Jerome Christenson: the Vatican and Its Bank Should Soon Be Parted

By Jerome Christenson
Lacrosse Tribune
May 30, 2012

Winona Daily News columnist Jerome Christenson

The butler did it.

Bet you never thought you'd see that line in a legitimate news story, did you?

For that matter, I'd almost wager you didn't know there were still people in this world who still hire butlers.

Well, it seems the pope does have a butler, and from what I read in the papers, it appears his Holiness' head manservant is in hot water over the heist of some top-secret Vatican documents, the contents of which were leaked to the ink-stained wretches of the Italian Fourth Estate—much to the red-faced chagrin of a number of red-hatted churchmen.

I suspect they're a bit embarrassed that the purloined papers didn't reveal a set of sub rosa instructions from the Most High, but the sort of small-'m' mysteries more common to supermarket tabloids and Fox News — a variety of very much earth-bound intrigues and shenanigans among those close to the throne of the Vicar of Christ and in the top floor offices of the Vatican bank. It's the sort of thing that carries a bit of the rancid perfume of the Borgias and of things more suited to the sensibilities of 1512 than 2012.

Then again, I've occasionally wondered about the wisdom of having a Vatican bank. Considering what the primary stockholder's official position regarding the relationship between God and Mammon, the Vatican bank has much the same ring to it as "kosher ham," "non-alcoholic beer," or "moderate Republican." When you consider what Jesus did to the moneychangers, the church running a bank is a bit like Carrie Nation running a distillery. Philosophically, it's just not a good fit.

This is far from the first time the church has gotten into a scrape over handling money. If it hadn't been for Johann Tetzel going around Germany raising cash to build St. Peter's using the the catchy slogan, "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs," Martin Luther might have lived out his days as a good Catholic monk instead of starting the Reformation—and, consequently, providing Garrison Keillor with some of his best material.

Heck, you don't have to go back that far. It was only about 30 years ago that an unholy mix of mobsters, monsignors, and much, much missing money made for a series of scandals that weren't matched until Jim and Tammy Fay Baker were called down to the courthouse.

There's just something about religion and money. Like cats and dogs or minced onions and chocolate sauce — they just don't go well together.

The church does its best with money when it's getting rid of it — spending every last peso, rupee and zloty on the things it does best — healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving homes to the homeless. Churches do best when they use money like manure — spreading it around to make things grow, rather than piling it up and letting it stink.

That's not to say there's evil in being a banker. I'm certainly grateful not to have to keep my spare change under my mattress — although I doubt it would raise lump enough to disrupt my slumber. And the world is replete with honest bankers, kept that way by government regulators who put the fear of the Lord into them ... or ought to.

They provide a service the pope should avail himself to. With a qualifying deposit, no doubt Wells Fargo would give him free checking and a heavenly rate.


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