ROME -- Yet another financial scandal threatened to engulf the Vatican today, in the form of charges that four Italian priests, none of them Vatican officials, are under investigation by Italian prosecutors on charges of money laundering related to accounts they allegedly held at the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), better known as the “Vatican Bank”.
An article outlining the charges against the four priests ran today in the left-wing Italian newspaper l’Unità, and a report focusing, among other things, on the same charges aired tonight on the widely watched Italian TV program, “The Untouchables.”
The newspaper article ran under the headline, “Money-laundering, Four Priests Investigated: The Silence of the Vatican on Controls.” The suggestion was that the Vatican has refused to cooperate with investigation of the charges.
“The Untouchables” is the same program which, in late January, revealed confidential letters from Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, today the pope’s nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States, complaining of “corruption and dishonesty” in Vatican finances.
The Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, tonight issued a statement charging that the newspaper report about the four priests reflects “a notable lack of seriousness” on the part of the author.
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Lombardi’s statement asserts that far from a policy of “silence,” in fact, “the Holy See and the authorities of the Vatican have dutifully cooperated with the prosecutors and the other Italian authorities.”
The statement asserts that beginning in 2006-07, the IOR began reviewing all its accounts for indications of suspect transactions. That was well ahead, he said, of a Dec. 2010 anti-money laundering law decreed by Pope Benedict XVI.
Lombardi insisted that the Vatican Bank “has repeatedly cooperated with the Italian authorities at every level.” In fact, he said, one of the four priests is currently under investigation precisely because he was reported to Italian investigators by the director of the IOR, an Italian layman named Paolo Cipriani.
“The Untouchables” program this evening charged that investigators in Rome have submitted formal requests for information to the Vatican which have been ignored, but Lombardi denied that as well. He said that the Vatican’s new “Financial Information Authority” has complied with all requests it has received.
In the case of one of the priests mentioned by the newspaper report and the TV program, Lombardi said, no request for information ever arrived; another of the priests, he said, has already been found innocent by a criminal trial, a verdict upheld upon appeal.
Lombardi also objected to the use of the term “incriminated” to refer to both Cipriani and the president of the IOR, layman Ettore Gotti Tedeschi – a reference to an investigation by Italian authorities launched in 2010 related to two Vatican Bank transactions which allegedly failed to comply with European standards of transparency. While the two men have been “investigated,” Lombardi said, neither has ever been “incriminated.”
During tonight’s TV broadcast, a Roman investigator named Luca Tescaroli also said that he had submitted three formal requests for information to the Vatican related to the 1982 death of Roberto Calvi, an Italian financier dubbed “God’s Banker” because of his close Vatican ties. Tescaroli said that to date, there has been no response to those requests.
Despite that, Tescaroli also said that he regards the Dec. 2010 law decreed by Pope Benedict XVI, intended to move the Vatican in the direction of greater transparency and compliance with international anti-money laundering norms, as a “Copernican Revolution” in Vatican finances.