By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Gerald Posner
Narration by: Tom Parks
“God’s Bankers” delves into the history of Vatican City. The author, Gerald Posner, shows there is little difference between religious institutions and any organization that puts self-preservation above ethics and morality. Leaders of religious institutions are as capable of being corrupt and venal as any who manage organizations. Just as some CEO s of private industry, and leaders of public institutions are moral and ethical Trump-ensteins, some Popes fizzle as moral and ethical leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Roman Catholic Church has had both good and bad leaders. No single organization led by a Pope, bank president, or elected official is totally responsible for immoral and unethical acts but many are complicit. The Catholic diocese and its brethren have committed every sin known to man (gender identity intended). The source of their perfidy is not unique to their religion or any system of belief or non-belief; i.e. the source is human nature’s drive for money, power, and prestige. Popes, CEO s, and public servants are equally seduced by human nature’s drives; i.e. leaders are bound, like breath to life, to act immorally and unethically when self-preservation becomes a first priority.
Posner begins his history of Vatican City with death, by suicide or murder, of Roberto Calvi in 1982. Calvi’s death is related to the financial practices of the Vatican Bank (aka Institute for the Works of Religion or, the sometimes abbreviated, IOR). From Calvi’s Death, Posner takes church history back to the 1900 s when the Vatican Bank is created. The IOR is meant to consolidate the land and money of Vatican City to preserve and expand the wealth of the Church. The Bank is a collection and distribution center for money donated, invested, and exchanged (legally or illegally) for preservation and expansion of the Holy See.
The primary purpose of the Vatican Bank is to preserve and expand the power and influence of Catholicism. The fuel for that purpose is money. Posner’s facts do not deny good works of the Catholic Church. However, his story exposes the sinful nature of some wearing the robes of Papal authority, and many (employees and consultants) hiding behind cloaks of Papal secrecy. Posner’s facts imply “being human” is the root of all evil; with money as its fuel.
The purpose of the IOR is “to provide for the safekeeping and administration of movable and immovable property transferred or entrusted to it by physical or juridical persons…” The IOR’s creation is meant to provide money for maintenance and growth of the Roman Catholic Church. Income is intended to come from charitable activities of the church; paid for by parishioner and lay public contributions, and from legitimate business transactions. However, Posner shows that charitable contributions and legal business transactions are not enough to sustain Vatican City and its global evangelist goals. The drive for money is distorted by an implied license to commit any sin necessary to increase income. Money not only serves evangelist goals of the Church, it pays off those who threaten exposure of illegal activity. No crime seems out-of-bounds for the Church; e.g. its complicity in Nazi occupation of the Balkans; a failure to confront German and Croatian isolation, transport, and murder of Jews; the use of the Vatican Bank to launder money for crime syndicates, the clandestine support of Nazi criminals in return for gold bullion (surmised to have been stolen during the war), espionage participation with American Presidents to subvert communist growth in Eastern Europe, Africa, and South America; and so on. Many Papal and IOR actions and non-actions increase the wealth of the Church at the expense of Vatican leaders’ morality and ethics.
Pope Pius XI is consumed by the desire to return Vatican City to its historic status as a Nation-state. He is willing to condone and support Mussolini to attain that goal. Pope Pius XI endorses tacit support for the Nazis when Hitler agrees to tax German citizens to benefit Vatican City at the rate of an estimated 100 million dollars per year. Though late in Pius XI’s papacy, Hitler and Mussolini’s mistreatment of the Jews is denounced in a Decree. That Decree never sees the light of day because of Pius XI’s death. His successor Pope, Pope Pius XII, fails to register Pius XI’s Decree and refuses to condemn Hitler for the final solution during WWII.
Posner brings us back to 1982 and the death of Roberto Calvi. Calvi is a consultant for IOR. He is exposed as a lynch pin in the relationship between the mob and the Church. He launders money for the mafia through association with the Vatican Bank. Calvi creates bogus charities to hide illegal financial transactions. He recommends Vatican Bank investment in risky ventures that frequently fail. Posner implies the Vatican condones Calvi’s activities until they become public. Presumably, the Vatican fails to break with Calvi because ill-gotten gains are greater than losses; i.e. at least until the threat of exposure tarnishes the image of the Church.
Pope John Paul II does not come away from Posner’s characterization of Vatican City without some stains. Though Pope Paul II is highly revered for his charismatic character and willingness to confront communism in Poland, he fails to unwind IOR and its nefarious operations, or aggressively attack pedophilia cases in the Holy See. Further, Posner notes Paul II’s questionable support of an American Bishop, Paul Marcinkus. (Marcinkus is John Paul II’s trusted adviser in regard to the IOR, and his English translator.) When Marcinkus’s judgment is questioned in regard to the Vatican Bank, John Paul supports Marcinkus against any criticism of the bank’s operation.
Pope Benedict, Pope Paul’s successor, is equally tarnished for failing to forcefully confront IOR corruption and its lack of oversight and regulation. By nature, Posner suggests Benedict is non-confrontational. An additional note by Posner is that Benedict fails to expose a homosexual faction of the Roman Catholic Church that coerces the Papacy into promoting Bishops based on fear of exposure; i.e. rather than promotion based on ecclesiastic and administrative ability.
In the end, Posner acknowledges IOR is becoming a more conventional bank with the support of the current Pope, Pope Francis. The beginning of the end of IOR corruption appears with Ettore Gotti Tedeschi who became President of IOR in 2009. Tedeschi, an Italian economist and banker, begins the clean-up of IOR. He is discharged in 2012 but not before he blows the whistle on IOR’s unregulated and corrupt practices.
Steps have been taken to regulate the Vatican Bank and stop its use as a money-laundering center for criminal enterprise. Francis has ordered the firing and replacement of IOR board members to improve the transparency of Vatican Bank transactions.
As the ancient saying goes, “Fish Rots from the Head”. Today’s Pope may be better than yesterdays but tomorrow is another day. One doubts human nature will change. Humans are unlikely to escape moral and ethical weaknesses. An ethical bank, like an ethical church, is an oxymoron. They both require money to operate and they are managed by human beings.