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Pope Francis will need patience of a saint to sort this one

Monsignor Nunzio Scarano has been to lots of interesting places, including Montecarlo and Switzerland but until now he's never been to prison

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Tim Hedges
On 4 July 2013 14:00

Monsignor Nunzio Scarano has been to lots of interesting places, including Montecarlo and Switzerland, but never anywhere quite like this. He is currently in the appropriately named Regina Coeli prison (Queen of the Heavens) accused of trying to import €20 million into Italy from Switzerland on a private jet believed to belong to the Italian Government.

Things are not looking too good for the 61 year old Monsignor. Perhaps the only saving grace is that being in the clink he is avoiding having to talk to his boss, an interview which he might have found difficult.

The boss in question washes the feet of prisoners and thinks the Vatican is too posh for him to live in, staying, in fact, in the same guest house as Scarano. Oh, and the boss won’t use a limousine, much less a private jet.

The charge against Monsignor Scarano is that, while working as the head of the analysis department in the Vatican Bank, IOR (Institute for works of religion), he started a money laundering ring in 2009, involving 60 businessmen from the Naples – Salerno region, where he comes from and where he once worked in a Naples-based subsidiary of Deutsche Bank.

In this case, it is alleged that Scarano masterminded the transfer of the money, which is believed to belong to the Neapolitan shipping magnates the D’Amico brothers. Scarano’s accomplices were a broker called Giovanni Carenzio and former AISI agent (Italy’s MI5) Giovanni Maria Zito who allegedly organised the getaway plane.

Scarano’s arrest came just after His Holiness had ordered some management changes to IOR and an investigation into its activities, reminding us that St Peter didn’t have a bank account or credit card. To describe it as embarrassing would be understating the case.

Other things on the memo before Pope Francis are that Scarano was known as Monsignor Cinquecento, a sobriquet relating not to his modest taste in cars but his habit of showing people his wallet stuffed with €500 notes.

He owns a large flat in central Rome, containing a valuable art collection. Oh, and the way the police got on to him? He was already under investigation for other alleged money laundering activities in the Salerno area, and they had bugged his telephone. Yes, I’m sure Francis will understand.

Now, the director general of the bank, Paolo Cipriani and his deputy Massimo Tulli have resigned and may face charges on 13 counts of money laundering, although the former head, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, fired in May last year, seems likely to be let off on the grounds that he was too important to grubby his hands with this stuff. Seems fair.

The new management will be headed by Ernst von Freyburg, overseen by a committee set up by Francis which will consist of a senior cardinal, several prelates and the former American ambassador to the Holy See. It is a fresh, but uncertain start.

One thing Francis will know is that none of this is new. In 1968 IOR recruited Michele Sindona as an adviser. He helped it launder the money earned by the Gambino syndicate in the heroin trade. Sindona was poisoned while in prison serving a life sentence for murder.

In 1982 Banco Ambrosiano collapsed; the Bank’s largest shareholder was IOR. Subsequent investigations suggest that Banco Ambrosiano management may have been connected to the death of Pope John Paul I in 1978, following reports that he intended to reform the Vatican’s finances.

There are also suggestions that it laundered American money for various political causes, including financing both sides of the Nicaraguan civil war. Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, head of IOR and John Paul II’s bodyguard, was a director of Ambrosiano’s Bahamas subsidiary.

Ambrosiano’s chairman, Roberto Calvi, had been a member of the illegal P2 Masonic lodge which had been uncovered in police investigations into a number of murders, known in Italy as the anni di piombo, the years of lead. When the bank went under it was established that something like $1 billion had gone missing.

It is believed this had been money belonging to organised crime, who don’t expect to lose it, and Calvi, having fled using a false passport, was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in June 1982.

In 1994 former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi was indicted in the Ambrosiano scandal. His political protégé was one Silvio Berlusconi.

Apart from the Ambrosiano affair the Vatican Bank has been involved in a bribery scandal concerning the partly nationalised chemicals company Enimont and countless minor money laundering investigations.

One of the things the new management will be looking at is whether the Vatican needs a bank at all. It was set up in the Second World War by Pius XII to hold the accounts of priests, Catholic orders and charities. At a time of international upheaval it made sense to have such an organisation.

Nowadays when anybody (anybody honest, that is) can open an account anywhere, it seems less necessary and indeed is a huge management problem for the Vatican, at a time when it has other things to worry about. It is essentially an investment bank, not lending money but managing the funds deposited with it.

IOR is, or rather was, rotten to the core. I believe, however that it can serve a useful purpose in helping the Church’s work, provided it can get a clean bill of health from international authorities: a bank, whatever its owners and whatever its purpose, cannot survive without trust.

Pope Francis now needs to be given time to sort out the Curia, an even more difficult task. I have the feeling he will succeed in both, and that, like his original predecessor, he just doesn’t need a bank account.

Tim Hedges had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer

Read more on: curia, Nunzio Scarano, Pope Francis, roman catholic church, Catholic Church a bureaucracy, catholicism, pope francis I, and Monsignor Nunzio Scarano
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