Saturday, November 07, 2015

Vatileaks 2.0!

Good Day Readers:

The latest in a long line of scandals at the Vatican makes what happened in the Prime Minister's Office under Stephen Harper's watch look like a piker. But to unravel this bowl of spaghetti you'll first need a score card.
Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo, powerful Member of Pope Francis's Economic Reform Committee arrested by Vatican gendarmes (subsequently released). Once Francis set up a new team to run the Vatican's economic affairs Vallejo was reportedly ....ed off at not being included. Made no secret of the fact he wanted to be the Vatican's Auditor General.

Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui arrested along with Vallejo and also subsequently released. No one seems to know exactly what she was doing at the Vatican. Gave and interview to the publication La Repubblica shortly after her release.
Paolo Gabriele former butler to Pope Benedict XVI who in 2012 got the ball rolling by leaking part of the Pope's correspondence to the media.

Author Gianluigi Nuzzi who has written two books on the Vatican. Sua Santita ("Your Holiness/Most Holy") and his newest publication Via Crucis ("Merchants of the Temple")

Reporter for the weekly L'Espresso Emiliano Fittipaldi who authored Avarizia ("Greed").

Let the theatre begin!

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk
Why the new Vatican leaks is different

By Alexander Stille
Friday, November 6, 2015
Two new books show Pope Francis vigorously pushing the Vatican bureaucracy to clean house. (Photograph by Giulio Origlia/Getty)

It has been an unusually turbulent week in Rome. The Vatican’s gendarmes arrested two members of Pope Francis’s economic-reform committee—Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, a powerful monsignor, and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, whose background is in public relations—for allegedly leaking documents to two Italian journalists. The news suggested a new round in the scandal known as Vatileaks, which began when Paolo Gabriele, the butler to Pope Benedict XVI, leaked portions of the Pope’s correspondence in 2012. Indeed, Gianluigi Nuzzi, who wrote a book, “Sua Santità,” based principally on the leaks of the former butler, is, along with Emiliano Fittipaldi, of the weeklyL’Espresso, one of two journalists involved in this case, too. Both have new books out this week: Nuzzi’s is called “Via Crucis” (published in English with the title “Merchants in the Temple”) and Fittipaldi’s is “Avarizia” (“Greed”). But the two Vatileaks scandals may be more different than similar.

The original Vatileaks affair created the impression of a Pope who had lost control of his own government—whose own correspondence could be stolen from under his nose and published as the Vatican stood by helplessly. It contributed, one suspects, to Pope Benedict XVI’s almost unprecedented decision, in 2013, to resign. By contrast, the highly unusual decision this week to arrest the pair of alleged leakers, just days before the journalists they had supplied were about to publish their books, was the expression of a much more proactive Vatican. The Holy See is determined to show that it was not taking this matter lying down. And the content of the cases is different, too. The first Vatileaks case portrayed an elderly Benedict XVI seemingly unaware of the power struggles and institutionalized corruption around him, while the two new books show Pope Francis vigorously pushing the Vatican bureaucracy to clean house.

Monsignor Vallejo Balda, who was taken into custody this week, is a Spanish member of the conservative religious order Opus Dei, and was the No. 2 man at the Vatican’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs. Vallejo Balda had been a key figure in the eight-person commission that Francis created, soon after becoming Pope, to straighten out the Vatican’s finances, known as the Commissione di Studio sulle Attività Economiche e Amministrative, orCOSEA. Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, who was arrested with him, had also worked on COSEA, although she had always seemed like an odd fit with Francis’s powerful transition committee. The daughter of an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, Chiaoqui had little experience in finance or management, and displayed a very un-Vatican penchant for posting pictures and videos of herself in rather daring poses online. While she was serving on the COSEA commission, she organized a V.I.P. reception on the terrace of a Vatican building so that well-connected Italians and high-level prelates could drink champagne and eat hors d’oeuvres while watching a canonization mass for John Paul II and John XXIII, while hundreds of thousands of the faithful waited patiently in St. Peter’s Square. This was not an image of the church of the poor that Pope Francis has advocated. She was sacked and became persona non grata at the Vatican. The reputation of Monsignor Vallejo Balda, who had apparently recommended Chaouqui, suffered as a result. And when Francis set up a new team to run the economic affairs of the Vatican, Vallejo Balda was reportedly disappointed and angry not to be a part of it. “It’s not a secret that he hoped to be made auditor general of the Vatican,” Chaouqui said in an interview after she was released from custody, published yesterday in La Repubblica. “When he was not nominated, he began to make war, and probably this pushed him to hand over papers to the journalists. But I had nothing to do with the leaking of the documents.” Vatican authorities said she was coöperating with the investigation. Monsignor Vallejo Balda remains in a jail cell in the Vatican. Under Vatican City law, the crime of releasing confidential documents is potentially punishable by four to eight years.

Fittipaldi’s book, “Greed,” offers a somewhat different picture of the principal leaker. At the beginning of the book, he depicts a Vatican monsignor, a member of the COSEA commission, expressing indignation at corruption within the Vatican and the need to let the Pope know. While enjoying a fine meal at a restaurant in Rome, the unnamed monsignor tells Fittipaldi: “You must write a book. You must write also for Pope Francis. He must know. He must know that the Bambin Gesù hospital, created to collect money for sick children, paid for some of the work on the apartment of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone”—the Secretary of State under Pope Benedict XVI. “He must know that the Vatican owns houses in Rome that are worth four billion euros. In those houses are not refugees, as the Pope might want, but V.I.P.s and people with connections paying ridiculously low rents.” At the end of a long monologue, the monsignor tells the journalist that he hopes he has brought a car, because he has a trunk full of documents.

The Vatican press office responded to the books with severe, disapproving language: “Publications of this nature do not help in any way to establish clarity and truth but, rather, generate confusion and partial and tendentious conclusions. One must absolutely avoid the misunderstanding of thinking that’s a way to help the Pope’s mission.” (Bertone also said, in an interview with theCorriere della Sera, that he had “never authorized or suggested” that the Foundation of the Bambin Gesù hospital “make any payment” for work done on his apartment.) The heart of the response has been to attack the messengers as a couple of scoop-seeking journalists and out-of-favor Vatican appointees. But it’s not as simple as that.

Nuzzi’s first book, “Vaticano, Spa.” (“Vatican, Inc.”), was also the product of a major document dump, and it revealed extremely important information about massive malfeasance at the Istituto per le Opere di Religione—the Vatican Bank. The documents, passed on by a monsignor who worked at a high level in Vatican finances and wanted them made public after his death, revealed that the bank was routinely used by powerful Italian politicians and businessmen to hide bribe money or simply evade taxes. These revelations played a role in forcing the Vatican to clean up the bank, close many of its suspect accounts, and begin to meet international standards of bank transparency. The noble purpose of Nuzzi’s book based on the butler’s leaks is less evident—although it does provide juicy tidbits of behind-the-scenes Vatican intrigue. One can argue, however, that it forced a day of reckoning for a papacy that had become paralyzed by infighting and gone seriously adrift. It made “transparency” a part of a new Vatican catechism.

Although the Vatican has made it known that Pope Francis is “deeply saddened” by the alleged leaks, it is far from clear that this latest scandal hurts the Pope. As the Vatican points out, there is nothing in the two books that the Pope didn’t already know; in fact, the books are based largely on the internal audits and reports that the Pope himself commissioned.

Both books reveal, for example, that most of the charitable contributions (known as “Peter’s Pence”) made to the Pope are used to pay the cost of maintaining the Roman curia; millions are wasted each year on the princely lifestyle of the cardinals and the below-market or rent-free arrangements of the thousands of apartments owned by the Holy See in and around Rome. Nuzzi tells the story of a powerful monsignor who, dissatisfied with his already generously sized apartment, takes advantage of the prolonged illness of an elderly priest who lives next door by ordering workmen to knock down a wall between the two apartments, adding an extra room to his own at his neighbor’s expense. One audit commissioned by COSEA revealed hundreds of people misappropriating the Vatican’s tax-free status to resell cheap gasoline and cigarettes at great profit. An audit of the Vatican museums and pharmacy showed serious discrepancies—amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars—between what appeared on the books and what was actually in storehouses, suggesting either systematic theft or fraud.

But in this story, Francis is resolutely determined to get to the bottom of things. Along with the documents, Nuzzi was given tape recordings (made illegally) of some of the COSEA meetings. At one, Francis thunders against “the lack of transparency” and repeats seven times that the Church “will not pay” when presented with inflated bills that have not followed new payment protocols:

Clarity! That’s what done in the most humble companies, and we have to do it, too.… Before any purchase or construction job, we have to request at least three different estimates…. Let me give you an example, the library. The estimate said a hundred, and then two hundred was paid. What happened?… [Some say] we have to pay for it. No, we don’t…. We don’t pay! This is important me. Discipline, please!

There are also troubling stories, in the Nuzzi book, of clear attempts to sabotage Francis’s reform efforts. In what was allegedly a carefully staged burglary, carried out at night, papers were removed from the locked files inCOSEA’s offices. Some were sent back to members of Francis’s team, in what could appear to be an effort at intimidation.

In the last chapter, Nuzzi sounds a rather pessimistic note. “Of all the reforms contemplated during the first year of his pontificate, very few managed to get off the ground,” he writes. “This unfortunately meant one thing: [Francis’s] plan to drive out the merchants from the temple was still unfulfilled some three years after his election.”

This might be overstating things a bit. Francis did remove some of the most egregious figures in the Roman curia and has put into place some procedures and controls that already seem to have made a positive difference. Some of the power struggles that Nuzzi writes about—between Francis’s new Secretary for the Economy and his Secretary of State over the control of certain Vatican assets—are the kind of normal jurisdictional battles that afflict any organization undergoing change, and not necessary symptoms of corruption or sabotage.

Still, I suspect that the net result of the new leaks case will be to somewhat strengthen Francis’s position, and to give new impetus to his efforts at reform, which appeared weakened after the bruising theological battles at the recent Synod on the Family. The coalition that elected him has become divided over social issues, but cleaning house was perhaps the principal mandate of Francis’ papacy, and the current scandal may remind everyone of that—including the Pope.

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