VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has denounced as "criminal" a new book of leaked internal documents that shed light on power struggles inside the Holy See and the thinking of its embattled top banker, and warned that it would take legal action against those responsible.
Pope Benedict XVI has already appointed a commission of cardinals to investigate the "Vatileaks" scandal, which erupted earlier this year with the publication of leaked memos alleging corruption and mismanagement in Holy See affairs and internal squabbles over its efforts to comply with international anti-money laundering norms.
The publication Saturday of "His Holiness," by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, added fuel to the fire, reproducing confidential letters and memos to and from Benedict and his personal secretary which, according to the Vatican, violated the pope's right to privacy.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement Saturday the book was an "objectively defamatory" work that "clearly assumes characters of a criminal act." He said the Holy See would get to the bottom of who "stole" the documents, who received them and who published them. He warned the Holy See would seek international cooperation in its quest for justice, presumably with Italian magistrates.
The Vatican had already warned of legal action against Nuzzi after he broadcast letters in January from the former No. 2 Vatican administrator to the pope in which he begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euros in higher contract prices. The prelate, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, is now the Vatican's U.S. ambassador.
Nuzzi, author of "Vatican SpA," a 2009 volume laying out shady dealings of the Vatican bank based on leaked documents, said he was approached by sources inside the Vatican with the trove of new documents, most of them of fairly recent vintage and many of them painting the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in a negative light.
Much of the documentation is fairly Italy-centric: about a 2009 scandal over the ex-editor of the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, a never-before-known dinner between Benedict and Italy's president, and even a 2011 letter from Italy's pre-eminent talk show host Bruno Vespa to the pope enclosing a check for €10,000 for his charity work — and asking for a private audience in exchange.
But there are international leaks as well, including diplomatic cables from Vatican embassies from Jerusalem to Cameroon. Some concern the conclusions of the pope's delegate the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order in a memo to the pope last fall. (He warned that the financial situation of the order, beset by a scandal over its pedophile founder, "while not grave, is serious and pressing.")
Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, the head of the Institute for Religious Works, otherwise known as the Vatican's bank, gets significant ink, with reproduced private memos to the pope with his take on the Vatican's response to the global financial crisis and how to handle the church's tax exempt status amid Italian government efforts to crack down on tax evasion.
The bank has been trying for some two years to remedy its reputation as a shady tax haven beset by scandals, which include the collapse of Italy's Banco Ambrosiano and the death of its head, Roberto Calvi, who also helped manage Vatican investments and was found hanging from London's Blackfriars Bridge in 1982.
In a bid to show it has mended its ways, the Institute for Religious Works this week invited ambassadors from 35 countries in for a tour and a chat with its managing director as part of a new transparency campaign. The tour came on the same day Holy See representatives were in Strasbourg discussing the first draft of a report from a Council of Europe committee on the Vatican's compliance with international norms to fight money laundering and terror financing.
British Ambassador Nigel Baker, who went on the Institute for Religious Works tour, later blogged that the Vatican's reputation depends on showing that its institutions are transparent. "Plenty still needs to be done. But the Holy See needs to stick to its guns. It is in their interest, and ours," he wrote.
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