I couldn’t help thinking of the “Scream” franchise of postmodern slasher films on Thursday, especially where in each movie, film nerd Randy gives the “rules” for a series in the horror genre.
And in Rome, we are about to get the third part of the biggest horror franchise at the Vatican: The Vatileaks saga.
The first part – the original Vatileaks – was when Pope Benedict XVI’s butler Paolo Gabriele stole documents from the pontiff, which were then given to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published them in 2012’s His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI. The book revealed financial corruption in the Vatican, curial infighting, and was the first starring role of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the nuncio who last year accused Pope Francis of covering up for now ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Nuzzi was also the impetus for Vatileaks II – In 2015’s Merchants in the Temple, he used documents and tapes leaked by members of a Vatican commission on financial reform to shine a light on the fierce opposition to the efforts to clean up the Vatican’s opaque economics.
According to the “Scream” franchise a sequel has rules: 1) The body count is always bigger; 2) The death scenes are always much more elaborate; 3) and never, ever, under any circumstances assume the killer is dead.
And, boy, did Vatileaks II deliver!
While the original Vatileaks saw Gabriele and his accomplice quickly convicted (and pardoned), Vatileaks II had a monsignor, a pregnant woman, an aid, and two journalists (Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi) in the dock. And while Gabriele just swiped documents, Vatileaks II included illicitly accessed computer files and even a secret recording of the pope. As for the part about “assuming the killer is dead,” that is where we are now.
Vatileaks III started at the beginning of October, when the Vatican Gendarmes raided the offices of the powerful Secretariat of State.
According to the Financial Times, the raid was connected to a $200 million shadowy property investment in London that turned out to be a bad deal for the Vatican, but a very good deal for the man who arranged it.
When the Italian newsweekly L’Espresso leaked a memo from the Vatican police barring five employees from entering Vatican territory, it led to the resignation of the long serving head of the gendarmes, Domenico Giani.
But that’s not the end of it – Randy has rules for the third film of a trilogy, too: There will be a killer “who’s gonna be superhuman”; Anyone can die; and the past will come back to “bite you in the [rear]” – “Any sins you think were committed in the past are about to break out and destroy you.”
So how is Vatileaks III’s first act shaping up? Pretty much according to the “Scream” outline.
On Thursday, the Financial Times published an expose of the London property deal at the center of the current Vatican scandal: a building in London’s prestigious Chelsea neighborhood that is scheduled to be transformed into luxury flats.
Following the paper trail, the UK newspaper discovered that from 2014, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State – using private banks and shell companies – bought up a 45 percent stake in the property, costing around $200 million.
Although the Vatican has long invested in the London property market – a sure thing in recent decades – the Chelsea deal was hit by the uncertainty of Brexit, leading the Vatican to seek to buy the building outright to recoup its losses. How much it paid in the end is unknown, and work on the project has still not begun.
However, not everyone was a loser in the deal. The Financial Times reports that Raffaele Mincione, an Italian former banker who arranged the deal, made over $150 million in profits, not only from selling the building (which he owned at the time), but by charging the Vatican millions of dollars in fees to manage the deal. The newspaper reports that Mincione also sold bonds to the Vatican to raise funds for his unrelated projects.
At the center of the controversy is now-Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who at the time of the deal was serving as the Substitute for General Affairs in the Secretariat of State, a high-ranking position analogous to the pope’s chief of staff.
The Financial Times reports the deal was made under Becciu’s supervision and with his approval, and the newspaper questions why he would have agreed to the terms proposed by Mincione.
He was created a cardinal, and then made head of the Vatican’s saint making office, in June 2018 – just before the Vatican sent an official to London to buy the Chelsea property outright.
But the Financial Times report seems to only be the pre-credits taster for Vatileaks III — L’Espresso has announced it has received the Vatican magistrate’s documentation on the case, which it will be publishing on Sunday.
In a preview published Thursday, the magazine said Vatican prosecutors identified “serious indications of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, money laundering,” and other financial crimes, with another report noting “very serious crimes such as embezzlement, corruption and abetting.”
The Italian magazine says Becciu is not the only one under the microscope: It claims his successor and current Substitute, Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, is also under scrutiny.
The L’Espresso report also promises to shine a light on the tens of millions of dollars of fees paid to Mincione and other financiers who advise the Secretariat of State on its investments, many of them of a dubious nature.
Of course, in the background of the story is the fact that most of the financial reforms of the Vatican – many instituted because of the issues brought to light in the previous Vatileaks scandals – have stalled. The Secretariat for the Economy – already cut down a bit even before its head, Cardinal George Pell, went to Australia to unsuccessfully fight historic charges of child sex abuse – has been without a new boss for over two years. The Vatican’s first-ever auditor general, Libero Milone, was fired in 2017, accused by Becciu of spying on his superiors. He, too, hasn’t been replaced.
This is all just the first act Vatileaks III: On Monday, a new book is coming out promising to expose the full extent of Vatican financial malpractice.
Its title is Universal Judgement, and its author is none other than Gianluigi Nuzzi.
According to the “Scream” theory, anything can happen in the third film of a trilogy, so there’s no telling how Vatileaks III will play out – but for any Vatican official who thinks that weathering this storm will bring an end to the drama, there’s bad news.
Scream 3 didn’t end the trilogy: Not only was there a Scream 4, eventually they made a television series. The Vatican is hoping that their franchise doesn’t follow the same formula.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome
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