Vatican Inc.'s Future Secured by Pope Francis

By Betty Clermont
Open Tabernacle
February 8, 2014

Worldwide banking and financial activities” is a Vatican industry as noted in the CIA Factbook. While the pope has announced one commission to study his Church’s global sex abuse of children, he has created four commissions, hired 6 internationally-renowned consulting firms, and appointed additional clerical allies to make sure that not only his treasure is suitably-managed and expertly-reported but also that every penny is under his control.

Unanimously termed as “cleaning up,” “cleaning house,” “reforming” Vatican finances by the corporate and Catholic media, none have reported whether any of the above has a track record ensuring moral or ethical business practices. Neither have they noted why the pope made changes nor what alternatives were available.

Following 9/11, international bankers and financiers agreed to stop facilitating terrorists. Regulations were approved to prevent terrorists from hiding their financial backers and fund transfers. After the 2008/2009 financial crisis, governments also became more interested in curtailing tax evasion. Pressure was applied on countries known to be offshore havens for illicit transactions, including the Vatican.

An up-to-date account of how this affected the Vatican – including a background in the Holy See’s recent financial history – was expertly presented in the December 6, 2013, issue of The Financial Times.

Those familiar with the early 1980’s Banco Ambrosiano scandal already know that Pope John Paul II allowed the Vatican Bank to be used to benefit criminals, rightwing terrorists, Latin American military dictators, tax evaders and the world’s oligarchs and plutocrats because he wanted the facility left available for clandestine funding of Poland’s Solidarity movement.

“The issue is that once you start doing opaque transactions in an institution, people don’t know where to draw a line and to stop. What started in effect with moving money to Poland got out of control. There were no rules,” a senior European banker told FT.

With no external demands for moral business practices, both Popes John Paul and Benedict did nothing to curb Vatican financial corruption. “But the euro crisis changed all that,” noted FT. Pressure from Europe’s financial oversight agencies began to “crackdown on states that failed to comply with international rules.” Regulators required financial institutions to stop doing business in countries without similar laws. Since the Vatican conducts its business on a global basis, it had no choice but to meet international standards.

At the same time, Italian financial prosecutors began investigating suspicious transactions in their banking system originating in the Vatican. In Sept. 2009, they seized 23 million euros from two Vatican accounts in Roman banks. According to FT, it was European Union officials who decided that the Bank of Italy should declare that Italian banks were no longer allowed to do business with the IOR. (IOR is the Italian acronym for the Institute for the Works of Religion or the Vatican Bank. The Bank of Italy is that country’s central bank and has the authority to regulate financial institutions.

One adviser to the Vatican told FT that “the pursuit by [Italian] prosecutors and regulators of the Vatican created a shift in mood among [multinational] bankers to the Holy See. It was the bankers’ fear of being tarnished by their links with the Vatican Bank after the credit crisis – and fears of fines from emboldened regulators – that led them to take steps that forced [the Vatican] to clean up its act.”

FT: “That year, correspondent banks grew increasingly worried.” (A correspondent bank is a bank which handles the local leg of a business transaction and the associated documents as an agent of a bank in another city or country.) The IOR has about 35 such partners worldwide allowing the Vatican to provide global financial services to dioceses, religious orders and its other entities owning an incalculable array of assets and providing the Vatican access to foreign financial markets. FT: “Under pressure themselves from a clampdown by European regulators, the [correspondent] banks were no longer open for business with a secretive Vatican. ‘There was a no-nonsense approach from the correspondent banks,’ one banker told FT. ‘We are not here to cover the ass of the Vatican.’”

Pope Benedict’s first attempt at compliance with international regulations originated with a Monetary Agreement signed with the EU in Dec. 2009 so that the Vatican could continue minting its own euro coins sold to tourists and collectors. The agreement called for the Holy See to regulate its finances in accordance with EU anti-terrorist financing/money-laundering standards. The deadline was Dec. 31, 2010, and on that date Pope Benedict passed a law creating a Financial Information Authority (FIA) to supervise Vatican finances. Several journalists noted the outside pressures prompting his action.

When Benedict invited the Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee – whose “aim is to ensure that its member states have in place effective systems to counter money laundering and terrorist financing and comply with the relevant international standards” – to review the Vatican’s practices, few journalists noted that the group does not evaluate whether the “systems” are actually enforced.

In March 2012, JPMorgan Chase closed an IOR bank account in Milan because Vatican officials would not disclose the source of the funds. (A requirement of the anti-terrorism/money-laundering regulations is that the provenance of transactions over a certain amount must be reported.) The JP Morgan account had transferred 1.5 billion euro (S1.95 billion) within an 18 month period (and that’s just one Vatican bank account). “We would say, ‘We need to answer the regulator on this matter.’ They would say, ‘We answer to God,’” a manager of a large European bank told FT.

René Brülhart, a Swiss layman, was hired by Pope Benedict in Oct. 2012 to head the FIA and give the agency a semblance of “independence.” (The Church is a dictatorship. Every official is appointed by the pope or an appointee of the pope.)

Jan. 1, 2013: The Bank of Italy shut down the ATM machines and credit/debit card services operated by Deutsche Bank Italia inside the Vatican City State, leaving tourists to deal in cash-only. “The freeze has cut into sales at the Vatican Museums, post office, and other shops. The resort to cash-only business is costing the Vatican an estimated $40,000 a day.” “The message sent was simple: if you want to participate in the modern world, you have to adopt modern rules,” explained a senior official of a correspondent bank quoted by FT.

Deutsche Bank Italia is an Italian bank under Italian jurisdiction. EU law permits EU banks to operate in non-EU countries only if these have adequate regulatory frameworks and supervisory controls in place which Italian authorities found lacking in the Vatican City State.

Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said the shutdown was due to a “technical problem.”

In a Jan. 14 interview, Brülhart expressed the same “shock” as Casablanca’s Captain Renault and the Holy See’s Bishop Tomasi at the U.N. Commission’s report on child sex abuse released this past Wednesday. Brülhart said, “I’m truly surprised by the measures taken by the Bank of Italy” and then proceeded with the same type of misinformation, half-truths and omission as Tomasi, depicting the Vatican as a victim – not of its own crimes and corruption – but of malicious persecution.

Feb. 12: The Vatican announced that it had found a consortium in Switzerland, a country which does not belong to the European Union, as a replacement. Aduno Group restarted credit card services in the Vatican. But only on-site “point of sales” terminals restarted then. E-commerce was something else entirely and it took until the end of May for the Vatican to adjust its web interfaces with Aduno’s virtual terminals. The fact that the Vatican chose a Swiss firm to manage financial services inside the Vatican “isn’t a good, transparent sign,” noted Carlo Marroni, a Vatican expert with the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

“The impact [of the Deutsche Bank Italia closure] has been far worse than the Vatican ever let on, costing the Holy See lost sales at a time when Pope Benedict XVI’s shock resignation and Pope Francis’ surprise election laid the groundwork for a bonanza in Vatican-minted papal memorabilia.”

That the Church was losing revenue added urgency to the pre-conclave cardinals’ demand that a new pope must “reform” Vatican finances. That the loss was due to the Bank of Italy provided ammunition to the “anti-Italian campaign” waged by the U.S. plutocracy to elect the non-Italian Cardinal Bergoglio.

[There are so many names and groups which follow, I made an appendix for reference.]

May 31: “The IOR is still under pressure from the Bank of Italy,” noted the Financial Times. Yet the same day, Vatican Bank president, German aristocrat and financier Ernst von Freyberg appointed by Pope Benedict just before his resignation, gave a series of interviews with the international press in which he minimized any problems affecting the IOR. “When I came here I thought I would need to focus on what is normally described as cleaning out and dealing with improper deposits….Our biggest issue is our reputation. Our work – my work – is much more communication than originally thought.”

Von Freyberg hired Communications & Network Consulting to promote his work at the IOR. (The Vatican already has a press office, newspaper, radio and television broadcaster, website, Twitter account, Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a publishing house and a senior communications advisor, former Fox News correspondent Greg Burke – all with feeds into one of the largest global media networks of other Catholic entities.) Max Hohenberg was appointed official spokesman for the IOR.

Von Freyberg also said he hired the New York-based multinational law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and the New York/Washington D.C. based Promontory Financial Group to “review every single one of our accounts and to review our structures and processes for detecting money laundering….We have a zero tolerance policy towards customers as well as employees who are involved in money laundering activities.”

June 13: “The Associated Press has learned that the Vatican still hasn’t fully resolved an embarrassing shutdown in credit card services, despite announcing four months ago that systems were back up.”

June 13: “Over the past few months, the Vatican’s contacts with Italy have been intense, many of them made through the discreet diplomacy of Italy’s ambassador to the Holy See, Francesco Greco. While Italian magistrates will probably have to deal with the wall of secrecy erected by the Vatican, a foreign power, attention still focuses on the actions of a number of IOR-related figures.” the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera reported. (emphasis mine)

Nothing propels the Bergoglio regime into damage control faster than the threat of a scandal tarnishing the carefully constructed image of a “reform” pope.

June 15: The Bank of Italy asked the Vatican’s FIA for information about a Msgr. Nuncio Scarano’s IOR account. Scarano was head of the accounting department at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), “the treasury of the Vatican,” that is, the department which manages the pope’s securities, properties and other investments.

June 15: “In recent months it became apparent that the monitoring system put in place to keep a check on the activities of the IOR was and is not working, despite the reassurances from von Freyberg and FIA director René Brülhart. So Pope Francis appointed the director of St. Martha’s House, Msgr. Battista Ricca as temporary prefect of the IOR. Ricca is “someone Francis trusts and he has authorized access to all documents relating to the Vatican Bank.”

June 20: The Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, a group of eight cardinals, held a meeting with heads of the dozens of Vatican departments (dicasteries, congregations, tribunals, councils and “offices”) and its 40-plus foundations whose finances they supervise and control. At that meeting, the euro zone’s largest bank, Banco Santander, “offered its availability…at the Prefecture’s disposition.” “Grupo Santander, owned by the family Botin (Opus Dei) will have a presence that is going to mean a new leading role of Santander in the Vatican.”

June 26: Prosecutors in the southern city of Salerno placed Scarano under investigation for alleged money-laundering. Scarano came to the attention of authorities when he reported the theft of part of his art collection from his 7,500 sq. ft. luxury apartment in Salerno. The priest valued the stolen property at 6 million euro ($7.82 million). The investigators discovered Scarano made a withdrawal from one of his IOR accounts of 560,000 euro cash in a single transaction. Scarano divided this among roughly 56 friends and each one gave him a cashier’s check drawn on Italian banks as a “donation.” “He then took all the checks to a bank in Salerno and paid off a mortgage on his apartment, which investigators said he had purchased for about 1.7 million euros.”

June 26: The pope established a Pontifical Commission of Reference on the IOR. Composed of a president and five members, the group was charged with drawing up an “exhaustive” report into the activities of the IOR.

June 28: Scarano was arrested for allegedly trying to bring 20 million euros ($26 million) in cash into Italy from Switzerland aboard an Italian government plane in an attempt to circumvent laws on importing cash. He was arrested along with, Giovanni Maria Zito, described as an Italian secret service agent, and Giovanni Carenzio, a financial broker.

A judge’s document approving the magistrates’ requests for the arrests said that Scarano was the “pivotal protagonist” in the plot and “felt he could act with impunity because of his connections to the Vatican Bank.” In her report, the judge wrote that the monsignor saw the IOR as “the only safe and rapid instrument for financial and banking operations that could evade – if not outright violate – laws against money laundering and tax evasion.” Reuters further reported that “The arrests of Scarano, Zito and Carenzio stemmed from a previous money laundering investigation by Rome magistrates into the IOR. Italian newspapers speculated that Scarano may have been planning to use the bank to launder at least some of the Swiss money for his friends later.”

“The arrest, and the headlines that screamed across the Italian press, was the latest shock for the Holy See…After a decade of pedophilia scandals, the allegations of financial impropriety seemed set to unleash another storm of criticism and had to be addressed….‘We cannot have any more scandal. It is so shameful,’ a senior member of the Vatican’s financial administration said.”

July 1: IOR director Paolo Cipriani and deputy director Massimo Tulli resigned on July 1. “The decision came after the embarrassing revelation of an inquiry into Scarano’s illicit use of his Vatican bank accounts to carry out risky financial operations, all of which were approved by the IOR’s directors.”

July 1: The Vatican announced Promontory Financial Group employees were appointed as IOR director and the newly created position of chief risk officer. Two other Promontory employees were designated as senior advisors to the bank. “Promontory employees now comprise 25 per cent of the staff of the Vatican Bank, according to the Vatican.”

The appointments “represented a triumph of the American on the [layman’s] board of the IOR, Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus” and the “American consortium led by Msgr. Peter Bryan Wells,” noted the Italian daily newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano. (There is a also a board of cardinals supervising the IOR and they outrank the laymen, naturally.)

July 10: Bergoglio met with his Pontifical Commission of Reference on the IOR “increasingly seen as essential, partly as a means of reassuring the Catholic public, which was shaken by the inquiries and new judicial revelations that kept on sprouting up, casting shadows over some figures who used the Vatican Bank to serve their own interests.”

July 18: The pope established the Pontifical Commission of Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See to “offer technical support and expert advice.” This eight-member commission is composed of “legal, economic, financial and organizational experts” with only one cleric as secretary.

Aug. 8: After his return from Brazil, Bergoglio established a Committee for Financial Security. “The seven members represent Vatican institutions involved in countering money laundering. They are to evaluate the vulnerabilities that could be exploited for purposes of money laundering” and “promote the cooperation and the exchange of information between the departments of the Holy See/Vatican City State. The committee will be headed by Msgr. Peter Brian Wells.”

The pope also charged “the FIA with the ‘prudential supervision‘ of all the Vatican departments involved in financial activity.” If money laundering is suspected, the FIA is to “transmit a detailed report to the Vatican Promoter of Justice,” who, like all Vatican officials, is appointed by the pope.

Aug. 8: Bergoglio enacted a law prohibiting transporting large amounts of cash across the border. “Speaking in parliament Dec. 9, junior finance minister Sesa Amici confirmed that the Italian Customs agency was waiting for a reply from the AIF to a June 19th request for a meeting.” The agency is “reportedly seeking information about almost 5,000 unregistered movements of money in and out of Italy via the IOR. Inevitably, Italian finance police suspect the undeclared money may relate to tax evasion and money laundering.”

Oct. 2: Italian newspapers reported testimony given by Msgr. Scarano to Italian prosecutors. Although prohibited, he said APSA kept accounts for non-clerical customers, acting as a “parallel bank” and dealing in speculative investments. Customers were told that they would pay fewer taxes if they deposited money in an APSA account.

Customers were also promised interest rates higher than the IOR, according to Scarano, alleging a competition between the two. Additionally, since the IOR was being forced into transparency, APSA could provide investments both “safe and quiet,” and that even the IOR keeps accounts in APSA.

Scarano also charged that during his time at APSA, officials routinely accepted gifts from banks looking to capture part of the Vatican’s assets, including “trips, cruises, five-star hotels, massages, etc.” He claimed that APSA officials frequently transferred funds from one bank to another, partly to keep the benefits flowing. Additionally, Scarano said that officials rigged a competitive bidding process for awarding contracts to perform repairs on Vatican properties in favor of a well-known Italian businessman in exchange for a share of the profits.

Oct. 15: Bergoglio created a Supervisory Board to review the functions of APSA consultors. Also, the Promontory Financial Group would begin a review to “allow for greater depth and detail in the verification of the financial condition and management of APSA.” The Pontifical Commission of Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See “will have the data of the review available, so as to enable it to formulate, within the scope of its mandate, appropriate proposals to promote efficiency and transparency of the same APSA.”

Nov. 18: Bergoglio enacted a statute to “distinguish the role and functions of the [FIA] President, the Board of Directors and the Directorate, so as to ensure that the FIA may fulfill even more adequately its institutional functions in full autonomy and independence [all of the above positions are papal appointees]….In addition, the new Statutes establish a specific office for prudential supervision, providing it with necessary professional resources,” i.e. more employees.

Nov 18: It was announced that Ernst & Young will audit the internal finances of the Vatican City State.

Nov. 28: The pope appointed his personal secretary, Msgr. Alfred Xuereb, as a delegate to the two Pontifical Commissions for Reference which are “overseeing reform of the Vatican’s financial structures.” Xuereb “will take on a supervisory role in both commissions.” “This means supervision is deemed necessary.”

Dec. 19: The pope “hired two global service companies to help revamp its communications and improve its accounting structure…the U.S.-based McKinsey& Co. and the KPMG international network.

Vatican reporter, John L. Allen Jr. responded:

The pontiff who famously longs for a “poor church for the poor” and who rails against “trickle-down” economics is also the pope who’s created a boom market for “God’s consultants.” Before the Francis reform is finished, there might not be a systems analyst, management expert or financial guru left on earth who doesn’t have a contract in Rome. This pope may have his issues with capitalism, but these days, he can’t even walk across Vatican grounds without bumping into a whole regiment of its foot soldiers.

Another Vatican reporter, Sandro Magister, commented (emphasis mine):

It may be “poor and for the poor,” the Church dreamed of by Pope Francis. Meanwhile, however, the Vatican is becoming the cash cow of the most exclusive and expensive firms in the world of management and financial systems. Enough to sow panic in the ranks, which at the Vatican recently have not diminished but expanded, in a crescendo of confusion.

Jan. 15: Bergoglio replaced four of the five cardinals on the commission which oversees the IOR. Again, the media hyped “clean-up” and “reform.” Only the New York Times was bold enough to acknowledge that the pope was “consolidating his power.”

Jan. 22: The IOR asked Italy to resume normal financial relations frozen since 2010, “saying it had made great progress with new anti-money laundering measures Rome had demanded.” No response published yet as of this writing.

Jan. 30: Bergoglio replaced the president of the FIA with Bishop Giorgio Corbellini who also keeps his job as president of the Vatican’s labor office responsible for relations between the Vatican and its employees and as president of the Disciplinary Commission of the Roman Curia, which “acts on behalf of a ‘competent authority’ to assess the legality and fairness of the disciplinary action that the same authority intends to apply against one of its employees.”

With the Corbellini appointment, Pope Francis “has made a nearly total break with the clerical financial establishment he inherited from his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who resigned last year.”

The pope’s fortune

“This is a good occasion to invite the Church to strip itself of worldliness,” Pope Francis said when he visited Assisi in October. He did not say the Church should “strip itself of assets.”

How much money does Bergoglio now control in the Vatican? With all his appointments reporting to him, this pope should have a better grasp of the sums than his predecessors.

The secrecy surrounding the IOR was lifted when its annual report for 2012 was posted on its new website Oct. 1, 2013.

The numbers are indeed large – the bank’s balance sheet, for example, includes €5 billion ($6.8 billion) with some €769 million in equity alone. [Deposits are owned by account holders not the pope, but the equity and all that follows is his.] But the bank’s profit last year is perhaps what’s most impressive. The IOR raked in a net €86.6 million in 2012, more than four times its €20.3 profit from 2011.

How? Interest rates.

The jump in profits came largely due to the institution’s “favorable trading results and higher bond values, resulting from the general decrease of interest rates in the financial markets throughout the years,” the report said.

The Vatican holds nearly €3 billion in trading securities, the bulk of which is tied to government and index bonds. Its Italian, German and Euribor bonds, specifically, have appreciated quite a bit on the heels of falling interest rates across the euro zone.

The Vatican has long insisted that the IOR isn’t like other traditional banks, and focuses its efforts on managing assets of religious and charitable foundations and projects. But the report shows that it functions much like any other bank. In the past year, the IOR has offered asset management services to its 20,000+ clients, collecting over €12 million in fees and commissions. It even enjoyed nearly €26 million in profit made from loans in 2012.

The IOR’s €5 billion balance sheet also includes over €41 million in gold, metals and precious coins, [a portion is claimed to have been stolen from Holocaust victims in the Balkans. The Vatican refuses to allow an examination.] a real-estate company, and two investment properties worth just under €2 million.

Every year, the IOR gives most of its profits to the pope as personal income, sometimes exceeding $100,000. Always phrased as “for charitable purposes,” no one ever asks a pope for an accounting.

Since no true figures of non-IOR departments will be released to the public by this regime, all we have are hints.

The REAL money is managed by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. APSA administers the securities (stocks and bonds), other investments and property portfolios owned by the pope.

In February 2012, the BBC reported: “The Vatican owns a third of the property in Rome and about 20 percent of all property in Italy. Italy’s Catholic Church has 110,000 properties, worth about €9 billion, including shopping centers and a range of residential property.” APSA “made a profit of $52 million in 2004/5 from the sale of various buildings.”

On the value of APSA’s other assets, a July 2012 Moneyval report said APSA had deposits of 680.7 million euro and Scarano testified that APSA’s liquid assets (i.e. cash or something which can be sold quickly with little loss of value) are in the range of 6/700 million euro, “perhaps even more.” Both figures give credence to Scarano’s revelation that APSA also functions as a bank.

The Moneyval report also stated that APSA has accounts and deposits of its own in central banks all over the world: the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Deutsche Bundesbank, the Bank of Italy, the Bank for International Settlements, “and others.”

In addition to the IOR and APSA, there are all those departments and foundations and they all have their own bank accounts and investments. For example, Cardinal Ivan Dias, head of the Congregation for Evangelizing of Peoples (formerly known as Propaganda Fide) resides in a 12-room apartment in a Roman apartment block purchased for 23 million euro by the Vatican. In 2010, Propaganda Fide had real estate holdings estimated at around 9 billion euros ($11 billion).

The Council of Cardinals for the Study of the Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See publishes revenue and expense figures for the both the Governorate of the Vatican City State – which runs the museums and other tourist attractions, provides utilities and building maintenance for the territory – and the government of the Holy See which pays for the Curia, the media, diplomatic corps and embassies. For both, the largest expense is salaries. Whether the reports show a break even, lose or gain, there’s not much money here. For example, the Holy See reported a budget surplus of 2.1 million euro ($2.7 million) for 2011. The Vatican City State ended 2012 with a profit of 23 million euro ($29.5 million). “Contributions from the faithful to the Peter’s Pence collection, which is used by the pope for ‘charity and emergency assistance,’ were down by 11.9 percent, bringing in $65.9 million in 2012 versus $69.7 million in 2011.”

This past Christmas, Pope Francis’ made a generous gift of 2,000 envelopes containing free public transport tickets and telephone cards to the poor in Rome. However, his personal annual income from IOR profits as previously noted plus Peter Pence collections – expected to skyrocket in 2013 due to his popularity – and other unreported gifts should be kept in mind.

Vatican Inc. Good-to-Go

The new pope has made it clear by his example that ostentatious displays of wealth are no longer acceptable and that his hierarchs are expected to be more thrifty, as has China’s Xi Jinping, coincidentally elected the same day as Jorge Mario Bergoglio also in a “selection process cloaked in secrecy.”

 “Under Mr. Xi, the party disciplinarians have begun cracking down on the lavish lifestyles of Chinese officials. Fancy banquets and frivolous junkets are out. Party members should be frugal, and ‘resolutely curb hedonism and extravagance.’” Pres. Xi also criticized of the “abandonment of moral traditions for the uncontrolled quest of wealth” but the pope’s pronouncements are promoted by more sophisticated media conglomerates.

As can be seen by the dates of his actions, many of Bergoglio’s decisions were a response to revelations – or anticipated revelations – about Scarano’s dealings in the IOR and APSA. Bergoglio’s intention to eliminate these types of scandals was always reported as “cleaning up” even though his appointees and replacements have no background in virtuous finance. A brief perusal of the appendix will show that, other than a couple of former government officials now working for big-money interests, none of the pope’s appointments have worked to make multinational financial operations as large as the Vatican more honest or ethical. None are with law enforcement or government agencies specializing in this area. None of the outside consultants have much, if any, experience with non-profits or religions much less charities. The last time I pointed this out in a blog, the pope’s supporters told me they saw nothing bizarre about the man who holds the title Vicar of Christ, head of an organization which claims to be founded by Jesus Christ, requiring the same skills to manage his mammon as does the Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers.

Given the choice between closing the principle financial institution for conducting his worldwide business or making it more law-abiding, Bergoglio, like his predecessor, chose to make the IOR compliant with international standards. We’ll know how successful he’s been when the Bank of Italy accepts or rejects the Vatican’s request for normalcy.

He can, in fact, make the IOR transparent because the Vatican has other facilities for financial dealings which would not bear scrutiny. Bergoglio has kept his offshore banking division in the Cayman Islands “which past media reports suggest its clients consist of international financiers, Saudi oil barons, Russian billionaires, German arms dealers, members of royalty and members of the underworld.” The questionable Banco Santander has made its services available. And the role of APSA as another alternative bank seems probable.

Of course, all is not rosy. By the end of 2013, I was asking myself “Who’s on first?” trying to keep track of Bergoglio’s appointments. Magister called the changes “a crescendo of confusion.” I pity the poor workers no longer sure of the chain of command. Titles, even ecclesial ranks, no longer seem to matter.

The Holy See/Vatican City State has about 5600 employees if all the offices maintained throughout the city of Rome are included. The vast majority of employees are Italian. I know how I would feel if I worked in the American headquarters of a huge multinational and my new bosses were foreigners and I read the constant drumbeat of the media that this was necessitated because I and my coworkers are dishonest.

Additionally, many Vatican employees were genuinely loyal to Pope Benedict. What you saw was what you got. In reading some Italian reporters, I sense an undercurrent of resentment towards Bergoglio. He has “reformed” nothing except the image of frugality. His men are no more competent or of a higher moral character than his predecessor’s. It makes no difference to his popularity that he continues to shun the victims of sex abuse and no effective measures to prevent further abuse have been instituted. Bergoglio has repeatedly stated he finds all abortion abhorrent with no consideration for the life and health of girls and women. His attitude towards females is that we are a subspecies of the human race in need of our own “theology” since even our relationship with God is of an inferior nature. He has always been a firm opponent of gay rights referring to same-sex marriage as an “anthropological regression” just this past December. His political ideology is as firmly rightwing as Benedict’s. And the new pope is just as much an advocate of Catholic exceptionalism as his predecessor.

As Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi said on Feb. 5, “The greatest change the Holy Father has brought about is changing perceptions of the Church’s message,” adding that “in its substance, the Church’s magisterium has a continuity. There is no great revolution.”

So Benedict’s supporters are tiring of the Francis photo-ops, sound bites, phrases taken out of context. Any internal opposition to Bergoglio has already been indelibly imprinted in pulbic opinion as “anti-reform” by the corporate media.

The pope’s response to the auditing and consulting firms (who I suspect were suggested by the prelate of Wall Street, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, meant to solidify control by the plutocrats who promoted Bergoglio’s election) has been to appoint his own cronies to watch over the outsiders. As a U.N. Committee noted in its Feb. 5 report on the worldwide sexual torture of children, the institutional Church puts its reputation ahead of even the lives of children and maintains a “code of silence.” Few lay persons are as committed to Catholic hegemony as its ordained and are, therefore, not to be fully trusted.

As long as the pope continues to be an effective adjunct of the plutocracy by making the influence of the Catholic Church accepted in the public square, all will remain sanguine for his regime. Because progressives have forgotten, or have never known, the genius behind the creation of the Religious Right as an effective tool in transfering the wealth of the richest country in the world into the pockets of the 1%, they will keep being played by their predictable response to “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and keep trusting that most rightwing critiques of Pope Francis are genuine. So there is nothing yet on the horizon but continued success in Bergoglio’s future.


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