Book alleges financial abuse at Vatican

ROME • Pope John Paul I, who died in 1978, still has a Vatican bank account with a balance of more than €110,000 (S$120,500).

The Vatican pension fund is running an €800 million deficit.

The Vatican's real estate holdings total €2.7 billion, seven times more than stated in its balance sheet. And the Vatican's governing body agreed to push Philip Morris cigarettes - for a fee.

These are some of the revelations in a new book by Mr Gianluigi Nuzzi, called Merchants In The Temple. But the sources are not revealed, and the allegations are impossible to verify.

MURKY ACCOUNTING

There is a complete absence of transparency in the bookkeeping, both of the Holy See and the Governorate.

FIVE INTERNATIONAL AUDITORS, in a letter to Pope Francis in June 2013, according to Mr Nuzzi's book

Still, the Vatican appears to have taken the leaks of internal documents seriously enough to arrest two people who worked on a special commission, set up by Pope Francis, to overhaul the Roman Catholic Church's troubled financial management.

The arrest of Ms Francesca Chaouqui - who has been released and denies any connection to the leaks - and Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda over the weekend came just before the publication of Mr Nuzzi's book and that of another book, Avarice, by Italian reporter Emiliano Fittipaldi, who also alleges major misuse of Vatican finances. The Vatican called the books the "fruit of a grave betrayal of trust".

Mr Nuzzi wrote an expose in 2012 that spawned the so-called VatiLeaks scandal, which helped precipitate the surprise resignation of Pope Francis' predecessor Benedict XVI and the arrest of his butler for stealing papal documents.

Mr Nuzzi has now written a book describing a nest of greed, cronyism and mismanagement at the Vatican and its administrative body, the Curia. Both he and Mr Fittipaldi claim to show the forces arrayed against Pope Francis as he tries to liberalise aspects of the Church, and overhaul what is depicted as a financial morass, whose vested interests inside the Vatican have resisted previous attempts at house-cleaning.

"There is a complete absence of transparency in the bookkeeping, both of the Holy See and the Governorate," five international auditors wrote to Pope Francis in June 2013, Mr Nuzzi wrote in his book.

Mr Nuzzi reports large losses on merchandising sold in Vatican shops and rental revenues, as well as "out of control" costs. He also describes how Vatican apartments and other properties were rented out at cut-price rates to cardinals and functionaries, such as one 1,044 sq ft apartment that was rented to an unnamed Vatican employee for €20.67 a year.

According to the commission, Vatican real estate holdings, which Mr Nuzzi says include properties in France, Britain and Switzerland worth €591 million, could earn more than triple what they now generate.

The book also describes how expensive maintenance works took place, and alleges that the Holy See's Governorate was in negotiations to promote Philip Morris cigarettes for a fee, and that some cardinals receive a discount on up to 200 packs of cigarettes a month.

Mr Nuzzi paints a picture of a constant battle between the old guard, sworn to maintaining the status quo, and the new guard - mostly represented by the commission set up by Pope Francis.

"It hits a strong Pope, much beloved outside, less so inside the Vatican," said Mr Carlo Marroni, a Vatican analyst with Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore daily.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2015, with the headline 'Book alleges financial abuse at Vatican'. Print Edition | Subscribe