Fraud, greed and corruption — new books depict skulduggery in the Vatican

A green traffic light is shown next to the silhouette of St. Peter's basilica at night.

A green traffic light is shown next to the silhouette of St. Peter’s basilica at night.

(Filippo Monteforte / AFP/Getty Images)

Financial skulduggery, avaricious priests and suspected corruption at the Vatican are detailed in two books out this week, suggesting that Pope Francis faces an uphill struggle as he weeds out misconduct at the Holy See.

The books, both by Italian journalists, are based on leaks from the Vatican and follow the arrests over the weekend of a Spanish priest and an Italian public relations consultant suspected of supplying the authors with stolen documents.

Father Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, 54, remains in jail at the Vatican, but consultant Francesca Chaouqui, 33, was released after her arrest by Vatican police.


On Tuesday, she blamed Vallejo Balda for the leaks, telling the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, “He did everything; I tried to stop him.”

Both were appointed by Francis in 2013 to a committee set up to ferret out financial waste and wrongdoing at the Vatican. One of the books, “Merchants in the Temple” by Gianluigi Nuzzi, reveals how Francis cajoled cardinals to clean up.

In a speech that was said to have been secretly taped, and reproduced in the book, Francis tells key officials, “It is no exaggeration to say that most of our costs are out of control. This is a fact.” He then repeatedly says that if a supplier sends an invoice to the Vatican for a contract handed out without competition, “God help us, but we don’t pay!”

Nuzzi then details some of the challenges the committee tackled, starting with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He said that body declined to inform the committee how its postulators — the priests who compile cases for the beatification of potential saints — were spending money, even as the price paid by campaigners to push their candidates to sainthood soared to more than half a million dollars on average.

In response, the committee froze accounts containing about $44 million at the Vatican bank linked to sainthood postulators, including accounts containing more than $1 million held by a single lay postulator.

The leaks are the biggest scandal to hit the Vatican since 2012, when former Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was jailed for leaking Benedict’s private correspondence to Nuzzi.

In “Merchants in the Temple,” Nuzzi reveals how the finance committee found $1.75 million worth of stock listed in the inventories of Vatican shops that did not exist, suggesting that it had been purloined or invented.

He says that only 20% of Peter’s Pence — the charitable contributions made to the church by Catholics around the world — are used to help the poor, with much of the remainder paying costs at the Holy See.

The book says that the Vatican’s real estate holdings are valued at about $3 billion, seven times the value they are given in the Vatican’s accounts. Some 5,000 properties that are rented out, mostly in Rome, yield minuscule rents and sometimes are let rent-free, prompting suggestions that they are provided as favors to friends.

As it probed more deeply, the committee’s offices were burglarized in March 2014, with thieves heading straight for a locker containing key documents, sending a warning to committee members to stop investigating, Nuzzi says.

The book also reveals how Father Giuseppe Sciacca, a top official at the Vatican City State administration, was so eager to have a bigger apartment that he broke down a wall and incorporated a room, including the furniture, belonging to the apartment of the priest next door, who was in a hospital.

When the sick priest returned home, he found the room sealed off and his possessions in a box.

In a second book, “Avarice,” Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi says that about $220,000 belonging to a foundation linked to a Rome pediatric hospital was used to furnish the palatial Vatican apartment of former Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.

Both books are the “fruit of a serious betrayal of the pope’s trust,” the Vatican said Monday.

Kington is a special correspondent