the Ocean State, has the highest percentage of Catholics in the U.S. (59%):

Our commitment to human life is important. Some have said that this commitment can be an obsession” (Boston Globe, December 10, 2013).

Whatever your position on this wrenching issue, it has to be said without any irony that Tobin’s unambiguous statement is decidedly more honorable than some of the sotto voce sniping by other American prelates. But not as laughable as a couple of bizarre statements from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, emphasizing issues the pope would de-emphasize on “Meet the Press”:

“[the Church was being] caricatured as anti-gay;”

Sure, nothing wrong with caricaturing a multitude of Catholics as “intrinsically disordered’, I guess. But attenzione, prelates who live in stained-glass rectories should be careful.

And this other Dolan dictum:

The Church has been “out-marketed” on the issue of same-sex marriage by Hollywood.

How ‘New York’ of Sua Eminenza, just get the packaging right and our product will sell itself; no need to worry about content.

But who will bear the cost of a full-blooded marketing campaign, with Super Bowl XLVIII advertising rates above $4 million for 30 seconds?

Non es problema; just sell off a Chelsea church for the $50 million in the executed purchase-and-sale; that’ll buy you more than six minutes of prime time.

Or maybe list for sale a Little Italy Catholic School; ask for $29 million, and make the announcement on Christmas Eve, while the flock is distracted by religion and family…

Francis has convened a Bishops Synod for October, 2014, an Extraordinary General Sessions to discuss “challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.

Think of a Bishops Synod as the venue for a robust doctrinal debate, with opposing viewpoints swaddled in expressions of esteem and collegiality; something like a convention of Massachusetts Democrats, but minus the profound spirituality of those proceedings.

Until the Synod meets next fall, one may expect more papal comments delivered in a variety of settings. In addition to what has been said, and what will be signaled, attention should also be paid to what is not put up for discussion.

In this regard, one of the major disappointments since March 13, 2013, may be the issue of women. TIME quotes Francis on this,

The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions

Well, again with all due respect, then why are there only Mens Rooms at the Conclave?

TIME tries to come off fair-and-balanced by reporting that

the real significance of these new horizons [for women who expect equal protection and rights] will likely come in countries where the stakes for women are far higher that just the question of ordination.”

These stakes include female genital mutilation and access to university education for women.

But TIME forgets that bestowing kudos for merely opposing an egregious crime is literally grotesque, out of proportion. The basic problem for the Church remains its female dilemma, Madonna or whore?

Rafaello solved this in the 16th century by painting ethereal Madonnas for his Vatican patrons, while saving his lusty masterpiece, La Fornarina (The Bakeress), for one of Rome’s wealthy families.

Today that dichotomy simply does not work. Yet the attitudes of the senior clergy remain mired in the distant past, and that is something that Francis will have to address. The ridiculous epitome of this was witnessed in Boston during the 2004 Lenten season, when the recently installed archbishop declined to wash the feet of women, although his unlamented predecessor – Bernard Law – had no such compunctions. The archbishop’s damage control consisted in a pledge ‘to seek guidance on whether he should wash women’s feet’ on his next trip to Rome, months away. But Eccellenza, if you have to ask, why bother?

Getting beyond the efforts of elderly, self-described celibate clerics to instruct us on how to control the Eros demons of our lesser natures, just a couple of profane (and somewhat sordid) issues should be noted, Bishop Bling and – yes – the Vatican Bank.

TIME gives the livin’ large bishop of Limburg, Germany, a bit of ink, reporting that Franz-Peter Tebart van-Elst, was suspended for overseeing a

“…$42.5 million renovation of the church residence that includes a $20,500 bathtub…”

But the suspension is not the whole story. What is publicly known at present is that he remains ‘suspended’ but not removed from office, with his episcopal see being administered by his designated deputy. Behind the scenes there is a tug-of-war between a German clerical mafia based in Rome, and shielding the bishop; against others within the hierarchy of Germany who would like to see the bishop ousted from office.

Concerning the Vatican Bank (“IOR”), all is quiet in the TIME article; there is merely a fleeting mention, upfront, of the Vatican’s “immense wealth,” but nothing about the IOR; strange, but consistent with the unspoken elephant-in-the-room approach taken in Rome.

As of now some things have happened, and some important things have not happened:

➢ The option of getting the Holy See out of the banking business seems to be off-the-table;

➢ A flurry of progress has been reported, with the IOR moving towards compliance with European Union transparency standards, tightened criteria for accepting depositors, and rapid reporting of suspicious transactions;

➢ A new Direttore Generale has been named, Rolando Marranci, promoted up from the ranks where he served as deputy DG; and

➢ Yet another Vatican overseer for the IOR, layered on top of the various commissions and prelates: the pope’s own private secretary, Monsignor Alfred Wuereb (from Malta) to watch over things…The Maltese Falcon, so to speak.

However, two rather important things have not happened:

➢ Former secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, remains the ‘president’ of the bank’s Commissione Cardinalizia, its supervisory board; this is the body that ratified the appointment of Dr. Marranci as the new DG;

➢ And ‘Suitcase Scarano’, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano arrested in June at a Rome airport with €20 million cash in his valise, is still in a Rome jail.

Concludendo…

The TIME article highlights the “tone and temperament” of Francis, while granting that “he has not changed the words.”

This tension between style and substance, presentation and message, is a recurring theme among observers.

But perhaps it is more illuminating to consider the arc of Mikhail Gorbachev as a would-be reformer from 1985 to 1991. First of all, there is no doubt that Gorbachev was a life-long product of the Soviet system, not someone infiltrated by the capitalist West to destroy the USSR…the Politburo needed no help in that regard.

The pillars of his policy were glasnost (transparency) and perestroika (restructuring); not unlike Francis’ efforts at clearer messaging, and his Council of Eight for restructuring the curia.

‘Suspicious Minds’ in the West thought that Gorby’s new policies were just a Commie trick, at least until the late 1980s.

But what many observers, inside and outside, missed was the fact that pent-up centrifugal forces within the Soviet Union’s republics could not be controlled by gradual, piece-meal reforms; and the die-hard Communists could not accept even meager concessions.

So the philosophical debate between style and substance may miss the point that in a rigidly controlled empire, secular or faith-based, an effort from the top to accommodate long-standing grievances through symbols and gestures may unleash forces beyond one’s control or imagining.

From Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America:

The most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it

decides to reform.

Several [but not Seven] Pillars of Ignorance about the Church

Several [but not Seven] Pillars of Ignorance about the Church

[November 17, 2013]

Overview 

As the holiday season approaches, international media organizations are developing reports on Pope Francis, his stewardship to date, and a sense of where he can be slotted along the spectrum of conservative-to-moderate-to-progressive.  Leaving that task to folks well above my pay-grade, I prefer to offer some observations ranging from Rome to the American pews, clustered into five (not seven) discrete areas: 

Papal Leadership Styles

The Vatican Bank

The Vatican Judiciary

Bergoglio’s Brother Bishops

November 22, 1963

 

Papal Leadership Styles 

About a century ago, the German sociologist Max Weber provided the classical definition of leadership styles:  traditional, legal and charismatic. 

With 266 Roman Pontiffs across almost two millennia starting with San Pietro, the Catholic Church has experienced a wide range of CEO styles.  

But going back a mere century to the accession of Benedict XV in September, 1914 (just after the outbreak of The Great War), it is fair to say that among the nine bishops of Rome of this ‘modern’ era, Papa Francesco stands out, not only as the first-ever from the New World, but also because of his exuberant spontaneity which is becoming an integral part of his charisma. 

The only other pope among the other eight whose spontaneity was noteworthy might have been Pope John Paul I, (Albino Luciani, the 33-day pope), who had the habit of tossing aside prepared remarks drafted by the Curia Romana, conveying instead a sense of joy that contrasted with the demeanor of his dour predecessor, Pope Paul VI. 

Putting aside the brief interlude of Pope John Paul I, for the past hundred years the Church’s leaders have enjoyed unchallenged legitimacy based on several centuries of tradition and adherence to the Vatican’s legal structures.  The charismatic ingredient has been present in all cases, but to varying decrees:

Contrast the rock-star persona of the Polish Pope with the visible reticence of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI now the “Pope Emeritus.”

Yet looking more closely at the two most charismatic popes in living memory, John Paul II and Francis, there is a crucial difference between them: 

John Paul II reinforced his message with the powerful charisma of his wide-ranging travels and huge crowds; however, he relied heavily on the Vatican machinery to execute his clear doctrinal message, to enforce it where necessary, and to bring forward – as candidate cardinals and bishops – only those prelates strictly in line with his message.

On the other hand, Francis’ charisma – remarkable and growing – consists mostly of his New Look of humility and modesty, without any hard-edged doctrinal content.  At the most, a willingness to open a discussion on previously taboo topics (priestly celibacy?).  But no substantive changes to date.

 

In his masterful book on the Kennedy phenomenon (discussed infra), The Kennedy Imprisonment, author Garry Wills mentions some of the key features of charismatic leadership:

 

the product of crisis and enthusiasm…[with] an emergency character [from a study of Max Weber by Reinhard Bendix]”;

works through a loose organizational structure [Bendix]”; and

When it tries to supersede continuing forms of authority, it destabilizes itself [Wills; emphasis added]”.

 

This last comment is crucial, and may be a preview of coming episcopal attractions where many prelates, including a leading American cardinal, take it upon themselves to explain to lesser (laity) mortals what the pope actually means; more, infra.

 

The Vatican Bank (Istituto per le Opere di Religione, IOR)

 

An interesting item popped up yesterday in La Repubblica, a major Italian print daily, titled “IOR, The manual that explains how to foil suspect transactions.”  The instruction to all IOR employees begins, 

Procedures to block the recycling of the proceeds from criminal activities and the financing of terrorism.” 

 Now who could argue with that worthy objective?  Well, read on for the answer.

 Key features:

 All funds transfer transactions have to be scored on the basis of several criteria:

Geography, i.e. country of origin of transaction;

Size of client’s account;

Type of transaction (cash, negotiable instrument, etc.);

Involvement of offshore havens;

Profile of the client.

 

This last criterion merits a verbatim quote from the article:

 

“[translated] If the one proposing the operation is a cardinal the risk is high.  It [the risk] diminishes if it is something involving a bishop, a religious, or a lay employee or the Vatican.  The reason is simple:  if a cardinal commits something illicit, the damage [to the Church] is greater.”

 

All cash transactions of €1,000 or greater (a $1,350 threshold) must be ‘controlled’.  And while the norm for the Italian banks’ cash transfers is about 5% to 7% of all funds transfer operations, “[translated] for the IOR it is between 15% and 20% because of the many donations that the Church receives from all over the world.”  Ahem; or better, amen.

 

This somewhat obscure item may explain something that has drawn more attention from the international media:  chatter about unhappiness with the pope among chieftains of La ‘Ndrangheta which is the Calabrese version of La Cosa Nostra (Sicily) and La Camorra (Naples and Campania).  Anti-mafia prosecutors have been surveilling the Goodfellas for years, and recently picked up cell phone intercepts.  From the U.K.’s The Independent, a leading daily, on November 13:

 

Pope Francis’s life is in danger from ‘ndrangheta…a magistrate in the southern city of Reggio Calabria…has said that the Pontiff’s crackdown on financial corruption in the Vatican has angered bosses in the brutal crime syndicate.

 

Earlier this week the Pope, as head of Lo Stato della Città del Vaticano, paid a courtesy call on the President of Italy.  Without any escort cars, Francis traveled across the Tiber to the Quirinale Palace in a four-door Ford compact, shunning his armored Mercedes limo.

So, a technical change in the IOR’s vetting of funds transfer operations has displeased some folks. 

As Lenin did in fact say, “everything is connected with everything else.”

 

The Vatican Judiciary 

In the course of last week the Vatican’s supreme-court equivalent, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, held its fall plenary session in Rome.

 

For many anxious American parishioners whose canon appeals against parish suppressions and church closings have been working their way through the Vatican appellate system, there were decidedly mixed feelings when it became clear that no parishioner appeals were on the docket, hence at least another six months of waiting until the 2014 spring session.

 

Based on several active Signatura appeals in which I am involved, from Boston, New York, Fall River, Philadelphia, Scranton, Saginaw, Indianapolis, Youngstown, Metuchen, Syracuse and Springfield MA (not Springfield OR, home of The Simpsons where Rev. Timothy Lovejoy keeps the First Church of Springfield open and full), I sense mixed feelings among my parishioner brethren:

 

Disappointment that their years of waiting stretch out even further; but hope that some of Pope Francis’ pastoral spirit will work its way through the labyrinths of the Vatican’s tradition-heavy judiciary.

 

In these appeals we have emphasized that when Pope Francis was the cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires he would urge his pastors to move out into le periferie, even renting garages for the worthy purpose of bringing the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments to the people where they live their daily lives.  That would appear to reverse the dynamic in many American dioceses, where closing parishes and deconsecrating churches flies in the face of the New Evangelization, since the parochial infrastructure of many American dioceses is being destroyed by the men, entrusted with their care, who have failed in their episcopal mandate in Canon 1752, the very last one in the Code:

 

“…keeping in mind that salvation of souls, which in the Church must always be the supreme law…”

      

Interestingly, the November docket of the Signatura was taken up by ‘priestly’ cases:  laicizations; and disputes between ordinaries and pastors.

 

Bergoglio’s Brother Bishops

 

The bickering is subdued, but with a tuned ear some of it may be heard, in sotto voce whispers.  The two clearest signals come from ranking German prelates, and from American Catholicism’s ancestral See – Baltimore, during the recent meeting of the American bishops’ conference.

 This episcopal discontent is now simmering at a low level.  But it bears careful monitoring because if it spreads (‘proliferates’) the odds of an unpleasant event climb rapidly. 

 

Germany

 

In my previous blog I reported on the Bishop of Bling; o.k., o.k., Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, Ordinary of the Diocese of Limburg.

As reported recently in The Tablet, the indispensable British weekly newsletter with its astute Vatican commentary, the bishop “hopes to return to Limburg.” 

His exile from the diocese of which he is still the head has taken him, over the past few weeks, from the German College in Rome to a Benedictine Abbey in Bavaria. 

On the Rome front, the Pope’s spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, has stated that this is an issue for the German bishops’ conference to address.

However, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has chosen to weigh in strongly on behalf of the Limburg ordinary. 

Moreover, there is speculation that Pope Francis’ chief-of-staff, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the Papal Household of Pope Francis, and seminary classmate of the Limburg ordinary, may be engaged. 

And of course, the Pope Emeritus, who as Benedict XVI appointed Tebartz-van Elst as bishop of Limburg, is now literally in the picture, living within the tight confines of the 105-acre Città del Vaticano in a small converted convent where he shares quarters with Archbishop Gänswein. 

Finally the ‘mother diocese’ of Limburg is the nearby rich and powerful Archdiocese of Cologne, where Cardinal Joachim Meisner continues in office, in spite of having vaulted past his pro forma retirement age almost five years ago, and reaching the age of 80 this Christmas. 

All in all, potentially quite a support network for Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.

 

Yet if ever there was a cut-and-dried test case for the Pope’s heroic efforts to eradicate episcopal displays of luxury, this is it – untainted by any pesky doctrinal issues. 

 

Baltimore, on the margins of the USCCB        

As widely reported, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held its General Assembly there last week. 

Out of a field of ten candidates to succeed New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan for a three-year term as president, Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz carried the day.

His tenure will take him through next year’s Congressional mid-terms and the 2016 Presidential marathon, as the leading spokesman for Catholic America.  More on the role of the American Church in politics, in the next section.

 

In an interview with CBS This Morning on November 13 Cardinal Dolan was asked an astute question by Charlie Rose

“[from the transcript] …regarding a survey to the world’s one billion Catholics and asking them for their opinions on many issues including same sex marriage, contraception and divorce. To many, this was seen as unusual to ask for opinions on already supposedly clear church doctrine.  Dolan said while the church doctrine is clear on these issues, the pope was asking his followers how the church can be better.” 

Dolan’s reply, 

“[emphasis added] What [the Pope is] asking about is how can we present it better? How can we be more effective at teaching? And how can we reach out with love and compassion to those who find it difficult to live up to church teaching?”

“Pope Francis is shrewd – he said that ‘the people that know about marriage and family best are – guess who? Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers..'” 

how the church can be more compelling

 

Let’s reflect for a moment, the “beautiful liberating teaching” about condoms? 

The “timeless teaching” of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 Papal Encyclical on contraception?  Ooops, I meant ‘regulation of birth’.

 

IMO Dolan’s comments are quite revealing.  And eerily reminiscent, but not in a good way, of the perfunctory consultations held with parishioners throughout Catholic America over the past decade, during the ‘pastoral planning’ for parish closings. 

Dolan’s First Avenue chancery in Manhattan is just a few blocks from Madison Avenue.  Perhaps His Eminence has in mind some help from the Mad Men in messaging, marketing and selling, since the timeless teaching content itself is apparently not up for discussion. 

Pushed to its logical conclusion [truly reductio as absurdum] what Dolan seems to be saying is, ‘just get the Papal website right, fix the glitches, and all will be well’.

 

 Image

 

Btw…The inset, above, is a screen-grab from the Baltimore CBS interview, and something about it caught my eye: 

Throughout almost all of the the CBS interview, the incoming USCCB president,  Archbishop Kurtz (on the right), has his iron pectoral cross clearly in sight; Cardinal Dolan’s shiny yellow pectoral is obscured by His Eminence’s hands. 

In the Vatican’s Palazzo Apostolico, there is hardly a gold one in view since Pope Francis has opted for a pewter pectoral 

Maybe New York’s ordinary didn’t get that e-mail.

 

Philadelphia’s ordinary, Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., also had some interesting sidebar comments about Pope Francis, from Baltimore:

“…Is there discontinuity between the leadership of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, and the new kind of leadership of Francis?  I think no…”

“…we should look at him after a year, rather than trying to size him up at each speech…

“…I was not criticizing the Holy Father…”

 

And he urged caution against those who

“…want to use the pope to further their own agendas…”

 

Hmmm, Catholics listening attentively to words and gestures from the Summum Pontifex of their Church, and then incorporating His message into their daily lives, and – yes – into their spiritual agendas.  What else is a Pope for, Your Excellency?

 

And another gem from Philly’s bishop about Pope Francis:

“…the first non-European in a very long time…and the way you see things from South America and the Southern Hemisphere is very different from northern Europe…”

 Yep, those southern Hemispherics ain’t like us northerners, gotta watch ‘em real careful-like.

 

November 22, 1963

 

The coming week will have extensive coverage of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, half a century ago. 

Until that tragedy, President Kennedy’s signature trip to Texas was the one that occurred in the closing weeks of his 1960 campaign, when he went to the Lone Star state to deliver a speech on September 12 to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a Protestant Clergy group with heavy Southern Baptist participation.  The speech, in a hostile venue, was an attempt to tamp down the anti-Catholic sentiment growing in volume and vitriol.  Politically it was a helluva gamble.

 

Given JFK’s eventual razor-thin majority in the 1960 national popular vote, about 112,000 votes out of 67 million cast (two-tenths-of-one-percent), it is not clear how successful his Houston speech actually was.  But the key quote, truly a profile in courage in that setting, ran:

 “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote…”

 

Contrast this with what Archbishop Chaput said on camera during a Catholic News Service interview in October of last year:

We’re Catholics before we’re Democrats. 

We’re Catholics before we’re Republicans.

We’re even Catholics before we’re Americans because we know that God

has a demand on us prior to any government demand on us.

 

That kind of statement from a leading Catholic prelate in the closing weeks of the tough 1960 campaign would have probably tilted the election to Milhous

To which most cardinals and bishops of today’s USCCB might say, 

sooooo?”

 

In contemporary America, JFK’s separation of church and state is about as effective as a swimming pool, with a sign at one end reading ‘Urination Section’, and on the other end ‘No-Urination Section’.

 

 

 

              

 

 

 

 

             

 

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

 

    

The Bishop of Bling…taken to the woodshed

The Bishop of Bling:
Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst
Ordinary of the Diocese of Limburg, Germany

[October 23, 2013]

Summary: Breaking News

As reported today in the Italian daily, il Fatto, Pope Francis has decided that Monsignor Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst, bishop of Limburg, Germany, but currently in Rome to explain the out-of-control spending in his diocese on a restoration project…

“[translated from the Italian] will not return to the diocese until light is cast upon the renovation expenses of the episcopal see…”

An Apostolic Administrator has been appointed on an interim basis to run the diocese.

According to a Vatican statement,

“[translated from the Italian] there has been created a situation in which the bishop for the present may not exercise his episcopal ministry.”

This is significant, and goes far beyond the alleged spending habits of one among several thousand Catholic bishops and eparchs around the globe:

It signals the seriousness of Pope Francis’ campaign against displays of luxury and profligate spending by high-ranking clergy;
It comes with lightning speed after a private audience between the pope and the bishop two days ago, where the bishop was given an opportunity to explain himself;
It is a swift reaction to lame news management efforts by the bishop yesterday, with a posting on his diocesan website to the effect that the papal meeting had been ‘very encouraging’;
It goes against the ingrained view within the Curia Romana that when it comes to cardinals and bishops, scandal must be avoided at all costs;
It hauls on the carpet one of Pope Benedict’s favorites, a protege he elevated to the rank of bishop at the youthful age of 47 (making Tebartz-van Elst at the time the youngest bishop in Germany);
There is nothing doctrinal about this episode, ‘it’s just business’ as Tessio said in The Godfather.

Overview

German and Italian media, and to a lesser extent some outlets in the U.S., have been reporting the widening controversy about the spending habits of Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, ordinary of the Diocese of Limburg in Germany, within the Ecclesiastical Province of the Archdiocese of Cologne. [I will avoid a facile riff about the pungent smell of local Limburger cheese.]
The issue is whether Catholic bishops and Eastern rite eparchs take seriously the pope’s admonitions about living large…
There is also the complicating factor that Tebart-van Elst was hand-picked by Pope Benedict and elevated in 2007 as the then-youngest bishop in Germany, clearly destined for higher duties, and a prelate in the mold of Pope Benedict.

The Facts of the Case, below, are drawn from the excellent reporting of two full-time Vaticanisti: Robert Mickens of The Tablet and Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa.

The End Comment is my responsibility.

Facts of the Case

 Spending

The renovation of a cluster of diocesan buildings close to the Cathedral, including the bishop’s residence, began some years ago with a budgeted cost of about €5 million (almost $7 million), and has soared to a current estimate of €31 million ($43 million); a six-fold increase.

As frequently happens, a particular item has become the ‘gotcha’ symbol for a complicated tangle of technical details:

€15,000 ($21,000) for His Excellency’s bathtub

Comment: Remember the $600 ashtray in a USAF stealth airplane? Turns out that the plane was pretty damn good, btw…

Separately, His Excellency got into a dispute with a wide-circulation German weekly, Der Spiegel, over his trip to India a few years ago to a poverty conference, and the cost of his air fare.

 Commentators

This episode has drawn comments from some leading personalities in Germany and in the Vatican:

Chancellor Angela Merkel, daughter of a Lutheran minister;
Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a German national;
Archbishop Robert Zollisch, head of the German conference of bishops; and
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Cardinal-archbishop of Munich and Freising, and a member of Pope Francis Group of Eight cardinal-consultors; a German national.

It lines up 3:1 against the Bishop of Bling.

Chancellor Merkel has described the Limburg situation as a ‘scandal’.
This is remarkably direct for someone whose defining trait is prudence.
But before anyone howls about ‘separation of church and state’ it should be kept in mind that the German government provides a handsome subsidy to the Catholic Church in Germany (and to other recognized religious denominations):

German taxpayers may direct to their designated religion the “Kirchensteuer,” about 8-9% of their tax bill.

So government officials have a stake in how money is spent by subsidized religious denominations. Pity that dozens of American attorneys general and district attorneys could not get it through their heads that the religious exemption from property taxes is in fact a taxpayers’ subsidy, something that any Ec-101 student could explain.

We are also four years away from the date of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, posted almost half a millennium ago in 1517; an anniversary that will have a lot of resonance in Germany.

Archbishop Gerhard Müller rose to the defense of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst last month, and described the media campaign against the bishop as

“a building of lies…the bishop stays…”

Interesting resonance here…when Pope Benedict was urged to remove his #2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone he reportedly answered,

“Der Mann bleibt” [the guy stays].

Further back in time, when the Boston clergy sex abuse scandal broke in January of 2002, several American cardinals were summoned to Rome in March, including Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law. With a pack of eager media types waiting to hear the results of their meeting with Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Law skipped the presser, and the lead spokesman for the Church, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, told the assembled scrum:

“Concerning the problem of sexual abuse and pedophilia…It’s already an X-ray of the problem that so many of the questions [are] in English”

This was his adorably oblique was of suggesting that pedophilia is most prevalent among Anglophones.

On the other hand, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch and Cardinal Reinhard Marx had some rational things to say about the Limburg situation:

Archbishop Zollitsch said, “we have an enormous credibility problem”;
Cardinal Marx described what was happening in Limburg as “disturbing.”

End Comment

The German episcopal conference has launched a commission to study the matter which is technically quite complex. So it is still possible that the bishop of Limburg will be exonerated. But two circumstances suggest otherwise:

a) The exiling of the bishop from his own see.
Interesting canonical question, usually, when an Apostolic Administrator is appointed (Boston, December, 2002 through July, 2003), this is because of a sede vacante (vacant seat); but in Limburg there is a sede plena sed absente (full but vacant see). But how can a single sede accommodate two prelates?

b) As noted above, three very senior stake-holders in Germany have weighed into the fray.

And there is quite a back-story here.

Pope Benedict’s selection of Tebart-van Elst in 2007 for the Limburg see was remarkable, and not just for the bishop’s age at the time (all of 47).
Monsignor Joseph Ratzinger himself was named bishop of Munich and Freising in 1977 at the age of 49, still slightly older than Tebart-van Elst at the equivalent times.
Previously, Monsignor Ratzinger had taught at Regensburg University; almost ditto for Monsignor Tebart-van Elst who had taught at Münster University.

Furthermore, the Limburg see is within the Ecclesiastical Province of Cologne, and this would make the Limburg ordinary a contender for one of the most prestigious big-city sees in Germany, the Archdiocese of Cologne.

It is too soon to draw any firm conclusions, but in the event that the Bishop of Bling’s temporary exile becomes permanent, this suggests an interesting avenue of recourse for beleaguered Catholics whose churches are being sold off while the local hierarchy lives large. Follow the advice that Pope Francis gave in Rio, and

‘make a mess in your dioceses’

Financial Report of Vatican Bank The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (apologies to Sergio Leone) [October 5, 2013]

Financial Report of Vatican Bank
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
(apologies to Sergio Leone)
[October 5, 2013]

Overview
“A certain wisdom is needed here; with a little ingenuity anyone can calculate the number”
(Revelations, Chapter 13 Verse 18)

The 2012 Annual Report of the Vatican Bank, the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR), was released on October 1 last. It covers financial activity for calendar 2012; the currency of account is the euro; and the results have been audited by the Swiss affiliate of the accounting firm KPMG, and certified as compliant with International Financial Reporting Standards.
In all of its glory, the report runs to 100 pages, available at http://www.ior.va.

These results can be categorized as:

The Good:
Net Profit of €86.6 million (about $117 million); this is a four-fold increase from profits realized in 2011.

The Bad:
Net Trading income (profit) of €51.1 million (about $69 million); this is a radical swing from the previous year’s Net Trading loss of €38 million, and shows that the entire Net Profit of the bank of €86.6 million is exposed to its trading desk, which between 2011 and 2012 swung from negative to positive by €89 million.
Remember the TARP bank bailouts of a few years ago? There is no equivalent bailout mechanism in the Vatican.

The Ugly:
Reuters reports that the IOR “is likely to close all accounts held by foreign embassies [accredited to the Holy See], following concerns about large cash deposits and withdrawals by the [diplomatic] missions of Iran, Iraq and Indonesia [which is the most populous Muslim country in the world].”

The sections that follow discuss:

 Trading activity;
 Operating Expenses;
 Dividend remitted to the share-holder (the Holy See); and
 IOR Governance.

Trading Activity

As mentioned, the most note-worthy development is that between 2011 to 2012, the IOR’s net trading position swung by €89 million ($120 million) from negative to positive, i.e. from a €38 million loss to a €51.1 million profit.
This swing exceeded the IOR’s overall profit of €86 million posted in 2012, and it exposes the bank’s profit, dividend and clients to market volatility on the downside.
About 70% of the IOR’s assets are in euros, meaning exposure to the stresses of the foreign exchange markets when the bonds of individual countries in the 17-member euro zone come under speculative attack.
On January 1, 2014, the euro zone expands to 18 members, with the scheduled entry of Latvia.
And one-third of the IOR’s assets consist of the obligations of Italy and Spain, where the local economies remain mired in crisis.
Collectively, this means that several factors beyond the IOR’s control could affect its trading margins, for the worse.

Operating Expenses

The IOR’s expenses grew by almost 15% between 2011 and 2012, to a total of €23 million. It is likely that this expense category will grow considerably in the future for several reasons:

 The sudden resignations in June, 2013, of the bank’s general director and the deputy general director; as IOR employees of a few decades, their so-called spese di buonuscita (exit payments) are likely to be considerable;

 Between 2011 and 2012 the IOR switched its audit firms, going from Deloitte & Touche’s Italian affiliate in 2011 to KPMG’s Swiss affiliate in 2012; it is probable that the elaborate presentation of results for 2012 and the continuing in-depth review of the IOR accounts (approximately 25,000), will require more accounting and auditing effort in the future;

 A risk and compliance manager was hired in July, 2013; over time this function will probably grow considerably.

Dividend to the Holy See

From the report:

“The IOR posted earnings of EUR 86.6 million, which allowed us to contribute EUR 54.7 million [almost $74 million] towards the budget of the Holy See, while transferring EUR 31.9 million to our general operating risk reserves.”

This level of dividend payout to the Holy See as sole shareholder is consistent with previous guesses in the media, to the effect that the Holy See and its curia have grown very dependent on the IOR for an annual dividend of about €50 million ($67.5 million) as the mainstay for the Vatican’s operating budget.

It also suggests that notwithstanding some recommendations that the IOR should be disbanded and its banking functions turned over to arms-length financial institutions, the Holy See may be ‘hooked’ on its IOR’s dividend. And it raises the question of what happens to the dividend in bad years, something the IOR has experienced in the past.

Governance of the IOR

The governance of the IOR is currently under review by a papal commission appointed last spring. In its current structure the IOR’s governance is as intricate as the Russian matryoshka dolls, each nesting or nested within another; but not as transparent. What’s worse, each level of governance has been the subject of sharply negative media interest in the recent months.

Within the bank there is a directorate, consisting of the General Director and the Deputy General Director.
In June, both incumbents resigned suddenly, after many years of service, shortly after the arrest of a high-level Vatican finance official.

Above the directorate there is a bank president and a board.
The incumbent was appointed during Pope Benedict’s lame-duck period, i.e. the two-and-a-half weeks between the pope’s earth-shaking announcement of his intent to resign (February 11), and the effective date of his resignation (February 28).

Above the board there is a Cardinals Commission.
Its president, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was reconfirmed to his five-year term during Pope Benedict’s 17-day lame-duck period. Curious timing.
President John Adams was criticized for his “midnight judges” appointed before turning over the reins to Thomas Jefferson in 1801. “Midnight bankers” at the Vatican in the 21st century?

And finally there is the position of ‘Prelate for the IOR’, essentially the pope’s eyes and ears focused on the bank.
This position had been vacant for about two years, when – last June – Pope Francis appointed a monsignore with very limited financial expertise. A few weeks after the appointment, one of the most prominent Vatican-watchers in the media published a ‘scandalous’ account concerning the monsignore, with detailed allegations going back more than a decade ago.

End Comment

The IOR has been an alcatraz (oops, I meant ‘albatross’; Boston joke, sorry) around the neck of several popes.

Pope Francis has made a heroic effort to strip away from the center of the Church the trappings of pomp and the over-the-top displays of luxury, at a time when economic hardship in Italy is deepening; according to official statistics:

40% unemployment today among the young (ages 18 through 29);
9% net loss in GDP (!) over the past 11 years.

And there are troubling warning signs ahead for the IOR:

 The significant turnover at the top levels of its management;
 The fierce infighting that has hit the highest levels of IOR governance, and may erupt again;
 The imprisonment of the senior Vatican financial official last June;
 The deeply entrenched interest groups who have benefitted immensely from their ability to launder funds through the bank;
 The recent allegations of IOR transfer services to the diplomatic mission of a government guilty of state-sponsored terrorism over several decades.

Which brings an observer full-circle back to the root question, why an IOR?
Is it worth it to a global Church with a vocation to spiritual leadership?

“Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse”
(Deuteronomy Chapter 11 Verse 26)

The Vatican Bank (again, sigh)

‘Everything’s up to date in Vatican City

they gone about as fer as they can go’

(apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein)

 

[9.30.2013]

 

Foreword

 

Remember when your mom took you to the dentist who said, this is not going to hurt?

And then it hurt a lot, but when you squawked the dentist said, it’s necessary!

 

This blogpost is about the Vatican’s financial institutions, and ‘it’s not going to hurt’.  But it’s essential for an understanding of what will be happening this week in Rome when recommendations come to Papa Francesco from the Gang of Eight Cardinals; and later this fall from two ad hoc commissions tasked to review the bank (IOR) and the Vatican’s accounting practices – bringing onto center stage the financial institutions of the Vatican.

 

Overview

 

“If you cannot be trusted in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”  (Luke, Chapter 16 Verse 11)

 

Today’s Italian media report that the financial results of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR) will be released for the first time ever, tomorrow.  As a teaser, it is mentioned that a profit of €87 million (almost $120 million) will have been realized for the 12 months ending on July 31, 2013. 

 

That is warp speed for reporting financial results, two months after the books closed.  For context, the Archdiocese of Boston releases its audited financials 7-9 months after the fact, usually on a quiet Friday afternoon.

 

This noteworthy development is a first-ever, not only for the fact of reporting and the detail expected from an audited set of statements, but also because:

 

  • It comes literally on the day before the Pope is to meet with the Gang of Eight Cardinals who are to deliver their recommendations for reform of the Curia (of which the IOR, technically, is not a part);
  • It was acknowledged by the Pope during his summer Brazil trip that he had not planned to concentrate on the IOR at the outset, “I thought I would first first deal with other questions, but one cannot postpone this [the IOR];
  • A senior Vatican finance official Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, has spent the summer in Rome’s prison, Regina Coeli, where he remains to this day; when arrested he was carrying the €23 million (about $30 million) in cash; tic toc.

 

It is also reported that the papal commission looking into the IOR is reviewing every one of the thousands of banking accounts held at the IOR.  Again, the context matters:

 

  • It is at least possible that the €23 million carried in the suitcase of Monsignor Scarano involved IOR accounts; and
  • Very shortly after the Monsignor’s arrest, the IOR’s general manager and his deputy resigned.

 

Since the mantras of Vatican spokespersons on financial issues are transparency and bureaucratic reform, it is probable that the restructuring to place in the months to come will involve rearranging the architecture of the financial institutions discussed below, notably:

 

  • Strengthening of the regulatory arm of the Vatican, the Financial Intelligence Authority, to bring the Holy See into compliance with European Union directives;
  • Merging the separate real estate empires now held by two separate entities (APSA and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples – aka Propaganda Fide);
  • Clamping down on IOR’s deposit-taking and funds transfers, probably limiting these activities to bona fide customers (Vatican employees, religious orders, charitable enterprises);  and maybe
  • Reducing the IOR to its role as a credit union, leaving the more speculative investments to APSA and perhaps to a network of international money managers.

The discussion below of Vatican financial institutions is to give readers a map for the organizational recommendations likely to be rolled out in the near future.  The focus is on the following:

 

The Vatican Bank, aka IOR;

APSA, the holding entity for most of the Vatican’s real estate and securities;

The Financial Intelligence Authority, regulator of the Vatican Bank;

The Prefecture for Economic Affairs, a central financial and budgetary control agency.

 

The essential point regarding money laundering through the IOR is that only “clergy, religious institutions and Vatican citizens” may open an account with the IOR; but these persons (actual or legal) may give a delega [power of attorney with rights to transact] to anyone “to operate the accounts as they wish, without limit on the number of deleghe and without there being a register [list] of who has the deleghe.”  Which means that any one of 25,000 eligible Vatican individuals may give account-signing authority to an unlimited number of delegati.

 

One of the prelates now under investigation by the Italian regulators is Don Evaldo Biasini known as ‘Don ATM’ through whose IOR account some €30 million (about $40 million) moved over a 12-month period.  On the salary of a monsignore.

 

Proceed at your own risk.

 

Financial Institutions of the Holy See

 

The IOR

 

The Istituto per le Opere di Religione is a teenager in the context of the centuries-old history of many Vatican institutions.  It was established in June of 1942, via a papal ‘chirografo’ (a sort of personal decree, not a canonical one) of Pope Pius XII, (a) giving the IOR legal expression; (b) establishing it separately from the traditional Vatican bureaucracy (Curia Romana); and (c) giving it the mandate to manage assets, whether securities or liquid funds, “destined for the works of religion and Christian piety.”

 

The timing of the IOR’s creation should be kept in mind, because this was the high-water mark of Nazi ascendancy in Continental Europe.  The Turn of the Tide (in Churchill’s resonant phrase) came later, towards the end of 1942.

 

In mid-1942 the European war had been going on for almost three years, and conventional wisdom considered the Nazis to be invincible as the Wehrmacht raced towards the Volga and beyond it, to the strategic oilfields of the Caucasus.

 

The creation of the IOR also occurred as European financial institutions in neutral countries (Switzerland, Sweden and Spain, to name a few) were doing a land-office business in foreign exchange operations, asset custody, and fund transfers, involving: 

 

Jews from many Nazi-occupied countries who were being dispossessed;

‘Aryans’ who grabbed Jewish property for a few pfennigs on the Reichsmark;

Industrialists from neutral countries trading lucratively with belligerent nations on both sides; and

Wealthy families in occupied Europe worried about the dominant German influence over their own countries’ banks.

 

The timing of the IOR’s origins and its autonomy from traditional Curia Romana oversight go a long way in explaining the bank’s propensity to erupt periodically into scandal over its seven decades, as outlined in more detail in the “Past Eff-ups” section below.

 

APSA  

 

This is the Vatican’s ‘Administration for the Patrimony of the Holy See’.  It is the holding entity for Vatican assets, organized into two sections:  one for fixed assets (real estate), and one for liquid assets (negotiable instruments).  It was established by Pope Paul VI in 1967.  (The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, formerly Propaganda Fide, also has a very sizable real estate portfolio.)

 

APSA is often confused with the IOR, but think of APSA as the custodian of the papal family’s real estate and financial investments, while the IOR functions as a credit union (not really a ‘bank’) for financial operations involving deposit-taking, and for direct investments in complex financial instruments (derivates, anyone?).

 

Financial Intelligence Authority

 

This regulatory entity was established in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI “for the prevention and the countering of illegal activities in the monetary and financial fields;” and “to supervise obligations undertaken to prevent and to counter recycling and the financing of terrorism” [Annuario Pontificio, 2012].

 

The initiative was in response to post 9/11 pressure from U.S. and European Union regulatory authorities.  And it brings us back to the IOR, which until 2010 was the only bank of any size completely beyond the jurisdiction of the regulators.  Most of the ‘safe banking havens’ beyond the reach of the U.S. and the EU, notably Switzerland, had reached bilateral agreements with the U.S. and the EU to clamp down on money laundering transactions.  But the IOR was completely ‘extra-territorial’.

 

With the creation of the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority, a regulatory entity something like Washington’s SEC and Comptroller of the Currency, one might have thought that the Vatican State had met the requirements of Good Conduct set out in the EU’s White List of virtuous cooperating banks. Not so, the issue of compliance with the EU is still under negotiation between the EU and the Holy See.

 

Prefecture of Economic Affairs

 

This is the entity that exercises administration oversight and budgetary control over the Curia Romana; by definition this authority does not reach the IOR.  Think of the prefecture as Washington’s Office of Management and Budget, sort of.  So the Vatican has its’ own OMB…OMG!

 

The IOR’s Past Eff-ups

 

The IOR has been beyond adult supervision for most of its 71-year history.  Past scandals tend to be quickly forgotten, but the recurrence of spectacular eff-ups shows clearly that something is systemically flawed:

 

  • Let’s leave aside the bank’s role as a conduit for U.S. funds pouring into postwar Italy to keep the most geo-strategic country in the Mediterranean out of the reach of Italy’s communist party, the largest one in Western Europe, by nurturing instead Italy’s postwar Christian Democratic Party;

 

  • And let’s not niggle over the funds that moved during the 1980s from Langley, VA through the IOR into Poland, and then distributed via the widespread networks of Catholic dioceses and parishes, and Solidarność.

 

  • Not a coincidence that the Reagan Administration in its early days included some fiercely anti-Soviet Catholics, at ease with the complicated ways of the Holy See:

 

  • Secretary of State Al Haig; National-security Advisers Dick Allen and Bill Clark; Director of Central Intelligence Bill Casey; ‘Silent Missions’ specialist Lt. Gen. Dick Walters.

 

  • Also not a coincidence that the U.S. established full diplomatic relations with the Holy See during President Reagan’s first term in 1984, for the first time in the history of the Republic:

 

  • Something that JFK could not have done, given the widespread anti-Catholic feeling that was very much a political factor in the very tight 1960 election (JFK’s popular vote count exceeded Nixon’s by a fraction of one percent).

 

However, with a bow to The Godfather: Part III, The Sopranos and history, a brief mention of one of the IOR’s most spectacular past eff-ups is in order.

 

Blackfriar’s Bridge in London

 

The Blackfriar’s Bridge scandal involves a prominent Italian banker, Roberto Calvi, found hanging from London’s Blackfriar’s Bridge in June, 1982.  This story is generally known, but the key points are now fading from public awareness.

 

Calvi through his Milan bank, Banco Ambrosiano, had entered into a network of transactions with the IOR then in the firm grip of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus (“you can’t run the Church on Hail Marys”). 

 

Monies flowed through the IOR into various schemes promoted by Calvi with the promise of great returns; but in the way of all Ponzi schemes (btw, Charles Ponzi was a Boston homey) inflows eventually dried up and investors scrambled to cash out.

 

Calvi had secured so-called comfort letters from the IOR, indicating in carefully crafted legal language that the IOR supported the investments of Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano.  Initially, this appears to have reassured many of Calvi’s investors.

 

After Calvi’s death and the almost-simultaneous apparent suicide of his personal assistant, the Banco Ambrosiano collapsed, and the investors lined up at the IOR to recoup their capital, based on the IOR comfort letters.  Keep in mind that virtually all of these investors had probably moved their funds into and through the IOR to avoid annoying details such as taxes and disclosure of the origins of their funds.  And some of these investors probably had extra-large neck sizes, and sported pinkie rings.  But for a few years after Calvi’s death, the IOR did not feel obliged to oblige the Ambrosiano investors.

 

Following some years of wrangling (including tens of thousands of attorneys’ billable hours), in May of 1984 “in recognition of moral involvement” the IOR settled with Banco Ambrosiano creditors with a “voluntary contribution” of approximately $240 million. 

 

Sound familiar?  An American bishop blasting lawyers for claimants, and then after a few years of wrangling, settling for a very tidy sum without admitting culpability: 

 

In 2003 the Archdiocese of Boston settled 500+ claims of clergy sexual abuse for $85 million;

In 2007 the Archdiocese of Los Angeles settled almost the same number of claims for $660 million.  (Who says that Franciscans are no good with money?)

 

In early June of 1984, the Vatican’s official daily, L’Osservatore Romano, wrote that the IOR agreement was intended to  “[translated from the Italian] facilitate a global solution for the consolidation of relationships of an international character.”  Hmmm, a quarter of a billion dollars.  Financial press commentary at the time indicated that, against outstanding claims of around $1 billion, claimants recovered about one-fourth of their invested capital.

 

At the time of his demise in 1982, Calvi’s death it was ruled a suicide by the British authorities.  But a forensic analysis commissioned by Italian media almost two decades after the fact concluded that the cause of Calvi’s death was strangulation in a nearby dump-site, with the body then moved to BlackfriarsBridge which spans the Thames. 

 

Why the move?  Perhaps a subtle message by choreographing Calvi’s death scene just a short distance from Blackfriars Monastery, which is run by the ultra-loyal Dominican Order, at the edge of London’s financial district. 

 

Another lethal message was probably delivered to the Vatican almost exactly one year after Calvi’s death, on June 22, 1983 when a 15-year old girl, Emanuela Orlandi, disappeared in broad daylight from a busy Rome street on her way to a music school located in an ‘extra-territorial’ Vatican building, i.e. beyond the Vatican City but technically within the Holy See.  Over the intervening 30 years she has never been found. 

 

  The link of this tragedy to the Vatican is two-fold:

 

Emanuela was a Vatican State citizen by virtue of her father’s employment inside the Vatican, a tradition in the Orlandi family’s history of service to the Vatican going back one century;

 

On July 3, less than two weeks after her disappearance, Pope John Paul the Great in his Sunday Angelus homily said,

 

“[translated from the Italian]…I am close to the Orlandi family, which is saddened for their daughter Emanuela who since June 22 has not returned home, without losing the hope in the sense of humanity of whoever has responsibility in this case…”   

 

There are other IOR dramas, going back a few decades and involving spectacular Act Four death finales:

 

  • The Michele Sindona affair, involving the collapse of a prominent U.S. bank, Franklin National of Long Island; Sindona, an adviser to the IOR, was in a maximum-security Italian prison, sipped his morning espresso, and then keeled over, morto;
  • The so-called ‘maxi-bribe’ affair of the mid-1990s where the IOR was the transfer mechanism for at least $1 billion in bribes involving Italy’s biggest political parties; and – yes – a couple of suicides, one of them in a maximum-security Italian prison.

 

What Lies Ahead for Papa Francesco

(intentional double entendre for the word ‘lies’)

 

The principal financial entities, IOR and APSA, are like a couple of cluster bombs:  this ordnance sprays its target area with several lethal bomblets, timed to detonate at unpredictable intervals.

 

One predictable explosion may involve outgoing Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.  During the self-imposed lame-duck period of Pope Benedict’s papacy, from February 11, 2013, when he announced his intention to resign, until February 28 when his resignation become effective, there were some very peculiar maneuvers involving the IOR:

 

In mid-February, less than a week after Benedict’s bolt-out-of-the-blue announcement, but while he still reigned supreme, several high-level moves were made within the IOR:

 

  • A new IOR president was announced after a nine-month vacancy, Herr Ernst Von Freyberg, a German national and head of Hamburg ship-builder Blohm & Voss;
  • Pope Benedict reconfirmed the five-year mandate of the IOR’s supervisory board of cardinals, including its’ chair, Cardinal Bertone;
  • One member of the supervisory board of cardinals, Attilio Nicola, was substituted with Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, controversially elevated to cardinal a year ago and a close associate of Cardinal Bertone;
  • The Vatican official in the Secretariat of State responsible for monitoring the IOR – 46-year old Monsignor Ettore Balestrero – was promoted to archbishop, and sent to Bogotà, Colombia as papal nuncio with diplomatic immunity; as ‘under secretary of state’, Monsignor Balestrero had been the eyes and ears of Cardinal Bertone, tasked with monitoring the IOR.

 

Cardinal Bertone’s five-year term as the IOR’s supervisor means that his mandate runs until 2018, extending well into the pontificate of Benedict’s successor(s); unless this were to be modified.  It will be interesting to see what happens during the inevitable reshuffle of the IOR.  Any continuing influence of Bertone on the IOR could trigger more Vatileaks.

 

The road ahead is pretty bumpy for Pope Francis.  Those who suffered through a political science course in college may remember some of the wisdom of Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote perceptively about the young American republic in the first half of the 19th century.  He also had something to say about authoritarian regimes:

 

The most dangerous moment for a regime is when it begins to reform itself.

 

 

 

 

‘Everything’s up to date in Vatican City
they gone about as fer as they can go’
(apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein)

[9.30.2013]

Foreword

Remember when your mom took you to the dentist who said, this is not going to hurt?
And then it hurt a lot, but when you squawked the dentist said, it’s necessary!

This blogpost is about the Vatican’s financial institutions, and ‘it’s not going to hurt’. But it’s essential for an understanding of what will be happening this week in Rome when recommendations come to Papa Francesco from the Gang of Eight Cardinals; and later this fall from two ad hoc commissions tasked to review the bank (IOR) and the Vatican’s accounting practices – bringing onto center stage the financial institutions of the Vatican.

Overview

“If you cannot be trusted in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke, Chapter 16 Verse 11)

Today’s Italian media report that the financial results of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR) will be released for the first time ever, tomorrow. As a teaser, it is mentioned that a profit of €87 million (almost $120 million) will have been realized for the 12 months ending on July 31, 2013.

That is warp speed for reporting financial results, two months after the books closed. For context, the Archdiocese of Boston releases its audited financials 7-9 months after the fact, usually on a quiet Friday afternoon.

This noteworthy development is a first-ever, not only for the fact of reporting and the detail expected from an audited set of statements, but also because:

 It comes literally on the day before the Pope is to meet with the Gang of Eight Cardinals who are to deliver their recommendations for reform of the Curia (of which the IOR, technically, is not a part);
 It was acknowledged by the Pope during his summer Brazil trip that he had not planned to concentrate on the IOR at the outset, “I thought I would first first deal with other questions, but one cannot postpone this [the IOR];
 A senior Vatican finance official Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, has spent the summer in Rome’s prison, Regina Coeli, where he remains to this day; when arrested he was carrying the €23 million (about $30 million) in cash; tic toc.

It is also reported that the papal commission looking into the IOR is reviewing every one of the thousands of banking accounts held at the IOR. Again, the context matters:

 It is at least possible that the €23 million carried in the suitcase of Monsignor Scarano involved IOR accounts; and
 Very shortly after the Monsignor’s arrest, the IOR’s general manager and his deputy resigned.

Since the mantras of Vatican spokespersons on financial issues are transparency and bureaucratic reform, it is probable that the restructuring to place in the months to come will involve rearranging the architecture of the financial institutions discussed below, notably:

 Strengthening of the regulatory arm of the Vatican, the Financial Intelligence Authority, to bring the Holy See into compliance with European Union directives;
 Merging the separate real estate empires now held by two separate entities (APSA and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples – aka Propaganda Fide);
 Clamping down on IOR’s deposit-taking and funds transfers, probably limiting these activities to bona fide customers (Vatican employees, religious orders, charitable enterprises); and maybe
 Reducing the IOR to its role as a credit union, leaving the more speculative investments to APSA and perhaps to a network of international money managers.

The discussion below of Vatican financial institutions is to give readers a map for the organizational recommendations likely to be rolled out in the near future. The focus is on the following:

The Vatican Bank, aka IOR;
APSA, the holding entity for most of the Vatican’s real estate and securities;
The Financial Intelligence Authority, regulator of the Vatican Bank;
The Prefecture for Economic Affairs, a central financial and budgetary control agency.

The essential point regarding money laundering through the IOR is that only “clergy, religious institutions and Vatican citizens” may open an account with the IOR; but these persons (actual or legal) may give a delega [power of attorney with rights to transact] to anyone “to operate the accounts as they wish, without limit on the number of deleghe and without there being a register [list] of who has the deleghe.” Which means that any one of 25,000 eligible Vatican individuals may give account-signing authority to an unlimited number of delegati.

One of the prelates now under investigation by the Italian regulators is Don Evaldo Biasini known as ‘Don ATM’ through whose IOR account some €30 million (about $40 million) moved over a 12-month period. On the salary of a monsignore.

Proceed at your own risk.

Financial Institutions of the Holy See

The IOR

The Istituto per le Opere di Religione is a teenager in the context of the centuries-old history of many Vatican institutions. It was established in June of 1942, via a papal ‘chirografo’ (a sort of personal decree, not a canonical one) of Pope Pius XII, (a) giving the IOR legal expression; (b) establishing it separately from the traditional Vatican bureaucracy (Curia Romana); and (c) giving it the mandate to manage assets, whether securities or liquid funds, “destined for the works of religion and Christian piety.”

The timing of the IOR’s creation should be kept in mind, because this was the high-water mark of Nazi ascendancy in Continental Europe. The Turn of the Tide (in Churchill’s resonant phrase) came later, towards the end of 1942.

In mid-1942 the European war had been going on for almost three years, and conventional wisdom considered the Nazis to be invincible as the Wehrmacht raced towards the Volga and beyond it, to the strategic oilfields of the Caucasus.

The creation of the IOR also occurred as European financial institutions in neutral countries (Switzerland, Sweden and Spain, to name a few) were doing a land-office business in foreign exchange operations, asset custody, and fund transfers, involving:

Jews from many Nazi-occupied countries who were being dispossessed;
‘Aryans’ who grabbed Jewish property for a few pfennigs on the Reichsmark;
Industrialists from neutral countries trading lucratively with belligerent nations on both sides; and
Wealthy families in occupied Europe worried about the dominant German influence over their own countries’ banks.

The timing of the IOR’s origins and its autonomy from traditional Curia Romana oversight go a long way in explaining the bank’s propensity to erupt periodically into scandal over its seven decades, as outlined in more detail in the “Past Eff-ups” section below.

APSA

This is the Vatican’s ‘Administration for the Patrimony of the Holy See’. It is the holding entity for Vatican assets, organized into two sections: one for fixed assets (real estate), and one for liquid assets (negotiable instruments). It was established by Pope Paul VI in 1967. (The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, formerly Propaganda Fide, also has a very sizable real estate portfolio.)

APSA is often confused with the IOR, but think of APSA as the custodian of the papal family’s real estate and financial investments, while the IOR functions as a credit union (not really a ‘bank’) for financial operations involving deposit-taking, and for direct investments in complex financial instruments (derivates, anyone?).

Financial Intelligence Authority

This regulatory entity was established in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI “for the prevention and the countering of illegal activities in the monetary and financial fields;” and “to supervise obligations undertaken to prevent and to counter recycling and the financing of terrorism” [Annuario Pontificio, 2012].

The initiative was in response to post 9/11 pressure from U.S. and European Union regulatory authorities. And it brings us back to the IOR, which until 2010 was the only bank of any size completely beyond the jurisdiction of the regulators. Most of the ‘safe banking havens’ beyond the reach of the U.S. and the EU, notably Switzerland, had reached bilateral agreements with the U.S. and the EU to clamp down on money laundering transactions. But the IOR was completely ‘extra-territorial’.

With the creation of the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority, a regulatory entity something like Washington’s SEC and Comptroller of the Currency, one might have thought that the Vatican State had met the requirements of Good Conduct set out in the EU’s White List of virtuous cooperating banks. Not so, the issue of compliance with the EU is still under negotiation between the EU and the Holy See.

Prefecture of Economic Affairs

This is the entity that exercises administration oversight and budgetary control over the Curia Romana; by definition this authority does not reach the IOR. Think of the prefecture as Washington’s Office of Management and Budget, sort of. So the Vatican has its’ own OMB…OMG!

The IOR’s Past Eff-ups

The IOR has been beyond adult supervision for most of its 71-year history. Past scandals tend to be quickly forgotten, but the recurrence of spectacular eff-ups shows clearly that something is systemically flawed:

 Let’s leave aside the bank’s role as a conduit for U.S. funds pouring into postwar Italy to keep the most geo-strategic country in the Mediterranean out of the reach of Italy’s communist party, the largest one in Western Europe, by nurturing instead Italy’s postwar Christian Democratic Party;

 And let’s not niggle over the funds that moved during the 1980s from Langley, VA through the IOR into Poland, and then distributed via the widespread networks of Catholic dioceses and parishes, and Solidarność.

o Not a coincidence that the Reagan Administration in its early days included some fiercely anti-Soviet Catholics, at ease with the complicated ways of the Holy See:

 Secretary of State Al Haig; National-security Advisers Dick Allen and Bill Clark; Director of Central Intelligence Bill Casey; ‘Silent Missions’ specialist Lt. Gen. Dick Walters.

o Also not a coincidence that the U.S. established full diplomatic relations with the Holy See during President Reagan’s first term in 1984, for the first time in the history of the Republic:

 Something that JFK could not have done, given the widespread anti-Catholic feeling that was very much a political factor in the very tight 1960 election (JFK’s popular vote count exceeded Nixon’s by a fraction of one percent).

However, with a bow to The Godfather: Part III, The Sopranos and history, a brief mention of one of the IOR’s most spectacular past eff-ups is in order.

Blackfriar’s Bridge in London

The Blackfriar’s Bridge scandal involves a prominent Italian banker, Roberto Calvi, found hanging from London’s Blackfriar’s Bridge in June, 1982. This story is generally known, but the key points are now fading from public awareness.

Calvi through his Milan bank, Banco Ambrosiano, had entered into a network of transactions with the IOR then in the firm grip of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus (“you can’t run the Church on Hail Marys”).

Monies flowed through the IOR into various schemes promoted by Calvi with the promise of great returns; but in the way of all Ponzi schemes (btw, Charles Ponzi was a Boston homey) inflows eventually dried up and investors scrambled to cash out.

Calvi had secured so-called comfort letters from the IOR, indicating in carefully crafted legal language that the IOR supported the investments of Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano. Initially, this appears to have reassured many of Calvi’s investors.

After Calvi’s death and the almost-simultaneous apparent suicide of his personal assistant, the Banco Ambrosiano collapsed, and the investors lined up at the IOR to recoup their capital, based on the IOR comfort letters. Keep in mind that virtually all of these investors had probably moved their funds into and through the IOR to avoid annoying details such as taxes and disclosure of the origins of their funds. And some of these investors probably had extra-large neck sizes, and sported pinkie rings. But for a few years after Calvi’s death, the IOR did not feel obliged to oblige the Ambrosiano investors.

Following some years of wrangling (including tens of thousands of attorneys’ billable hours), in May of 1984 “in recognition of moral involvement” the IOR settled with Banco Ambrosiano creditors with a “voluntary contribution” of approximately $240 million.

Sound familiar? An American bishop blasting lawyers for claimants, and then after a few years of wrangling, settling for a very tidy sum without admitting culpability:

In 2003 the Archdiocese of Boston settled 500+ claims of clergy sexual abuse for $85 million;
In 2007 the Archdiocese of Los Angeles settled almost the same number of claims for $660 million. (Who says that Franciscans are no good with money?)

In early June of 1984, the Vatican’s official daily, L’Osservatore Romano, wrote that the IOR agreement was intended to “[translated from the Italian] facilitate a global solution for the consolidation of relationships of an international character.” Hmmm, a quarter of a billion dollars. Financial press commentary at the time indicated that, against outstanding claims of around $1 billion, claimants recovered about one-fourth of their invested capital.

At the time of his demise in 1982, Calvi’s death it was ruled a suicide by the British authorities. But a forensic analysis commissioned by Italian media almost two decades after the fact concluded that the cause of Calvi’s death was strangulation in a nearby dump-site, with the body then moved to Blackfriars Bridge which spans the Thames.

Why the move? Perhaps a subtle message by choreographing Calvi’s death scene just a short distance from Blackfriars Monastery, which is run by the ultra-loyal Dominican Order, at the edge of London’s financial district.

Another lethal message was probably delivered to the Vatican almost exactly one year after Calvi’s death, on June 22, 1983 when a 15-year old girl, Emanuela Orlandi, disappeared in broad daylight from a busy Rome street on her way to a music school located in an ‘extra-territorial’ Vatican building, i.e. beyond the Vatican City but technically within the Holy See. Over the intervening 30 years she has never been found.

The link of this tragedy to the Vatican is two-fold:

Emanuela was a Vatican State citizen by virtue of her father’s employment inside the Vatican, a tradition in the Orlandi family’s history of service to the Vatican going back one century;

On July 3, less than two weeks after her disappearance, Pope John Paul the Great in his Sunday Angelus homily said,

“[translated from the Italian]…I am close to the Orlandi family, which is saddened for their daughter Emanuela who since June 22 has not returned home, without losing the hope in the sense of humanity of whoever has responsibility in this case…”

There are other IOR dramas, going back a few decades and involving spectacular Act Four death finales:

 The Michele Sindona affair, involving the collapse of a prominent U.S. bank, Franklin National of Long Island; Sindona, an adviser to the IOR, was in a maximum-security Italian prison, sipped his morning espresso, and then keeled over, morto;
 The so-called ‘maxi-bribe’ affair of the mid-1990s where the IOR was the transfer mechanism for at least $1 billion in bribes involving Italy’s biggest political parties; and – yes – a couple of suicides, one of them in a maximum-security Italian prison.

What Lies Ahead for Papa Francesco
(intentional double entendre for the word ‘lies’)

The principal financial entities, IOR and APSA, are like a couple of cluster bombs: this ordnance sprays its target area with several lethal bomblets, timed to detonate at unpredictable intervals.

One predictable explosion may involve outgoing Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. During the self-imposed lame-duck period of Pope Benedict’s papacy, from February 11, 2013, when he announced his intention to resign, until February 28 when his resignation become effective, there were some very peculiar maneuvers involving the IOR:

In mid-February, less than a week after Benedict’s bolt-out-of-the-blue announcement, but while he still reigned supreme, several high-level moves were made within the IOR:

o A new IOR president was announced after a nine-month vacancy, Herr Ernst Von Freyberg, a German national and head of Hamburg ship-builder Blohm & Voss;
o Pope Benedict reconfirmed the five-year mandate of the IOR’s supervisory board of cardinals, including its’ chair, Cardinal Bertone;
o One member of the supervisory board of cardinals, Attilio Nicola, was substituted with Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, controversially elevated to cardinal a year ago and a close associate of Cardinal Bertone;
o The Vatican official in the Secretariat of State responsible for monitoring the IOR – 46-year old Monsignor Ettore Balestrero – was promoted to archbishop, and sent to Bogotà, Colombia as papal nuncio with diplomatic immunity; as ‘under secretary of state’, Monsignor Balestrero had been the eyes and ears of Cardinal Bertone, tasked with monitoring the IOR.

Cardinal Bertone’s five-year term as the IOR’s supervisor means that his mandate runs until 2018, extending well into the pontificate of Benedict’s successor(s); unless this were to be modified. It will be interesting to see what happens during the inevitable reshuffle of the IOR. Any continuing influence of Bertone on the IOR could trigger more Vatileaks.

The road ahead is pretty bumpy for Pope Francis. Those who suffered through a political science course in college may remember some of the wisdom of Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote perceptively about the young American republic in the first half of the 19th century. He also had something to say about authoritarian regimes:

The most dangerous moment for a regime is when it begins to reform itself.