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A bid to understand the police raid at the Vatican

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 02, 2019

A shocking, unprecedented scene: Vatican police raiding the offices of the Vatican’s own Secretariat of State, seizing documents and electronic devices.

As usual the Vatican is tight-lipped about this latest scandal, disclosing only that the Vatican’s top prosecutor has been investigating questionable financial transactions.

But wait: The Vatican gendarmerie also raided the offices of the Financial Information Authority (AIF), which was set up precisely to guard against questionable transactions. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

What on earth is going on here?

For a partial answer to that question—and I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it’s only a partial answer—please read through to the final paragraph of today’s follow-up CWN story on the suspension of five Vatican officials.

Here’s what we know:

  • For at least several months, the Vatican prosecutor has been investigating questionable financial transactions which had been flagged by the Vatican bank and by the office of the auditor general. It’s the latter—the auditor general—that concerns us here.
  • The office of the auditor general is currently vacant; the work there is being done by an interim administrator.
  • The last full-time auditor general, Libero Milone, was forced to resign in June 2017. He was forced out by then-Archbishop (now Cardinal) Angelo Becciu. Milone claimed that he had been ousted after he began hunting down financial irregularities; Becciu countered that Milone had been spying on his superiors. As I observed at the time, those charges are not mutually exclusive.
  • One of the Vatican officials now suspended in connection with this investigation, Msgr. Mauro Carlino, was until recently an aide to Becciu in the Secretariat of State.

Those facts lead toward a possible explanation—not only for this week’s astonishing raids, but also for the dismissal of the Vatican’s auditor general.

  • Milone, whose job was to ask questions about finances, became suspicious about some deals that flowed through the offices of the sostituto—at the time Becciu.
  • Becciu became aware the Milone was prying into the affairs of his office without his (Becciu’s) authorization, and was enraged. Becciu threatened Milone with criminal indictment for spying on his superiors: a threat that was withdrawn only after Milone resigned.

Those are established facts. Does this week’s raid tell us that Milone had good reason to be suspicious—if not of Becciu, at least of his Carlino, his secretary? The Vatican prosecutor seems to think so.

More facts will surely—slowly—emerge. But even the few facts that have already come to light are sufficient to buttress one more argument that the Vatican cannot eliminate financial corruption as long as the Secretariat of State holds effective veto power over the Secretariat for the Economy. Cardinal George Pell, brought to Rome to bring financial transparency to the Vatican, lost a key battle when his plan for an independent audit was blocked—by the Secretariat of State. Milone, as auditor general, lost his job when his quest for inside information was blocked—by the Secretariat of State.

So now is the Vatican prosecutor chasing down information that Milone, left to his own devices, might have uncovered more than two years ago? It seems likely that this latest scandal might have been avoided.

By the way, consider this measure of the Vatican’s commitment to financial transparency: In June 2017, when Milone resigned, the Vatican promised that a new auditor general would be appointed “as soon as possible.” More than two years later we’re still waiting. Instead of filling the post, in February of this year the Vatican issued new statutes for the office of the auditor general, trimming his powers.

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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  • Posted by: Scribbly - Oct. 04, 2019 11:13 PM ET USA

    I would really love you to weave Cardinal Pell's related history into this 'understanding'. Actually, a timeline would be pretty neat as well.