Pope Benedict Will Be Remembered For A Huge Corruption Scandal

Pope Benedict XVI

Photo: AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca

Pope Benedict’s resignation today has left many shocked, but with the news beginning to settle in, people are now beginning to wonder what his legacy will be.Generally seen as a conservative who didn’t favour reform, Benedict also has another dubious distinction — his watch coincided with a scandal that involved allegations of financial corruption, media leaks from the Pope’s own butler, and even reports of links with the mafia.

The scandal, which broke last year, is one of the most serious problems the church has faced in decades and seemed to reveal a wide schism within the clergy.

The story began with a series of mysterious leaked letters which eventually became informally known as “VatiLeaks”. Journalist Gianlugi Nuzzi, notorious for a series of books about the Vatican, was reportedly vetted for months before being given documents by an unknown source, known only as “Maria”, the Daily Beast reports.

Nuzzi began revealing the information in the documents in his TV show The Untouchables in 2011, before publishing full details in a book last year, Sua Santità—Le Carte Segrete di Benedetto XVI.

The documents themselves were 30 faxed memos from the Pope’s office to other Vatican offices. While many were mundane, some appeared to show that Vatican insiders who attempted to confront corruption in the Vatican Bank had been sidelined.

For example, during Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s tenure as deputy-governor of the Vatican city from 2009-2011, Vigano encountered and reportedly tried to put a stop to corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and the awarding of contracts to friends of officials at inflated prices.

However, he was removed from office shortly after bringin evidence of these events to the attention of Pope Benedict XVI.

The “Vaitleaks” scandal brought a renewed round of scrutiny in the church to the Italian press. There were reports that Magliana mob boss Enrico De Pedis had been buried alongside the bodies of former Popes and Cardinals following his death in 1990 — all for the lump sum of 1 billion lire ($660,000).

The stories about Pedis had circulated for years, but one new note leaked from the Vatican press office suggested that Pedis may have played a role in the disappearance of a Vatican employees 15-year-old daughter.

Another scandal involving Father Ninni Treppiedi and Sicilian mafioso Matteo Messina Denaro broke later, with reports that millions of Denaro’s euros had been laundered through Treppiedi’s former parish Aclamo, the richest parish in Sicily. Denaro is still at large and is considered by many as the most wanted man in Italy.

“VatiLeaks” became a major headache for the church, with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, insisting it’s just the result of journalists “pretending to be Dan Brown” and, more cryptically, the “devil”.

In May 2012 Vatican authorities finally arrested one man thought to be behind the leaks — the Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele. Gabriele was found guilty by a Vatican court in October, and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. The butler was later pardoned by Benedict himself, however, and he is now reportedly working in a hospital.

While the arrest was to the delight of headline writers around the world, there’s a significant amount of people who don’t buy it. The theory is that Gabriele could never had access to some of the documents, and others must have been behind the leak. Journalist Nuzzi has refused to say anything about the person who gave him the Vatileaks documents.

Regardless, the leaks appear to have prompted official reactions from other entities. For the first time ever, the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said the Vatican city as an area “of concern” when it comes to money laundering, and the Milan branch of JPMorgan Chase closed the Vatican bank account at the end of March 2012, citing a lack of transparency and insufficient information concerning money transfers.

During the height of the scandal, one letter sent to the highest Vatican officials warned of a potential plot to kill Benedict XVI.

Curiously, Nuzzi himself has told Der Spiegel that the target of the leaks isn’t the pope himself, instead arguing that Benedict XVI was revolutionary, and clearly wanted to bring transparency to the Vatican bank.

What the leaks really show, he said, is his weakness of his leadership. Many note that the target of attacks seems to be the second most important person in the Vatican — the secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, who has been accused of cronyism and refusing to deal with corruption, Reuters reports.

Bertone is of course the man who would like to blame the scandal on “the devil”, but he’s also the head of the opaque and archaic Vatican bureaucracy, the Curia, which is dominated by Italian clerics such as Bertone and can effectively overrule the pope. Benedict XVI had planned to reform the church, but instead found himself under its power, despite a growing backlash.

Whatever the reason behind the leaks, the scandal has shown the incredible level of infighting inside the secretive headquarters of the Catholic Church. It may well be something to keep an eye on as the Church begins its search for a new pope.

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