The power rivalry behind the latest 'Vatileaks'

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 09, 2015

Vatican journalist Andrea Gagliarducci has the best insights that I’ve seen to date on the new eruption of leaks from the Vatican. As you might have suspected, the story involves a power struggle within the Vatican bureaucracy.

For years, powerful men inside the Vatican exchanged small favors with their Italian secular counterparts. Some of those favors involved financial transactions—the use of the Vatican bank for personal accounts, perhaps, or real-estate transfers on friendly terms. Most of these little deals were harmless, but some were not technically legal, and some may have involved shady characters.

For Italian financiers, unsupervised transactions through the Vatican became more attractive after 9/11, when European banking authorities began imposing strict new regulations on Italy’s banks, to counteract money-laundering and the financing of terrorism. Some Vatican officials—Gagliarducci refers to them as the “men of compromise”—remained willing to help out their friends, and coincidentally their influence grew as the health of St. John Paul II deteriorated.

Things came to a head when Italian banking officials began to cut ties with Vatican institutions, citing the risk of unaccountable transactions. Pope Benedict XVI responded by beginning a process of financial reform. Gagliarducci writes:

To cut a long story short, under Benedict XVI, the “men of compromise” who played games across the Vatican-Italian financial border, lost influence.

The financial reforms that began under Benedict XVI have accelerated under Pope Francis. As prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal Pell is steadily increasing the pressure to make all Vatican financial dealings transparent. These changes are not welcomed by the “men of compromise,” and they are battling to undermine the reforms in general and Cardinal Pell in particular.

Seen in this light, the leaks can be recognized as an attempt to embarrass the Vatican, to put public pressure on the new Secretariat, to make the reforms look wrongheaded. It is significant, then, that the latest leaks show questionable dealings that occurred before the reforms took effect. The goal of the leakers is not to expose wrongdoing and thereby clear the way for reform; the problems have already been identified and the solutions are being implemented. The goal, instead, is to create an impression—an illusion, really—of chaos.

“In the end,” Gagliarducci writes, “the leaks seem to be the latest attempt to cast shadows on the Vatican in order to thwart Vatican reforms and exert influence over Vatican projects.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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