The Risk of Reforming God’s Bank

By Mark Esposito, Weekend Guy

Logo_IOROvershadowed by Pope Francis’ announcement Thursday that the mob is now persona non grata in Roman Catholic Churches (“RCC”) throughout the world is the very real –and related –struggle behind the scenes at the Vatican Bank. Officially known as the Istituto per le Opere di Religione or Institute for the Works of Religion, the bank has been at the center of RCC-Mafia relations for years. The bank itself is ostensibly independent but situates itself squarely on sovereign territory owned and controlled by the Pope and its Board of Superintendence answers directly to the Curia and the Pope.

Founded in 1942 by papal decree, the bank has had a tumultuous history. Unlike other financial institutions, the assets of the bank are not loaned to borrowers who pay back with interest. Rather the bank functions more like a holding company for assets which are intended to be distributed for charitable functions of the RCC. In this role as repository for the billions of dollars in assets and cash, the bank has been subjected to considerable criticism both for its haphazard administration and the customer it attracts. Customers, who Italian prosecutors say, have ties to organized crime. In 1987 the head of the bank, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, was indicted by an Italian court for his part in the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano. Marcinkus was charged in a bank fraud scheme to bilk  investors by issuing “letters patronage” on behalf of the Vatican Bank in support of Banco Ambrosiano. (Marcinkus was also named as

Paul Casimir Marcinkus
Paul Casimir Marcinkus

a possible accomplice in the supposed murder of Pope John Paul I by investigative journalist David Yallop in his book In God’s Name.) He was however revered in Vatican circles for his actions in thwarting an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. Millions in assets were lost in reliance on the “letters of patronage” and Marcinkus, with the Pope’s approval, hid in the Vatican until political pressure led to rescinding the arrest warrant. He then escaped to the United States.

Some have charged that Banco Ambrosiano was a piggy bank for the Italian mob and there’s considerable support for the proposition. Ambrosiano’s chairman, financier Roberto Calvi, also escaped criminal charges by fleeing to London under a false passport. Known in Europe as “God’s Banker,” Calvi had close ties to Marcinkus and the Holy See. He didn’t escape his victims however as London Bobbies was found him hanging under the Blackfriars Bridge  in 1982 shortly after the scandal broke. Mob informer, Francesco Marino Mannoia, claimed that Roberto Calvi had been killed because he had lost Mafia funds when Banco Ambrosiano collapsed. In July 2003, Italian prosecutors concluded that the Mafia was the culprit and acted not only in its own interests, but also to ensure that Calvi could not blackmail “politico-institutional figures and [representatives] of freemasonry, the P2 lodge, and the Institute of Religious Works with whom he had invested substantial sums of money, some of it from the Italian mob and Italian public corporations.” Keep those words “Italian public corporations” in mind.

To add further intrigue, Pope John Paul I was found dead shortly after commissioning a group of cardinals to investigate and reform the Vatican Bank. His official cause of death is natural causes but some authors have suggested that poison was the real culprit. The truth is likely found in the next world but the Vatican Bank’s link to Italian organized crime is hard to argue with in this one.

Calvi is not the only intersection between the Mafia and the Vatican Bank. In September 2010, Italian magistrates seized €23 million from the Vatican Bank, on the grounds that Italian anti-money laundering laws  had been violated. The money was originally to be transferred from the Italian Credito Artigiano to JP Morgan Chase and another Italian bank, Banca del Fucino. The origin and destination of the funds were accounts under the control of the Vatican Bank. That’s classic turning dirty money into clean money.  Bank officer Gotti Tedeschi and another Vatican bank manager were under investigation for money laundering charges. The account holders were reputedly affiliated with the Mafia.”The Holy See is perplexed and astonished by the initiatives of the Rome prosecutors, considering the data necessary is already available at the Bank of Italy,” a Vatican statement read.


On June 5, 2012, Tedeschi’s home in Piacenza Italy was raided along with his two offices in Milan.This was as part of a corruption probe into Giuseppe Orsi. Orsi is CEO and chairman of Finmeccanica S.p.A,a leading industrial group in the high technology sector in Italy and one of the main global players in aerospace, defense and security. It is partially owned by the Italian government making it … you guessed it … an “Italian public corporation.”  Orsi has been indicted for bribery and corruption in connection with the sale of helicopters to India. Prosecutors allege that bribery was part of the `’company philosophy,” according the Italian news agencies that obtained copies of the arrest warrant. Finmeccanica S.p.A’s  previous chairman and CEO, Pier Francesco Guarguaglini, was also implicated in the bribery investigation. Guarguaglini and his wife, who ran a subsidiary, are accused of setting up slush funds to funnel money to political parties to gain favor.

In Italy, some political parties are closely aligned with mob money and influence. They even are charged with lobbying for the Mafia’s interests in Italy’s parliament. To keep that job, politicians had better be effective: “In 1992 the mafia assassinated Salvo Lima a prominent Sicilian DC politician who, allegedly, had been one of the key figures in representing mafia interests in Rome. What was happening? As Alexander Stille put it:

“Even for a country all too used to political killings, the Lima assassination was deeply shocking. Dozens of politicians and prosecutors had been murdered by the mafia over the previous fifteen years, but—with the exception perhaps of General dalla Chiesa—Lima was the most prominent victim. Moreover the others had been outspoken enemies of the mafia. Lima, instead, was considered to be one of its closes friends in power… his murder was a profound embarrassment to the Christian Democratic Party. Given Lima’s close ties to Andreotti, it was as though the mafia had dumped a dead body on the prime minister’s doorstep as a sinister warning.”

The warning was that the Mafia had perceived that its ‘friends in high places’ were not serving its interests effectively and they had better do so.” (

In July 2012, “Italian prosecutors arrested a priest who worked as a financial analyst for the Vatican, accusing him of trying to help smuggle tens of millions of euros across Europe using a private plane. That same month, two top officials at the Vatican Bank resigned, as Italian prosecutors continued their three-year investigation into the bank,” according to CNN.

Against this backdrop comes newly elevated Pope Francis. Tall, handsome, and armed with popular support from within and outside the church, he has taken up the mantle of Pope John I and instituted his own reform of the Vatican Bank. In June 2013, Pope Francis, authorized the Cardinals’ Commission to appoint Monsignor Battista Mario Salvatore Ricca as the Bank’s Prelate ad interim. Charged with reforming and making the bank transparent, Ricca was immediately made the subject of a whisper campaign that accused him of consensual homosexual acts while serving at the Vatican. There were also allegations that some anti-reformers in the Curia had threatened to blackmail Ricca with other scandalous accusations if he persisted in his efforts at reform. Ricca did offer to resign but it was flatly rejected by Francis who seems committed to seeing the reform through.

Just two weeks into Ricca’s tenure, Monsignore Nunzio Scarano, previously senior accountant at APSA, the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See was indicted with corruption charges.  On  January 21, 2014, those charges were expanded to money laundering through Vatican Bank accounts in yet another investigation. The charges stem from plans to smuggle €20 million in cash from Switzerland into Italy via the Vatican Bank.

So, Pope Francis and his emissary Monsignore Ricca have a wolf by the ears as the ancient Roman Seneca might say. Unable to release the Vatican Bank due to its repository of treasures and unable to hold it due to its ties to organized crime and corruption, it’s as tricky a political thicket as they come and it may hide a lethal enemy in the form of the Italian Mafia. “The strong will of Pope Francis, aiming to disrupt the gangrene power centers, puts him at risk. He disturbs the mafia very much,” Nicola Gratteri, a top anti-mafia prosecutor in Italy, told CNN on Thursday.

Were I Pope Francis and facing this assortment of enemies both within and outside the church, I’d be taking a page from the Roman emperors and hiring an official food taster.

Source: CNN

~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

22 thoughts on “The Risk of Reforming God’s Bank”

  1. issac:

    “Reagan sold cocaine to buy missiles to trade to Iran for purposes to achieve what he and his administration felt was in the public interest. ”


    Funny you say that. The Vatican Bank is also accused of being the piggy bank for the CIA and was implicated as the launderer for money used in Iran Contra. See The Iran-Contra Connection, By Jonathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott, Jane Hunter

  2. Charlton S. Stanley wrote “If Jesus were to come back and start preaching what he did back in the day, I figure he wouldn’t last more than a month or two…..anywhere.”

    My favorite quote of the Christian right is “God helps those who help themselves.” The problem is that this quote is not to be found anywhere in the Bible. It comes from Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. And that’s the problem: most Americans cannot distinguish between Jesus and Ben Franklin, especially the $100 variety, yet they honestly believe they are living the good Christian life.

    Jesus also said that it is more difficult for a wealthy man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. How does anyone misunderstand that, especially Rush Limbaugh and the other high-rolling posers?

    I think it is wonderful that the Pope is a Jesuit, not to mention a former nightclub bouncer, skills he will need to accomplish his mission.

  3. If he would lose the beanie I could relate to him more. I am glad that he is a Jesuit. It is good that he takes on the mob. He needs to take on the pedophiles within. If you are a mobster usually the worst thing you do is kill. If you are a pedophile Priest you commit the worst crimes, the worst sins and have the biggest farce going since dog made little green apples.

  4. With power, in any field, comes arrogance. The Vatican, Washington, Paris, London, each and every leadership has exhibited and continues to exhibit these levels of crimes. Reagan sold cocaine to buy missiles to trade to Iran for purposes to achieve what he and his administration felt was in the public interest. The means and the end have always been at odds. Perhaps all this Mafioso money going through Catholic banks ends up doing some good. The banks take their cut, after all.

    It all depends on what light you shine on the subject. Under any light America’s exploits in Iraq make the Vatican’s interaction with the Mafia look like, next to nothing. Take away the cloak of authority and invincibility from the likes of the three stooges and you have the greatest criminals of this new century. The only reasons for the invasion of Iraq were the ignorance, stupidity, and naivety of bush, the arrogant incompetence of cheney and rumsfeld, and mountains of lies and misrepresentations.

    The religious leaders in the Vatican see what they do and don’t do as necessary in keeping the fabric of their goods works from unravelling. Look at the leaders of the rest of the world and you see the same perspective. Might is typically confused with right.

  5. By miracles I mean anything from secular miracles, which are simply very unexpected events based on the odds but nevertheless they take place, on to mysterious events that challenge logic.

    You know, “the chances are a million in one” types of things.

  6. It is easy to see that the Pope is a brave leader who wants his church to cast off corruption.

    He is an example for leaders everywhere in that sense.

    But what Mark is showing here in this revealing post has us concerned.

    Perhaps this Pope will turn things around through his courage.

    So, should we keep an eye out for some “miracles” too?

  7. If Jesus were to come back and start preaching what he did back in the day, I figure he wouldn’t last more than a month or two…..anywhere.

    This new Pope is giving real reform a shot, but he is taking a risk. He knows it, because he comes from a part of the world where it is dangerous to rock the boat. I know the feeling of achieving an age where you no longer give a northbound rat’s south end, and damn the torpedoes. I wish him well, and hope he is successful.

  8. Vatican Denies Pope is Ill.

    By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

    (CNN) A Vatican spokesman denied reports on Wednesday that Pope Francis is ill, saying that the curtailment of his public summer schedule is common for popes.

    “There is no sickness whatsoever,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office. “If there was, we would be open about that and asking people to pray for him.”

    Francis made his usual public appearance in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday morning and is planning a trip to South Korea from August 13 to 18.

    But the Pope will curtail public appearances in St. Peter’s Square during July, as he did last year, and will scale back his daily celebration of Masses at Casa Santa Marta for the summer.

    It is customary for popes to vacation during the summers months. Francis, 77, will continue working, Rosica said, while limiting public appearances.

    Earlier this month, Francis rested for two days because of “minor indisposition” and tiredness, the Vatican said. Church officials announced the Pope’s curtailed summer schedule on Monday, leading some to speculate that he is ill.

    The Pope walks with a limp and had part of a lung removed while he was 21 but is otherwise in good health, said Rosica.

    Still, some church officials have urged the aging pontiff to cut back on his grueling schedule.

    “We have been asking him to have holidays this year,” Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, one of the Pope’s closest advisers, said during a visit to Washington this month. “Because last year he didn’t and sometimes he’s very tired.”

    Francis has also worried Catholic officials by refusing to use the bulletproof Popemobile.

    “It’s true that anything could happen, but let’s face it, at my age I don’t have much to lose,” he told Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia.

    “I know that something could happen to me, but it’s in the hands of God.”

  9. Mespo, Great piece. I doubt this truly holy man will make it another year. My dear mother was an expert on the Vatican Bank and it’s corruption. She worked as a loan officer in a large New England bank and saw corruption. She read voraciously and the corruption made her seethe. She died prior to the sexual abuse scandal hit the news. Mom was convinced Pope Paul 1 was murdered. She would have loved Francis.

  10. It’s the right thing to do, but it appears that rooting out crime from Vatican Bank carries great risk to the Pope. I predict that if the mob does assassinate beloved Pope Francis, there will be a global backlash against them, including from within their own ranks.

    Nick – looks like your earlier comment on the Vatican Bank was apropos. It sounds like an excerpt from The DaVinci Code.

  11. Tall and handsome are not two adjectives I have ever read relating to Pope Francis. But maybe I missed something.

    Rather Than excommunicating the MAFIA. Maybe he could go after the bishops who enabled child rape. Maybe he will?

    As to the food taster, he should bring him with him if he comes to NYC.

  12. Pope Francis has centuries of corruption to expunge from the Roman Catholic reputation. Can it be accomplished in one Papal Bull?

  13. Matt 22: 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

    21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

    = = =

    I will say ditching the golden thrown and Prada slippers is a good start.
    I will add, that after 200 years of excess and inequity, the well polished chalice overflows, still. (Matt 23: All of it)

  14. There should be odds makers in Vegas who will take bets on how long this Jesuit Pope lasts. I would bet on a plane wreck.

  15. Intrigue, power and money, like a modern day version of The Borgias. I hope the Pope has a food taster.

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