Vatican rife with corruption, TV show alleges


Was the secretary general so good at his job he made serious Holy See enemies?

THIS IS a tale of corruption, dishonesty, poison-pen letters and fetid rivalry in the Holy See. At the centre of the tale is the suspicion that the current papal nuncio to the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was promoted to that prestigious post, partly to get him out of the way.

Is it possible that in his previous role, as secretary general of the “governatorato” (government) of the Vatican city-state, Vigano did such an effective job that he made serious enemies within the Holy See? Above all, how come that someone who immediately transformed the city-state’s balance sheet from a €7.8 million deficit to a €34 million profit was removed? Those allegations were made this week by the Italian current affairs TV programme The Untouchables. Based on letters written by Vigano and on testimony from bankers and Vatican figures, the programme depicts a Vatican village rife with corruption, dishonesty and career rivalry.

So, what is new, the cynic might ask. What is different about the Vigano case is that it is the current nuncio to the US himself who spells out the problems: “When I accepted the job at the governatoratoin July 2009, I was well aware of the risks I was facing, but I never imagined that I would come against such a disastrous situation . . .

“To remedy this situation, the Cardinal president [Giovanni Lajolo] had handed over the administration of the [city-state’s] funds to a finance committee, made up of distinguished bankers who, however, tended more to do their own business than ours. For example, in one transaction in December 2009, they managed to lose us $2.5 million dollars,” wrote Vigano in a letter to Pope Benedict on April 4th last year, a letter that featured in the TV programme.

While the Holy See’s senior spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, was quick to issue a lengthy statement on Thursday this week in which he expressed “bitterness for the diffusion of private documents”, significantly he did not claim that the letter was a fake. But he did point out that, given the gravity of the accusations made by the programme against Vatican figures and advisers, the Holy See might pursue “legal remedies”.

Vigano depicts a Vatican city-state in which the practice of awarding contracts (building projects, maintenance of the Vatican Gardens and of Holy See edifices etc) to outside firms at inflated costs was normal routine. “Friends of friends” had to be looked after and the same firms always got the job.

The new secretary general, however, changed all that, in the process reducing costs dramatically. For example, the Vatican’s huge Christmas crib in St Peter’s Square in 2009 had cost €550,000. By 2010, he had reduced that to €300,000.

Vigano also discovered that some Vatican contractors were doing very little for their handsome recompense. The Vatican City’s centralised and not very reliable heating system had gone practically unchanged since the 1960s. He had a new, efficient boiler installed with consequent savings. Likewise, he overhauled the maintenance of the Vatican Gardens, saving up to €850,000 a year.

In total, his new regime of centralised accountability saw the city-state balance sheet go from a €7-€8 million loss to a €34 million profit in 12 months. Admittedly other factors such as a huge increase in Vatican museum revenues, partly because of longer opening hours, played their part.

Nonetheless, it looks like very good housekeeping.

So why in the spring of last year, did the Berlusconi family-owned daily Il Giornalecarry a couple of short, unsigned articles claiming that Vigano had been such a disaster that he would shortly be removed? In a letter last May to the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, quoted yesterday in Il Fatto Quotidiano, Vigano names names, claiming he was the victim of a slur-campaign by Holy See rivals, including Mgr Paolo Nicolini, an official in the Vatican museum.

In all of this, what exactly was the role of Bertone, the all-powerful Vatican “prime minister” who recently informed all Vatican offices that any communication with the pope must first pass through him? Was Vigano just a little ingenuous, ending up a victim of the age-old Vatican “ promoveatur ut amoveatur” (Let’s promote him and move him) principle? More worringly, is this episode another example of Benedict’s stock-in-trade promote-them and then ignore-them style of governance? Did this particular new broom sweep out too many cupboards?

Any reference to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and his work on clerical sex abuse is, of course, purely coincidental.