Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Vatican Exposed: Money, Murder, and the Mafia

There is no disputing the fact that the Vatican, the clerical bureaucracy which controls and leads the Roman Catholic Church, is a very powerful and secretive organization. There is also little disputing the fact that great power and great secrecy typically help an organization to become corrupt. Has the same occurred with the Vatican? Many believe so and there is quite a bit of evidence through the centuries of corruption at the Vatican which would rival that in any government or corporation.


Title: The Vatican Exposed: Money, Murder, and the Mafia
Author: Paul Williams
Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN: 9781591020653

• Very well written - much historical complexity is presented easily and clearly
• Detailed information on events and activities most people are unaware of

• Some might not believe the book is true - it is all very incredible

• Revelations about the Vatican's corruption and connections to organized crime
• Explores the things the Vatican has done in order to maintain power and money
• Shows how many sources of Vatican finances have had immoral and illegal origins

Book Review

It seems unreasonable to think that somehow the Vatican could have managed to escape the sorts of corruption that have afflicted every other human enterprise through history, especially considering just how long the Vatican has had in order to succumb to the temptations of greed and power. People who work at the Vatican are human, just like the rest of us, and there is nothing about working for a church which would cause a person to immune from the forces which cause corruption elsewhere. On the other hand, it's not enough to simply suggest that the Vatican is susceptible to corruption. Can a case be made that it has succumbed to corruption?

That's what Paul L. Williams tries to do in his book The Vatican Exposed: Money, Murder, and the Mafia. Williams, who holds a doctorate in philosophy and a masters of divinity in church history from Drew University and who has taught religion and philosophy at the University of Scranton and Wilkes University, argues that the seeds of corruption were planted very early on when Constantine made Christianity the state religion, thus linking the Catholic Church with political power. This was a difficult time for Pope Miltiades, but he managed to cope well enough:

Miltiades was befuddled. What was transpiring before him was too bizarre to be true! Two worlds had collided. The world of Caesar with its riches and power, its pomp and splendor, was a world to be shunned. The world of Christ was a world of poverty and service, of persecution and self-denial. ... Militades died in a regal bed, surrounded by attendants. The old bishop was succeeded by Sylvester, who reigned for nearly twenty-two years. During this time the pope came to wield secular power.

And so began a long, gradual slide away from principles of self-denial and towards the greed for power and money that accompany any sort of corruption. Today the extent of the Vatican's holdings are unknown, but a major shift occurred in 1929 when Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty with Mussolini — an act which did a lot to help Mussolini solidify his own power in Italy. At the time the Vatican was destitute, lacking sufficient funding to maintain its buildings or even get the rats out of the walls. Currently, conservative estimates put the gold reserves of the Vatican above those of some industrialized countries, and its real-estate holdings larger than the land area of some nations.

A deal with Mussolini was a deal with terror and fascism, but it wasn't all that different than the deal with Constantine. This is a pattern that the Vatican has not shied away from even today. The quest for financial power led to heavy investments in fascist Italy (effectively ending ancient bans on usury), a concordat with Nazi Germany that ended Catholic political organizations in exchange for the Nazis collecting massive amounts of taxes which flowed to the Vatican, not to mention deals with fascist Croats and Mafia hoodlums.

Today, the bulk of the financial power of the Vatican (not to mention its corruption) seems to lie in the Instituto per le Opere di Religione, commonly known as the Vatican Bank:

Despite its claims otherwise, the Vatican Bank is not a branch of the State of Vatican City. (Stato della Citta del Vaticano). It exists as an entity unto itself without corporate or ecclesiastical ties to any other agency within the Holy See. It is under the direct supervision of the pope. He is the one and only stockholder. He owns it; he controls it.

Unlike any other financial institution, the Vatican Bank is audited by neither internal nor outside agencies. Its worth remains a matter of conjecture, even for members of the College of Cardinals. There is not a scrap of its papers among all of the other bureaucracies of the Roman Church - not even ecclesiastical financial agencies - that attests to its assets or accounts. In 1996 Cardinal Edmund Szoka, the internal auditor of the Holy See, told investigators that he has no authority over the Vatican Bank and has no knowledge of its operations.

Much of Williams' book involves an investigation of the activities of the Vatican Bank and those who have represented it in the name of the pope. Murder, mobsters, fraud... the title of the book may be rather lurid, but if only a portion of what Williams writes is true, then the title is also quite accurate and fair.



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