Vatican disinclined to invest in ‘poor’ states like Ireland, TK Whitaker told

Dublin sounded out Holy See about possibility of investment in mid-1960s

TK Whitaker, secretary of the department of finance, sought information on whether the Holy See would “consider investments in Irish government securities or in property development”. Photograph: Tom Lawlor

TK Whitaker, secretary of the department of finance, sought information on whether the Holy See would “consider investments in Irish government securities or in property development”. Photograph: Tom Lawlor

 

TK Whitaker explored the possibility of getting the Holy See to invest in Ireland in the mid-1960s but was informed the Vatican was “disinclined” to put money into poor countries.

A newly released file documenting the Department of Foreign Affairs’ dealings with the Vatican bank includes a confidential letter in 1965 from Mr Whitaker, then secretary of the Department of Finance, seeking information on whether the Holy See would “consider investments in Irish government securities or in property development here. If this were so, it would provide considerable relief for us at the present time when we are short of capital,” he wrote.

It was agreed the Irish ambassador to the Vatican, Tom Commins, would make “some very discreet soundings”.

In a memo labelled “highly confidential”, Mr Commins said he had spoken to a “highly placed” member of the Vatican court who was also the director of one of Italy’s biggest banks.

Informed by such sources, Mr Commins wrote: “Vatican policy on investment is prompted and inspired, not only primarily, but exclusively, by considerations of (a) profit and (b) security.”

The Holy See’s operations were almost exclusively carried out on the New York, Zurich and Geneva exchanges and were confined to “top ranking” bonds, he said.

“In principle, the Vatican are disinclined to consider such operations in small or ‘poor’ countries – within which definition Ireland would of course fall.”

Mr Commins said it was “next to impossible” to get further information because “Vatican operations, particularly in non-ecclesiastical fields, are conducted in an atmosphere of extreme closeness” and knowledge of them was confined to a small circle.