Archbishop of Naples under Investigation for Corruption

By Paddy Agnew
Irish Times
June 21, 2010

WEEKEND MEDIA reports claim the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, is officially under investigation in relation to the alleged involvement of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples (Propaganda Fide) in a massive Italian public works scandal.

Last Friday, it was widely suggested that investigating magistrates wanted to "question" the cardinal, but unconfirmed reports yesterday suggested his position had become more serious and that he was now on the "investigated" list.

Commenting on the media speculation, the Vatican's senior spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi yesterday said the cardinal would "collaborate" with Italian magistrates in order to "clarify this situation".

"I would like to express my esteem and solidarity with Cardinal Sepe at this difficult time . . . and naturally we all hope and trust that the situation will be fully and rapidly clarified, so as to eliminate all shadow of doubt regarding both him personally and church institutions," he said.

Perugia-based investigators want to question Cardinal Sepe in relation to his role as head of Propaganda Fide between 2001 and 2006. Propaganda Fide, the Vatican department responsible for missionary works and related activities, controls a huge real estate portfolio, comprising about 2,000 apartments valued at €9 billion, which last year reportedly earned €56 million in rents.

Within the context of the ongoing Grandi Eventi investigation, concerned with alleged impropriety in the awarding of public contracts for major events such as last year's G8 summit in La Maddalena, Sardinia (later moved to L'Aquila), the 2009 world swimming championships and next year's 150th anniversary celebrations of the unity of Italy, the role of Propaganda Fide and its real estate patrimony has come under close scrutiny.

In particular, magistrates may want to know more about the relationship between Cardinal Sepe and former minister for transport, Pietro Lunardi, who reportedly bought a city centre apartment from Propaganda Fide at a "bargain" price of €4.16 million. Rome daily La Repubblica yesterday speculated investigators believe that the Vatican congregation not only gave the minister free use of the apartment for 14 months but also sold it to him at a reduced price in return for a government contribution of €2.5 million to Arcus, a project involving the restoration and partial reconstruction of Vatican Museum, controlled by Propaganda Fide.

Last week, Propaganda Fide was called into question by Guido Bertolaso, the head of the civil protection force, who claimed Cardinal Sepe had offered him hospitality in a seminary college and had then made available to him a Rome city centre apartment from 2003 to 2007.

Mr Bertolaso offered this explanation by way of denial that the apartment had been provided by construction tycoon, Diego Anemone, in return for the awarding of various public works contracts.

Vatican commentators suggest there is a deal of unease in the Holy See about Propaganda Fide's potential involvement in this investigation. The secretary for the congregation, Archbishop Robert Sarah, yesterday suggested Propaganda Fide would be issuing a response to the media speculation.

"We are ever more struck and upset by what is happening to the church, first with the paedophile scandal and now these 'stories' of the cheap rents and sale of Propaganda Fide houses . . . We won't remain silent for much longer," he said.

Speaking at a service for the ordination of 14 priests in St Peter's Basilica yesterday, Pope Benedict made no reference to Propaganda Fide, but he did warn against careerism and ambition in the church, saying: "The priesthood can never be a way to achieve security in life or to gain a position in society. The man who aspires to the priesthood to enhance his personal prestige and power has misunderstood the meaning at the root of this ministry."


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