Finance is a gun. Religion is knowing when to pull the trigger.
Many will recognize the famous adagio from Mario Puzo / Francis F. Coppola's third installment of "the Godfather". While we supplanted ‘politics’ in our quote with ‘religion’, it remains equally true, as religion, politics and finance are three peas in a pod. Christianity may very well have started as a grass roots movement roughly 2,000 years ago, it very quickly became one that was usurped, dominated and regulated by the financial and intellectual elite of the Roman Empire. By the end of the 12th century, Roman Catholicism had emerged as the most powerful and wealthiest congregation of all Christian churches and for the next 800 years it would consistently expand its financial, cultural and social hegemony to the point that even in the 21st century it still dictates governments what they can or cannot do.
God's banker Roberto Calvi's murder is still unresolved, but the Vatican bank was deeply involved in the high finance crimes leading to his death. By its own admission, the Vatican Bank still is a den of crime and corruption.
Together with the gradual decrease of adherents of most Christian denominations, the Catholic Church is losing ever more moral authority. To retain its power and influence, the crime syndicate increasingly resorts to the one gun it can still point at anyone’s head if it should try to steer a ship in a direction undesired by the Catholic Church. In spite of the euphemistic apologies offered by people such as Andrew Boyd or Francis Marsden in our introductory article, the gun wielded by the RCC still is its enormous wealth. And make no mistake, when it feels it has to, the Catholic Church will not hesitate to pull the trigger. It did not become the largest criminal organization in human history by having something silly as a moral conscience dragging it down.
If we said that the relation between Vatican City and Italy has always been tense, we would be whitewashing the truth. In fact, the papacy has done everything in its power to stop the country from being formed and during its entire existence, the Catholic Church has and continues to sabotage the country where and when it can. Desperate in its attempt to stop Italian unification, Pope Pius IX –like a veritable CIA operative, went as far as financing armed resistance in the south of Italy. Only in 1929 was Italy able to buy a truce, turning the open hostility into a century long cold war. As is always the case, god never gives anything for free and neither does his earthly government, the Catholic Church.
Upon signing of the Lateran Pacts in 1929, Benito Mussolini paid the newly recognized country of Vatican City the cash sum of 520,684,472.89 USD. This was padded by another 694,245,963.85 USD in Italian treasury bearer bonds, on which Italy would pay 5 % interest per year. A third part of the agreement - often unmentioned - was that Italy would pay the salaries of the Catholic priests. As is often conveniently stated by Catholic clergy, the Catholic Church doesn’t really own anything and serves as mere custodian of the people’s property. In this light, receiving a 1.215 billion dollar compensation for the loss of something you never owned is not a shabby deal, to say the least. Having your employees paid by another organization, is mere icing on the cake. In any case, this humble sum of money was an enormous boost for the church’s vast real estate empire and its gigantic financial assets portfolio…which it still doesn’t really own of course.
Like other religions, Christianity owes its expansion to military conquest more than anything else. Financing brigands to sabotage the Italian unification in the 1860's was merely the continuation of the papacy's long tradition of using mercenaries in support of its political agenda.
A major reorganization of the Vatican’s rapidly expanding wealth in the following years took place under Pius XII. This shrewd anti-democratic businessman cared first and foremost about the power and position of the Catholic Church. If that meant going into business with dictators and war criminals, then so be it. As soon as the Vatican Bank was founded in 1942, it set up various shell companies in Luxemburg and Switzerland. The money carrousel set up by the Catholic Church allowed a lot of Nazi-sympathizing companies all over Europe to escape confiscation by the allied forces for trading with the enemy. It also gave the Nazis themselves the perfect channel to park the many millions stolen from their wartime victims and occupied territories in financial safe havens.
In its 2019 annual report, released May 2020, the Vatican Bank disclosed that it made 43.70 million dollars profit, more than twice the 2018 profit of 20.13 million USD. According to the Institute for the Works of Religion, it manages 5.87 billion USD in financial assets, of which 725 million are its own. The other 5.15 billion are assets held on account for its customers. In the same report, the bank also expressed its intention to reduce the money laundering it continues to be involved in. Public admission of money laundering aside, do we trust the liar when he says he'll lie less than before?
By 1965, Mussolini’s “gift” of 1.215 billion had grown ten times over; enough anyway to blackmail the Italian government to change its upcoming new fiscal law in favor of the Vatican. How was it able to do so? For more than 30 years, the Vatican had consistently invested the yearly interest income of its bearer bonds and the revived donations of the so-called Peter’s pence in both real estate and company shares on the various Italian stock markets. In Italian stockholdings alone, the Vatican held more than 11.65 billion dollars’ worth of company shares, 15 % of the entire market capitalization of the Italian stock listings. In 1962 the Italian state had started levying a dividend tax of 15 %, a tax the Vatican refused to pay. In 1965, new fiscal measures by the Italian government wanted to raise the dividend tax to 30 % and make the Vatican pay its dividend tax as well. That infuriated the papacy: the Catholic Church, treated as if it should share the same burdens as its sheep? It simply warned the Italian government that if it did not include a tax exemption for the dividends received by the HRCC in its new laws, it would dump its stocks, cause a financial and economic crisis and plunge Italy in civil chaos. The Wholly Rotten Crime Conglomerate got its tax exemption, but it showed its true face in the process:
The HRCC may usually care about people, but only as a far second. Although it advocates solidarity from every pulpit, it acts primarily in its own interests. The Catholic Conglomerate would rather plunge an entire population in crisis than lose a single tributary to the rivers of money flowing into the church’s coffers. Crime doesn’t pay - unless you are a religious criminal organization the size of this one. It is not surprising because it fits perfectly within the moral mind-set of many Christians. The end always justifies the means, no matter what those means are, no matter how illusive and unproven that end.
The recent disclosures of the Vatican are a product of its PR-savvy pope Francis; but is this more than just a smoke screen? Even if the current CEO of this organization should be believed with regards to his intentions, he is still the CEO of a criminal cartel, no matter how much people need to believe in this incarnated Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis may be able to throw some of his fellow wolves to the lambs, but many of the board members of his cartel would ever so happily throw him under the bus rather than give up the power and luxuries of their position. Behind the secretive walls of Vatican City, a war is waging between two factions within the church, a war started by the attempts of reformation by the Second Vatican Council (“Vatican II”) revolving yet again around the temporal power of the clergy and the abuses of that power. The cockfighting within the church, is as old as the church.
Even if pope Francis is sincere, it is doubtful that this Michael Corleone, who has his own shady past, will live long enough to turn his millennia old business legit. The authority of the Catholic Church has been passed down from one apostle to the next, or so it says; but if so, it seems that those apostles also passed down their insatiable appetite for material wealth, money and the arrogance of telling others how they should live their lives. Pope Francis isn’t the first to announce reform of and transparency from the Catholic cartel. John Paul I was one predecessor who wanted reform but didn’t live to see any. His successor, John Paul II was just as popular as Francis now but quietly reversed the policies towards openness. Like Francis, the Catholic Church has had the occasional swallow announcing changes for the better. But as most farmers know full well, one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
David, aPHD, 17 December 2021
Notes, sources and references:
Note: The financial implementations of the Lateran Pacts ceased on 31 December 1986 and were replaced by the “otto per mille” system agreed on in 1984.
“Lateran Financial Convention (1929): text”, Concordat Watch Italy – content area, http://www.concordatwatch.eu/topic-39241.834
Josef Hien, “Tax evasion in Italy: a god-given right?” September 2018, Oxford University Press - Scholarship Online, https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780198796817.001.0001/oso-9780198796817-chapter-4
Wikipedia, “List of popes – 19th century”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_popes#19th_century
Wikipedia, “Brigandage in southern Italy after 1861’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigandage_in_Southern_Italy_after_1861
Wikipedia, “Lateran Treaty”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateran_Treaty#cite_note-7
“Otto per mille”, Wikipedia: “eight per thousand”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_per_thousand
Wikipedia, “Pope Pius XII”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Pius_XII
“Every pope ever: the full list”, the Guardian – News – Datablog, https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/feb/13/popes-full-list
Wikipedia, “Institute for the Works for Religion”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institute_for_the_Works_of_Religion#Origin_and_mission
Theresa Machemer, “Newly Unsealed Vatican Archives Lay Out Evidence of Pope Pius XII’s Knowledge of the Holocaust”, Smithsonian Magazine – Smart News, 05 May 2020 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/researchers-find-evidence-pope-pius-xii-ignored-reports-holocaust-180974795/
“Mussolini’s millions”: Professor of economic history Rodney Edvinsson, Stockholm University, Historical Currency Converter (test version 1.0), last update 10 January 2016; https://www.historicalstatistics.org/Currencyconverter.html Entry of 1 million Italian lira 1929 resulted in 2010 Euro as 540,942.78 EUR. Inflation Tool, “Inflation calculator – Euro / Italy”, https://www.inflationtool.com/euro-italy/2010-to-present-value Italian inflation from 2010 to 2021: 11.6 % Cash sum paid in 1929: 452,769,106.86 EUR. Equivalent of the 1 billion bearer bonds: 603,692,142.48 EUR. Annual interest to be paid out to Vatican City: 30,184,607.12 EUR. Exchange rate EUR/USD: 1.15
David Leigh, Jean François Tanda and Jessica Benhamou, “How the Vatican built a secret property empire using Mussolini's millions”, Monday 21 January 2013, the Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jan/21/vatican-secret-property-empire-mussolini
Miles Johnson – George Hammond, “Vatican to lose £100m of charitable funds in London property sale”, Financial Times, 08 November 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/02075542-76a3-4b5b-a33b-c2ef5d79e8e5
John L. Allen Jr, “Leaked documents detail $200 million Vatican deal for swanky London property”, October 20, 2019, Crux ‘taking the Catholic Pulse’, https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2019/10/leaked-documents-detail-200-million-vatican-deal-for-swanky-london-property
Jon Lee Anderson, “Pope Francis and the Dirty War”, March 14, 2013, the New Yorker, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/pope-francis-and-the-dirty-war
Tim Parker, “The Secret Finances of the Vatican Economy”, last update July 27, 2021, reviewed by Robert C. Kelly, Investopedia – Economics > Macroeconomics, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/030613/secret-finances-vatican-economy.asp
NPR Staff, “From Laundering To Profiteering, A Multitude of Sins At The Vatican Bank”, Interview with Gerald Posner, author of “God’s bankers”, January 30, 2015 – Morning Edition, NPR, https://www.npr.org/2015/01/30/382374060/from-laundering-to-profiteering-a-multitude-of-sins-at-the-vatican-bank
Time Magazine, “Roman Catholics: The Vatican's Wealth”, Friday, February 26, 1965, http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,833509,00.html4
Elise Ann Allen, “Catholic Church in Italy grapples with loss of tax funds”, 09 August 2021, Crux – Taking the Catholic pulse, https://cruxnow.com/uncategorized/2021/08/catholic-church-in-italy-grapples-with-loss-of-tax-funds
“Italian Bourse”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_Bourse
Courtney Mares, “Vatican bank reports €38 million profit in 2019”, Vatican City,08 june 2020, Catholic News Agency, News, https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/44784/vatican-bank-reports-%E2%82%AC38-million-profit-in-2019
James Carroll (former Catholic priest), “Abolish the priesthood: To save the Church, Catholics must detach themselves from the clerical hierarchy—and take the faith back into their own hands”, The Atlantic, June 2019 issue https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/06/to-save-the-church-dismantle-the-priesthood/588073/
Still from "The Godfather III": recreation of the murder of Roberto Calvi, 1982, head of the Banco Ambrosiano, Milan, Italy. Retrieved from: Albert Jack, "Murder, mystery and Mafia at the Vatican", https://albertjack.co.uk/murder-mystery-mafia-vatican/ Photo provenance uncredited