If one Pope dies they just create another ...

... but when one has resigned? They do the same, but under certain conditions

Pope Benedict XVI, or Monsignor Ratzinger in his secular guise, has resigned. The situation is strange, there are few precedents and those are lost in the mists of time, but what is more perplexing are the justifications, immediately assumed to be genuine and convincing of the good faith of the outgoing vicar of Christ, by the usual plethora of believers and officials. For them, whatever the Pope does or says is always good. The only comment beyond the official statement came from Cardinal Sodano, who, with real or faked amazement, said he received the news like “a bolt from the blue”.

The explanations given are simple and trivial. They range from “I'm old and tired” to “I do not have enough energy to continue my mission.” Except, the next day, he preached with unusual clarity and energy against the Roman Curia, against egoism, the social climbing of Vatican prelates, all overshadowed by the view that one of the causes of the decline of the church of Christ is to be found within the walls of the Papacy. We communists and non-believers have little interest in events that disturb the life of the Papal State, or the cliques that inevitably arise within it, which are no more religious than the board of directors of an international holding company. However we will make a couple of small points.

In his choice, whether provoked or “free”, in “climbing down from the cross” to take a walk to freedom like any other pensioner, the recent tragic events that have put a blush on the cheeks of even the most unquestioning believer certainly played a part. They range from the scandals of paedophile priests who shamed the church in the U.S., Britain, Ireland, Italy and South America; scandals which led to convictions of course, but were first ignored and then covered up because they involved, as well as country pastors and some oratory “peons”, prelates of the various international curie even within the Vatican walls. It continues with the open controversy within the College of Cardinals, in a sort of competition between “equals” on the issue of relations with Islam, on the constant comparison with his predecessor and, last but not least, you get to the theft of confidential documents by the “right-hand” man of the Pope himself[1] and the even more serious leak of the documents of Monsignor Caiola, which have lifted the veil on the rotten business of trafficking, and on struggles for gaining places of privilege within the financial turmoil of the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR).

This last episode is worth reflecting on. The scandals that involved the IOR and its financiers called Fiorani, Anemone and Roveraro, all known to the Roman prosecutor because they were accused and convicted of various financial crimes, as well as being on the staff of the Vatican Bank. Roveraro mysteriously died in 2006, probably overwhelmed by an avalanche of bundles, from his acts of corruption and bribery. Then there is the Roman Prosecutor’s investigation into murky financial transactions between IOR and JP Morgan, and the unrelenting pressure from the major global financiers for the IOR regularise its legal position. It is not formally a bank so was not subject to any form of control by the international banking system. The game of avoiding international regulations was overseen at the time by Cardinal Marcinkus. The character in question, the head of the IOR at the time, was accused of scheming with P2, being responsible for the failure of the Bank of Milan and the death of Roberto Calvi himself, as well as being the “hub” of mafia money laundering.[2] He was saved from the attentions of the Italian judiciary because he was a foreign citizen (of the Vatican City), which never granted extradition, nor the right to consult the books.

Perhaps because of this Benedict XVI, after choosing Gotti Tedeschi, of Opus Dei[3], as head of the IOR decided in 2010 to join the European Monetary Agreement, with the inevitable consequence that it has to accept all its regulations, including those on “money laundering”.

This move was not appreciated at the top of the IOR. It had already been attempted in his time by Pope Luciani[4], although in different terms (the clean-up operation was limited to replacing Marcinkus and his closest collaborators at the top of the Vatican Bank), which, according to many close observers was the reason for his suspiciously premature death. Benedict’s manoeuvre did not produce much of an effect if it is true that the IOR continued to be the centre of a scandalous financial story from 2009 onwards, including one relating to fake US Government bonds. This is referred to in leaked documents over two years (2011/12). Behind it all it is not difficult to see the fratricidal clash between the men of Opus Dei and those of the “Vatican loggia” which forced Gotti Tedeschi to resign in open confrontation with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, the real strong man of the Commission of Cardinals.

Another scandalous factor with devastating consequences, again in the field of “bad finance” is the possible involvement of the Vatican Bank in the Antonveneta - Monte dei Paschi di Siena case. According to the anonymous testimony of an important Vatican personality published on February 4 in the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, the IOR played a crucial role in the whole affair. The witness tells of intensive meetings between the then director of the IOR Paolo Cipriani, the high-ranking priest Monsignor Piero Pioppo, also of the IOR, and the Catholic banker Andrea Orcel. In 2007 the latter had the task of following the movements of the Banco Santander in its takeover bid for ABN Amro Bank, before being elevated to the rank of “advisor” to the Montepaschi following Antonveneta’s acquisition of it in 2009. For that operation four accounts were opened for four religious organisations. In their turn, the four accounts, which have played a crucial role “in the “Antonveneta business” headed by the IOR, enjoyed the hospitality of a small bank, the Fucino, based in Rome and tied by a thousand threads to the Vatican. According to the same witness, a substantial part of the first Antonveneta deal (1.2 million euro) was used to pay the intermediaries for the second purchase of the same thing. These were complicated and convoluted moves that, in the end, proved to be the usual stock of criminal and creative finance with the additional matter of “divine right”. We are not quite at the level of the scandals of Marcinkus, collusion with P2, money laundering and alliances with the Magliana gang of Renatino De Pedis, but close enough.

If we are asked if Pope Benedict XVI is spontaneously resigning due to physical weakness or for reasons of age, our answer is absolutely no. More likely that his “descent from the cross” is due to pressures related to the key areas of financial management, the internal power struggles, and the unsustainable pressures that have been loaded on him. That is why he has left the field. To end “in glory” we add that, if God's ways are infinite, the IOR has always chosen those which lead to an “earthly” path to salvation of its economic interests. With the temporal addition that, in the decaying phase of capitalism, characterised by a devastating crisis that has almost overwhelmed or submerged everything and everyone, the Bank of God is to be found in the most unproductive sectors of the capitalist system of finance, speculation and economic parasitism. As usual, rather than the laws of divine providence, we have the dominance of capital. God the father has given way to the god profit. It seems to be the only guiding deity inside the “holy” walls of the financial empire across the Tiber. In the next, fierce struggle for the successor of Ratzinger, the same factors that led to his resignation will still be operating. They are to be found in the powerful financial holding company known by the name of the IOR, or the “pious” Institute for Works of Religion. Amen.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

[1] Paolo Gabriele was the Pope’s butler who stole Vatican documents which ended up being published by Gianluca Nuzzi in his book “His Holiness”. They revealed that financial scandals were still going on within the IOR. Gabriele was sentenced to 18 months for theft but pardoned in December 2012 by the Pope.

[2] This corruption was real and is known to have involved the bank's head, Cardinal Paul Marcinkus along with Robert Calvi of the Banco Ambrosiano (which is believed to have financed Solidarity in Poland as well as other opposition movements in Eastern Europe. Calvi was a member of P2 an illegal right wing Italian masonic lodge with links to Italian politicians. In 1982 Calvi was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London, after disappearing just before the corruption became public. His death was initially ruled as suicide, and a second inquest – ordered by his family – then returned an "open verdict". The Vatican gave contradictory accounts about the death of John Paul I (who wanted to expose the corruption which came out later) and have refused all demands for an enquiry. Needless to say many novelists have included this saga in their writings as it is better than any fiction.

[3] Opus Dei is a “controversial” lay Catholic organisation which may have as many as 90,000 members worldwide. It could be considered a sort of Catholic freemasonry and has numbered Government ministers in some countries including the UK. Gianmario Roveraro (see above) was a member, and disappeared after one of its meetings in July 2006. His badly beaten body was found three weeks later.

[4] There are several books on the sudden death at 65 years old of John Paul I (Albino Luciani) in September 1978. Most try to show that he was murdered because of corruption in the IOR, or Institute of Works of Religion, the Vatican's most powerful financial institution, commonly known as the Vatican Bank. It owned many shares in the Banco Ambrosiano which cost it a quarter of a billion dollars when it went bankrupt in 1982.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013