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God’s Racket: Why It’s High Time to Shut Down the Vatican Bank

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It’s a place where angels fear to tread; where criminals, frauds and mysterious corpses turn up as regularly as rats in the metro. The Institute for Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank, was set up in 1942 by Pope Pius XII to manage the vast Vatican finances. Often referred to as the world’s most secret bank, the operation is run by a CEO and overseen by five cardinals who report directly to the Pope.

The bank’s official role is to safeguard and administer property intended for works of religion or charity. The actual activities of the bank are somewhat different. They include money laundering for narcotics traffickers, bribery, skimming charitable funds to enrich priests, and tax evasion for wealthy Italians.

Finance, Vatican-Style

The scandals associated with the Vatican bank, particularly over the last four decades, are so sordid and improbable as to strain the creativity of a supermarket tabloid. The Church’s past offenses of selling indulgences and charging fees for sacraments have been updated for the world of modern finance, complete with shell companies, speculation and secret transfers. (For more on the antecedents of the current bank, see Betty Clermont’s handy synopsis at Daily Kos.) Last year, Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published a book delving into the intrigue and corruption swirling in a bank that has been answerable to no one. It was an eye-opener.

In May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI’s butler was arrested for leaking documents bristling with claims of financial corruption and criminal activity involving major Italian companies. The last Vatican bank chairman, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was shown the door when it was revealed that the bank was running afoul of international money-laundering standards. Leaked material and reporting reveals a bank that appears to be a kind of rogue offshore vehicle favored by various kinds of miscreants, including right-wing politicians, mafia types and tax evaders who wish to hide their financial transactions. Kind of like HSBC, only with God’s imprimatur.

Subsequent investigations have resulted in a shutdown of credit card transactions at all Vatican venues; right now, God can only take cash. In an attempt to restore relations with the international financial community, outgoing Pope Benedict appointed a new director of the bank, German lawyer Ernst von Freyberg, as one of his final acts. So far that’s not looking so good, as Freyberg has been revealed to have unfortunate links with a company with a history of making warships, including those produced for Nazi Germany.

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Skeletons In the Vault

The same month the butler story broke, sinister echoes of earlier scandals emerged when the Catholic Church’s top exorcist (yes, you got that right)claimed that a pile of bones buried in the tomb of a notorious gangster – and church doner -- belonged to a missing schoolgirl who was forced to perform for priests' sex parties. The gangster’s girlfriend at the time claimed that American monsignor Paul Marcinkus, the scandal-ridden chief of the Vatican bank from 1971 to 1989, was behind the abduction. Whether or not that’s true, the years of Marcinkus’ reign were certainlyunusual.  

In the 1980s, the Vatican bank was involved in a major political and financial ruckus involving the $4.7 billion collapse of Banco Ambrosiano. Marcinkus was under consideration for indictment in 1982 in Italy as an accessory to the bankruptcy, but he escaped earthly justice when the Italian courts ruled that his status as a priest and high-ranking prelate of the Vatican gave him diplomatic immunity from prosecution. One Roberto Calvi, known as “God’s banker” because of his close association with the Holy See, was the chairman of Banco Ambrosiano. He also did business with the Mafia, and was found in June 1982 swinging from Blackfriars Bridge in London the day after his dismissal from the bank. The death was ruled a murder, and is widely suspected to have been a mob hit.

Some years earlier, in 1968, we meet the shady figure of Michele “The Shark” Sindona, who became a Vatican financial adviser despite the small matter of his past job as manager of heroin operations for the Gambino crime family. A world-class hustler who specialized in money-laundering, he was a member of the notorious P2 Lodge, a bogus ''Masonic'' lodge considered to have operated something like a right-wing shadow government. Like other Italian bankers associated with the Vatican, Sindonatrumpeted his sleazy activities as the defense of free enterprise against leftist political forces. 

Sindona ended up in prison for bank fraud and ordering the murder of a lawyer appointed to liquidate his Italian banks. He later died there after drinking a cyanide-laced coffee. Some say his poisoning was an attempt to keep him from talking about the sudden death of 65-year-old Pope John Paul I just 33 days after taking office. The reform-minded Pope had been speaking out against the profiteering of the Vatican Bank, and theologian AbbĂ© George de Nantes, among others, has made a case for murder. (If you saw The Godfather Part III, you may recall a storyline involving the Vatican bank, organized crime and the sudden death of a fictional pope.)

Too Corrupt to Exist

Right now there’s a power struggle going on in the Vatican concerning how the bank should operate, whether to modernize and become more transparent, or to keep on operating under the radar and doing all the shady business it can get away with.

If anyone thinks that the Vatican bank could be cleaned up, I would suggest thinking of the mythic Augean stables. Essentially, a racketeering entity has been operating as a non-profit dedicated to doing God’s work. Jesus was famed for throwing the money-lenders out of the temple. In the Vatican, they run the temple.

The Vatican needs cash, and as its influence in the West declines in favor of poorer areas of the globe, there is no telling what else it will do to get it. The bank has had multiple opportunities to clean up its act after noxious scandals, and has repeatedly failed to do so.

Andreas Wassermann and Peter Wensierski of Der Spiegel described the corruption at the heart of the bank:

“Its business model depends on keeping things as shrouded as possible from all financial authorities. Capital gains are untaxed, financial statements are not disclosed and anonymity is guaranteed. The bank's exotic status of belonging to a religious monarchy in a sovereign state the size of a city park has shielded it from investigations and unpleasant external monitoring.”

Here’s an idea: Shut it down. Why shouldn’t priests use regular banks just like everybody else? Why should a bank housed in a medieval defense tower gobble donations and launder illicit funds, giving haven to cheats, criminals and wealthy parasites? The Vatican bank is too corrupt to exist.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of 'Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.' She received her Ph.d in English and Cultural Theory from NYU, where she has taught essay writing and semiotics. She is the Director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

by on Feb. 28, 2013 at 4:04 AM
Replies (41-50):
fireangel5
by Gold Member on Feb. 28, 2013 at 6:36 PM

I don't think that's going to happen. 


Quoting mehamil1:

And the beginning of the end. Or not. This should be interesting. I predict in 10 - 20 years the whole thing will implode on itself. 



Ms.KitKat
by Platinum Member on Feb. 28, 2013 at 6:52 PM

 We have that very same gift card program. It's used as a fund raiser at my child's school. But GC are different from credit cards issued by a bank. Even those visa cards are simply pre-paid debit cards.

Yeah- y'know- a lot of the times I think if Jesus came to Mass, he would be throwing A LOT of tables! Between the bake sale, the car raffle and the Golf-whatever. There's more money being exchanged out front of the church than what gets tithed most Sundays.

Quoting fireangel5:


My son's HS takes credit cards. This year they began adding on a surcharge to cover the costs of the credit card charges. Their former grade school sold "manna" it's a program where you purchase gift cards from dozens of businesses for face value, however both you and the school get a % back from (each business decides on the the %, generally 1-3% but it adds up over a year) You can buy those gift VISA cards there School will take those for payment. I honestly don't know about regular bank credit cards tho. 

I do agree that the Church is $ hungry and to be honest, it turns me off of going to Mass. I'm tired of them begging for $ every weekend. 

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 The Roman Catholic Church is a cash-only business. Its been corrpupt from the early years. No catholic school (at least none that I know of) takes credit card payments- its cash or check only. Same for tithing- its all cash.

(yes, I am RC) My church discussed going green and having tithing though on-line automtaic withdrawl from savings/checkings. It's been about 3 years now and they never put the plan into place. It's still a cash only tithe. 

 

 

 

fireangel5
by Gold Member on Feb. 28, 2013 at 8:51 PM
1 mom liked this

Plus it seems like theres an extra plate collection each week, for the Big Shoulders Fund, Catholic Charities, sister parishes, on and on. Our new (not so friendly) pastor has stopped contributing to the school so regular weekly collections are down. Too much of the homily is spent guilting us for $$, that's not what its about. I have been going to my son's HS for sunday Mass. No collections and the homily really pertains to relating the Gospel to our lives. As it should be. 
I have deep deep faith and I know a great many wonderful religious people in the Church but I'm so disgusted by the money issue. In Chicago, the Cardinal lives in a lavish mansion. Why? Sell it and give $ to the parishes who need basics, roofs, boilers, etc.

 

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 We have that very same gift card program. It's used as a fund raiser at my child's school. But GC are different from credit cards issued by a bank. Even those visa cards are simply pre-paid debit cards.

Yeah- y'know- a lot of the times I think if Jesus came to Mass, he would be throwing A LOT of tables! Between the bake sale, the car raffle and the Golf-whatever. There's more money being exchanged out front of the church than what gets tithed most Sundays.

Quoting fireangel5:


My son's HS takes credit cards. This year they began adding on a surcharge to cover the costs of the credit card charges. Their former grade school sold "manna" it's a program where you purchase gift cards from dozens of businesses for face value, however both you and the school get a % back from (each business decides on the the %, generally 1-3% but it adds up over a year) You can buy those gift VISA cards there School will take those for payment. I honestly don't know about regular bank credit cards tho. 

I do agree that the Church is $ hungry and to be honest, it turns me off of going to Mass. I'm tired of them begging for $ every weekend. 

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 The Roman Catholic Church is a cash-only business. Its been corrpupt from the early years. No catholic school (at least none that I know of) takes credit card payments- its cash or check only. Same for tithing- its all cash.

(yes, I am RC) My church discussed going green and having tithing though on-line automtaic withdrawl from savings/checkings. It's been about 3 years now and they never put the plan into place. It's still a cash only tithe. 



 



lga1965
by on Feb. 28, 2013 at 9:34 PM
1 mom liked this

 Vicious. Vicious rumors.

But it's not.

How can "our father" be sick and doing well? He can't be both. He's either sick..or he is doing well.

I think he is getting old and he is disappearing to avoid some..."problems". And he is just a man.

Quoting juju40:

IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SEX SCANDALS STOP SPREADING VICTIOUS RUMORS...OUR FATHER IS SICK AND DOING WELL ..SO YOU CAN STOP THE HATE ALREADY

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 I did not read about this but I did suspect his stepping down had something to do with the sex scandals as well. Somebody has something on him and he needs to leave but not so far away so that he can be called to answer for KWIM? 

Every other pope was 1 breath away from death and they still stayed. This pope is still very spry.

I wish I knew more about the other 1 pope who stepped down and why. Although I'm sure there is nothing written about it- at least not for the public to view.

Quoting mehamil1:

I read somewhere that it was to protect him from prosecution because of these sex scandals. As pope, he has to travel. If he steps down, he can just hang out in the Vatican. The Vatican is its own sovereign nation. He can't be extradited out of there. They are protecting their asses. 

Quoting Ms.KitKat:
Quoting mehamil1:

And the beginning of the end. Or not. This should be interesting. I predict in 10 - 20 years the whole thing will implode on itself. 

 It won't implode. It's too powerful.

I do wonder though why the pope is stepping down. I smell a conspiracy theory

 


 

jehosoba84
by Jenn on Feb. 28, 2013 at 10:04 PM

 

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

Every other pope was 1 breath away from death and they still stayed. This pope is still very spry.

 

 

 

The Vatican disclosed that Benedict had fallen, suffering a head injury that caused massive bleeding, while in Mexico last March, reports The Associated Press. This is just one of several health-related announcements that a Vatican spokesman made Thursday.

In addition to the head injury, the pope not only had a pacemaker but had a secret surgery to replace the battery in December. While the announced resignation was a shock to the world, it seems Benedict XVI had at least informed some associates in advance.

I've also heard he is blind/going blind in one eye.

It was not even revealed that Pope john paul ll had Parkinsons until he died.

meriana
by Platinum Member on Feb. 28, 2013 at 10:19 PM
1 mom liked this

It's probably awful of me but the only thing I really think of is how horrible it would be if the Vatican was ever bombed. There are things in that library that are centuries old and are the only copies in existance of whatever they are. To me it's criminal that they don't allow their holdings to be microfilmed in order to ensure their survival. History tells us about the library at Alexandria and always laments its demise and the loss of all it held. Think of what would be lost fprever if something happened to the library at the Vatican and there's certainly no guarantee that it wouldn't be destroyed somehow at some point in time.

Goodwoman614
by Satan on Mar. 1, 2013 at 12:35 AM
1 mom liked this



Quoting mehamil1:

I think Paul was a keen observer of human behavior and that power corrupts. The church started one way and became something completely different once it had real actual power. To my knowledge, Jesus never said to build a global empire worth billions. Exactly. Parading around in their self-aggrandizing grand pooh-bah hats, living lavish lifestyles, in obscenely opulent properties...because *that's what we all know Jesus was all about*

Quoting TranquilMind:

You are probably right, unfortunately.  Those who were abused before then are of the generation that would never speak of such things - and dead now anyway.

The Apostle Paul warned back in the Biblical times that people were starting to veer away from truth and teach God's word for gain...so yeah, nothing new there. 

Quoting mehamil1:

I have read that he had a hand in moving around abusive priests when he was still a Bishop. I think there's guilty men at all levels within the church structure. I wouldn't even know where to begin. 

I also think the abuse extends further back than the 1900s. We only know about it extending to the 1900s is because people finally began to speak out about it. Who knows what lengths the church went to to silence people throughout it's 2,000 year long history. At some points in time they were not above killing those who went against the church on any front. 

Quoting TranquilMind:

 I know, but JPII and his predecessors were all in on that, as it extends from the mid 1900's.  B 16 has only been in office a few years.

Quoting mehamil1:

I know he's elderly and more than likely infirm. However, he played a role in the cover up of the abuse of God only knows how many children. These people have to be held responsible for their actions, no matter how old and infirm they are. 

As for what to do to him? I honestly have no idea. I don't even know which nation would try to take a crack at him. The sexual abuse scandals are global. They have happened in every nation that the Catholic Church has a presence. This whole thing is insane. 



Ms.KitKat
by Platinum Member on Mar. 1, 2013 at 8:20 AM

 This I am sad about.  I beleive the Church should support the schools. The children are the futrue of the church and they are denying them the opportunity to be a part of it. As much as I may disagree with the RCC, I too have a strong faith. I love that my children have the foundation of a catholic school education. My local parish selectively provides to some schools and then not to others. It is infuriating that my local parish plays favorites. They are all children of God and baptized in the RC faith.  

 

Quoting fireangel5:

Plus it seems like theres an extra plate collection each week, for the Big Shoulders Fund, Catholic Charities, sister parishes, on and on. Our new (not so friendly) pastor has stopped contributing to the school so regular weekly collections are down. Too much of the homily is spent guilting us for $$, that's not what its about. I have been going to my son's HS for sunday Mass. No collections and the homily really pertains to relating the Gospel to our lives. As it should be. 
I have deep deep faith and I know a great many wonderful religious people in the Church but I'm so disgusted by the money issue. In Chicago, the Cardinal lives in a lavish mansion. Why? Sell it and give $ to the parishes who need basics, roofs, boilers, etc.

 

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 We have that very same gift card program. It's used as a fund raiser at my child's school. But GC are different from credit cards issued by a bank. Even those visa cards are simply pre-paid debit cards.

Yeah- y'know- a lot of the times I think if Jesus came to Mass, he would be throwing A LOT of tables! Between the bake sale, the car raffle and the Golf-whatever. There's more money being exchanged out front of the church than what gets tithed most Sundays.

Quoting fireangel5:


My son's HS takes credit cards. This year they began adding on a surcharge to cover the costs of the credit card charges. Their former grade school sold "manna" it's a program where you purchase gift cards from dozens of businesses for face value, however both you and the school get a % back from (each business decides on the the %, generally 1-3% but it adds up over a year) You can buy those gift VISA cards there School will take those for payment. I honestly don't know about regular bank credit cards tho. 

I do agree that the Church is $ hungry and to be honest, it turns me off of going to Mass. I'm tired of them begging for $ every weekend. 

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 The Roman Catholic Church is a cash-only business. Its been corrpupt from the early years. No catholic school (at least none that I know of) takes credit card payments- its cash or check only. Same for tithing- its all cash.

(yes, I am RC) My church discussed going green and having tithing though on-line automtaic withdrawl from savings/checkings. It's been about 3 years now and they never put the plan into place. It's still a cash only tithe. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dawnie1
by #1 Raider fan on Mar. 1, 2013 at 8:21 AM
1 mom liked this

I am a R.C., but the Church has been operating this way for how many years? I really can't see anything changing. The Vatican and their ($$) stash has always been a bone of contention with my family and me.

Ms.KitKat
by Platinum Member on Mar. 1, 2013 at 8:38 AM

 I still stand by my statement.

Quoting jehosoba84:

 

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

Every other pope was 1 breath away from death and they still stayed. This pope is still very spry.

 

 

 

The Vatican disclosed that Benedict had fallen, suffering a head injury that caused massive bleeding, while in Mexico last March, reports The Associated Press. This is just one of several health-related announcements that a Vatican spokesman made Thursday.

In addition to the head injury, the pope not only had a pacemaker but had a secret surgery to replace the battery in December. While the announced resignation was a shock to the world, it seems Benedict XVI had at least informed some associates in advance.

I've also heard he is blind/going blind in one eye.

It was not even revealed that Pope john paul ll had Parkinsons until he died.

 

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