Pope Francis facing Vatican ‘intimidation’, author claims

Reports of pontiff’s ‘brain tumour’ described as ‘blatantly false’ attempt to undermine him

Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi at a news conference to publicise his book, ‘Via Crucis’, in Rome on Wednesday. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters

Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi at a news conference to publicise his book, ‘Via Crucis’, in Rome on Wednesday. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters


A suspect break-in and a subsequent safe robbery, a whole batch of Holy See confidential documents and even documents related to mafia banker Michele Sindona of Banco Ambrosiano fame, all featured in Rome on Wednesday when author Gianluigi Nuzzi presented his latest, real life, Vatican pot-boiler, Via Crucis.

Nuzzi’s book, due to hit the shelves in 23 countries and in seven languages, comes out just three days after the arrests of Spanish Monsigor Lucio Angel Vallegjo Balda and of lay person Francesca Chaouqui, charged with “the removal and dissemination” of confidential documents.

Most commentators believe that Msgr Balda and Ms Chaouqui, who served together on Cosea, a commission established by Pope Francis in July 2013 to rationalise the “economic-administrative” structure of the Holy See, are the main sources for Nuzzi’s book.

At his book launch on Wednesday, Nuzzi was obviously giving nothing away about his sources, saying only: “I am not for or against Pope Francis. I don’t have a list of names [of people plotting against the pope] but I do have a list of facts...What is clear is that the pope has initiated a process of reform and that the further he goes, the more he comes up against resistance.”

Nuzzi’s book contains 33 pages of photocopies of Holy See documents, many of them not surprisingly taken from the Cosea commission on which Msgr Balda and Ms Chaouqui served. Pride of place goes to a letter from unnamed “international auditors” to the pope, written sub segreto pontificio (under pontifical secrecy) in June 2013, three months after the election of Francis.

“Most Holy Father,

“There is an almost total lack of transparency in the accounts of both the Holy See and the Governerato [of Vatican City]. This lack of transparency makes it impossible to provide a realistic estimate of the true financial position both of the Vatican overall and of the single entities which go to make up the Vatican.”

Having read that document, Francis insisted that Cosea and other Vatican organs increase the pace of the economic “clean-up”. As the pressure mounted, so too did the resistance and this is where the Watergate-style break-in comes into the story. On the night of March 29th, 2014, somebody broke into the Vatican office where the records of the Cosea commission were held, removed documents both old and new, including ones related to Mafia banker Michele Sindona, only to subsequently return the Sindona files “anonymously”.

“This was just a pure act of intimidation, that’s the way they [those opposed to Pope Francis] behave”, commented Nuzzi on Wednesday. He also suggested that the “blatantly false” reports that Francis was suffering from a brain tumour, reports disseminated during the recent Synod on the Family, were the creation of the same ill-defined forces, intended to undermine the pope.

Nuzzi’s book records how in an era of Francis-inspired, understated clerical living, many of the princes of the church pay no attention whatsoever to the pope’s example, at least as far as living space is concerned. Whilst Francis famously lives in 50 square metres in the Domus Santa Marta, all the curia cardinals live in Vatican residences that range from 781sq m down to the smallest at 172sq m. For example, US Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of those most strongly opposed to the Francis reform process, lives in a 417sq m apartment

Nuzzi’s book claims that of every €10 collected by the church through offerings such as the June 29th “Peter’s Pence”, only €2 is made available to the pope for charitable purposes. Of the rest, €6 is used to balance accounts and run the Holy See (including the cardinals), whilst €2 is “set aside”, ie invested. He also claims that the Vatican’s huge property portfolio, worth perhaps €4 billion, is both greatly undervalued and badly managed.

Responding to media interest in the publication in Italy this week not just of Via Crucis (“the way of the Cross”), but also of Emiliano Fittipaldi’s Avarizia (“Greed”, also about the Vatican’s financial affairs), senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi issued a lengthy communiqué. He said both books testified to the Holy See’s ongoing financial reform process but added that both referred more to the recent past than to the present.

He also confirmed that Italian investment banker Gianpietro Nattino, involved in not always crystal clear Vatican banking since 1958, is currently being investigated by Holy See authorities in relation to Vatican-based holdings.

Coincidentally, the new board of Rome’s well-known children’s hospital Bambino Jesu, met on Wednesday for the first time. The Bambino Jesu Foundation features in both books, with both authors pointing out that €200,000 of foundation funds were used to rennovate the Vatican retirement apartment of the former cardinal secretary of state, Taricisio Bertone.