The Vatican has a number of skeletons in its cupboards, ranging from money laundering, drug trafficking, sex scandals and paedophilia. Gerald Posner investigates the death of Pope John Paul I, operations of the Catholic Church and its nexus with politics and organised crime. God’s Bankers is more thrilling than Mario Puzo’s Godfather, writes KUMAR CHELLAPPAN
The Catholic Church is a subject of interest to millions of non-Catholics all over the world mainly because of the secrecy associated with the functioning of the world’s largest religious congregation. The Iron Curtain which shields this church will put both the former Soviet Union as well as the Italian Mafia to shame. The Vatican City, world’s smallest sovereign country (area 110 acres and population 842) and abode of the Pope, the spiritual head of the Catholics, wields tremendous influence in global politics.
The younger generation in India may not be aware of the influence wielded by the Catholic Church in India. The role it played in getting the EMS Namboodirippadu-led Kerala Government (world’s first democratically elected communist regime) dismissed in 1959 was revealed by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former US diplomat in his book A Dangerous Place. The CIA too helped the church in Kerala, financially as well as morally, to get the communists removed from its path. The church feared that the communists would take over the vast stretches of landed properties and educational institutions owned by it.
Such is the power of the Catholic Church in India that many people attribute it to the fall of the Janata Party Government in 1979. The Freedom of Religion Bill introduced in Parliament by OP Tyagi resulted in the disintegration of the Morarji Desai Government with Mother Teresa, the queen of proselytisation herself coming out to stage protest march against the Bill.
When the Catholic Bishops Council of India, the most powerful body of the church in the country, came out against the Narendra Modi Government questioning its “indifference” to vandalisms perpetrated by “Sangh Parivar” activists on churches, all hell broke loose in India. Cardinal Cleemis, the CBCI chief, was vocal in his criticism of the Modi Government and alleged that minorities have become unsafe under the present BJP dispensation at the Centre. With law enforcement agencies unravelling the details of each and every attack on the Churches, the Cardinal has become somewhat silent.
The Catholic Church has overturned Governments and regimes in South America, Africa as well as in Europe which were not of its likings. Vatican has a number of skeletons in its cupboards. It ranges from money laundering, drug trafficking, sex scandals and cases of pedophiles. A lot of wealth under the dispensation of the church is said to be dirty money and the curia (the bureaucracy in Vatican City) has a lot to shield from public scrutiny, reportedly.
God’s Bankers, authored by Gerald Posner, the attorney-turned-investigative journalist is a well-researched chronicle about the history of money and power at the Vatican. The book has brought out hitherto unheard accounts and mysteries associated with the church and the death of Pope John Paul I in 1978. Not only the death of the Pope; many investigating officers, prosecutors and crucial witnesses who could have thrown much light into the shady deals of the powerful people in Vatican were either bumped off or killed in staged accidents.
A shocking revelation made by Posner is about a woman who was present in the official residence of John Paul I in the Vatican the night he breathed his last. The Vatican has never revealed to the outside world about this fact as it would have given rise to many uncomfortable questions about the Pope’s celibacy. John Paul I, whose real name was Albino Luciani reigned for just 33 days. He was elected Pope following the death of Pope Paul VI on August 6, 1978. According to a communique issued by the Vatican, Pope John Paul I was found dead on September 29 around 5:30 am by John Magee, his private secretary.
But Posner’s investigations are based on the secret files in the archives in the Vatican and interviews with people who had inside information and first hand access to the interiors of the papal palace and has thrown out some shocking facts which may put a shadow on the Vatican’s claims of puritanism. It was Vincenza Taffarel, a nun who had been with Albino Luciani for more than 20 years as the head of his household who first found him dead. Vincenza ran to John Magee’s bedroom and roused him from a deep sleep. Magee sprinted to John Paul’s private chamber and put his hand on the pontiff’s cheek.
Villot, the secretary of state, who decided to cover up the presence of Vincenza and drafted the version that it was Magee who found out the Pope dead. Villot also summoned two morticians to prepare the Pope’s dead body for public display. “The morticians took out a small rope from a canvas bag. They tied some around the corpse’s ankles and knees. Then they straightened his legs and secured the rope to each end of the bed’s frame. The morticians looped it around John Paul’s chest and both pulled his arms and torso until the corpse was flat,” says Posner in his account.
Though the Vatican officials described “myocardial infarction” as the cause for John Paul’s death, there were many accounts which said that the Pope was poisoned to death. One of the morticians attending to the Pope found that there were clotting around the Pope’s neck. But the group of cardinals who reached the Vatican immediately after the pontiff’s death ruled out the possibility of any autopsy which sabotaged the chances of getting any lead for the investigators.
What went unnoticed was an attempt on the life of the Pope which happened days before he was found dead. Metropolitan Nikodim, the second-ranking prelate of the Russian Orthodox Church called on John Paul immediately after his installation as the Pope. “Nikodim sipped coffee from a cup the Pope had just poured. Then the bishop dropped his cup and saucer. He clenched at his throat as he gasped for air, and fell over backward, smashing a small table as he slammed into the floor. Luciani (the Pope) called for help and dropped to his knees to administer the last rites. By the time Dr Renato Buzzonetti, the deputy chief of the Vatican medical service arrived a few minutes later, the 48-year-old Nikodi was dead”, says Posner in the book.
Strangely no autopsy was performed. A conspiracy theory swept through the Vatican; a poisonous brew that had been intended for the new Pope had killed Nikodim. This incident as well as the unexpected death of John Paul in a gap of few days are similar to the murders and mayhem carried out by the dreaded Mafia.
Much has been written about the death of John Paul 1. The book In God’s Name by David Yallop has given an entirely different account about the murder. Kunhanandan Nair, an Indian journalist, who covered the death of John Paul and the subsequent election of the next Pope, has said in his reports that the Pope was murdered by a cartel consisting of certain cardinals, politicians and mafia dons who wanted him out of the scene as they feared the Pope would throw out those responsible for money laundering and financial embezzlement worth hundreds of crores of dollars from the Church owned Bank of Vatican (Banco Ambroziano).
Immediately after assuming the throne, the Pope had ordered a thorough probe into the financial irregularities committed by this cabal of cardinals, bishops, bankers and mafia dons with money drawn from Banco Ambroziano, owned by the Vatican. The Catholic Church today is the world’s largest capitalist holding company with lot of financial, commercial and political interests.
The Banco Ambroziano was one of the largest private banks in Italy and was owned by the church. Roberto Calvi, chairman and managing director of this bank was found hanging from the London Bridge on June 18, 1982, four years after the death of Pope John Paul I. Though the coroner in London declared it as a suicide, in 2002, it was scientifically proved that Calvi was murdered and hanged from the London Bridge. Why? Posner answers this question and many other hitherto unasked and unanswered queries which are not music to the ears of the church.
But why all these shady deals and operations? The church authorities have the answer themselves: “You can’t run the Church on Hail Marys”, a bishop is reported to have told the author. Posner has given a chilling account of the activities of the Catholic Church with special focus on Italy. One cannot help laughing when Catholic bishops and cardinals in India describe the BJP, RSS and other Hindutva forces as fascists. The Vatican City, the abode of the Pope itself is a gift of the Fascist Mussolini to the Catholic Church.
The church was with Hitler and Mussolini during the Second World War. Even today, the Church is run on blood money. Blood money from where? By whom? Well, the details are in God’s Bankers. It is a must read for all those who love action-packed and suspense -filled real life incidents. God’s Bankers is more thrilling than Mario Puzo’s Godfather.