VatiLeaks 2: What the books behind the trial say on Church finances

The Vatican is far from Pope Francis' ideal of representing "a poor church, for the poor," according to the investigative journalism books at the centre of the VatiLeaks 2 trial, expected to end Thursday.

The books, Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi and Avarice by Emiliano Fittipaldi, were published on the same day, November 5, 2015, based on confidential papers from a now-disbanded committee which reviewed Vatican financial affairs in 2013-14.

Written independently, the books covered similar ground.

Nuzzi and Fittipaldi discovered that the Vatican has 4 billion euros' (4.4 billion dollars') worth of real estate holdings - not only in Rome, but also London, Switzerland and Paris, including a flat once rented by Francois Mitterand - but squanders the assets.

"If the assets were properly managed [...] the returns on them would be four times higher," Nuzzi said at a book launch on November 4, 2015, charging that luxury apartments are given to cardinals for next to nothing.

Francis has famously refused to live in grand papal apartments, preferring to stay in relatively modest quarters in the Vatican's Santa Marta guesthouse. Meanwhile, the flats occupied by cardinals range from 250-500 square metres, Nuzzi revealed.

Fittipaldi said Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former Vatican number two under Benedict XVI, had the 200,000-euro renovations at his 300-square-metre pad paid for by a Vatican children's hospital. This same hospital, Ospedale Bambino Gesu, also organized a 24,000-euro helicopter ride for him.

Following that expose, the Vatican replaced the hospital's management board and opened criminal investigations against the former chairman and treasurer; Bertone agreed to return 150,000 euros to the hospital.

Both authors denounced the extravagant cost of saint-making procedures, with Nuzzi reporting that sponsors paid a "record" 750,000 euros for the beatification of Italian priest Antonio Rosmini in 2007.

In March, Pope Francis issued a decree introducing tighter financial rules for the so-called canonization process, including a provision giving power to the Vatican to cap fees and other expenses related to it.

Other revelations from the books included suspected black market trades on cut-price alcohol, tobacco and petrol sold within Vatican walls, lax controls on Vatican City State tenders and procurement, and improper use of Peter's Pence, the pope's personal charity fund.

"Out of 10 euros that go into [it], 6 end up covering up the losses of the curia, 2 are stashed away in a reserve fund now worth almost 400 million euros, and only 2" actually go to charity, Nuzzi said in November.

Another surprising find was that bank accounts of long-dead pontiffs were still open, Nuzzi wrote. The bank account of John Paul I, who died in 1978 after 33 days in office, reportedly had a balance of 110,863 euros.

More generally, the two books suggested that Francis' attempts to reform the Vatican's bureaucratic machine - the Roman Curia - had at best only half succeeded, and cast doubt on his choice of Australian Cardinal George Pell as financial clean-up master.

Nuzzi quoted from secret recordings of a crisis meeting four months after Francis' election in 2013, where the pontiff was heard saying to cardinals: "It is no exaggeration to say that most of our costs are out of control."

Even Pell, the man recruited to restore financial order, had lavish spending patterns, such as giving his right-hand man a 15,000-euro monthly salary and flying around first class, the two authors charged.

The books also brought attention to Pell's failure to go after paedophile priests when he was a bishop and archbishop in Australia - something Pell owned up to when he testified in March before an Australian government enquiry committee.

The Vatican has dismissed the two books as a jumbled mix of largely outdated information.

In November, Francis called the leaks "a crime, a deplorable act that does not help." He also said they revealed nothing new. "My aides and I already knew these documents well, and measures have been taken which have started to bear fruit, some even visible," the pontiff said.

Last update: Wed, 06/07/2016 - 16:09

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