Transfer of Vatican Official Who Exposed Corruption Hints at Power Struggle

By Elisabetta Povoledo
New York Times
January 26, 2012

VATICAN CITY An Italian television program about the transfer of a whistle-blowing Roman Catholic prelate has caused consternation at the Vatican and prompted speculation about a power struggle among senior clerics in the church.

Broadcast Wednesday evening on the private network La7, the program centered on confidential allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that he had made enemies within the Curia and beyond after rooting out corruption and financial mismanagement in the Vatican City administration.

The program showed several confidential letters written by Archbishop Viganò early last year to Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. In the letters, Archbishop Viganò, who was then the second-ranking official in the part of the Curia that administers Vatican City, asked to be allowed to continue cleaning up the Holy See's financial affairs.

Instead, he was removed from his post and named the papal nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States.

The host of the television program, Gianluigi Nuzzi, said in an interview: "I've never heard of a top cleric who reveals episodes of corruption directly to the pope; it's a first. And what happens? He is stopped from pursuing his objectives and gets sent away from the Holy See."

But the Vatican dismissed the program as "superficial and biased," and the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said that the choice of Archbishop Viganò for the post in Washington, "one of the most important roles in Vatican diplomacy, given the importance of the country and of the Catholic Church there, is proof of unquestionable respect and trust."

Beyond the content of Archbishop Viganò's letters, in which he said he was working to correct "corruption, private interests and dysfunction that are widespread in various departments," experts on the Vatican were intrigued that the letters had become public at all. (In his statement about the program, Father Lombardi expressed "disappointment at the revelation of reserved documents," signaling that the letters were authentic.)

Marco Politi, a Vatican correspondent for the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano and the author of a book about the pope, said in an interview that there were signs that "discontent is growing" with Cardinal Bertone's administration.

"This shows once again that Bertone does not know how to manage the Vatican machine," Mr. Politi said. "It also shows that there is tension within the Curia, because that's how the letters got out."

Paolo Rodari, who writes about the Vatican for the newspaper Il Foglio, said the episode depicted "a widening contraposition happening in the Vatican between Bertone and different clerics who do not like his politics."

In his statement, Father Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, dismissed talk of "arguments, divisions and power struggles" in the Curia as "disinformation."

Archbishop Viganò appeared to have been making headway in cutting costs and controlling spending. Mr. Nuzzi said during the program that he turned the Vatican City's budget deficit into a surplus in a year by cutting costs, including bringing down the price tag for the elaborate Christmas Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square by nearly half.

But "Viganò's new controls produced backlash among administrators of individual departments, such as the Vatican museums and Vatican gardens, long accustomed to operating in semiautonomous fashion," John L. Allen Jr. wrote on Thursday in the National Catholic Reporter.

The letters that were broadcast on Wednesday spoke of deeper frustrations. In them, the archbishop wrote of nepotism and corruption, price gouging and waste, and he leveled accusations that some bankers who assist the Vatican with its finances were acting more in their own interest than in the church's.

A message sent to the Vatican Embassy in Washington seeking comment from Archbishop Viganò was not answered.


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