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Abbot Peter NovokoskyVatican access to information

In most democratic countries, governments have legislated Access to Information laws which allow members of the public — via the media, mainly — to peek inside some of the decisions their administrations have made. This is not always appreciated by officials who prefer to keep things secret.

The Vatican is known for being one of the most secretive organizations in the world. A major rift in that culture was created by the Vatileaks scandal in 2012. Ironically, it was triggered by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision in 2010 to introduce anti-money laundering regulations in the Vatican. This was meant to update the Vatican’s financial practices to comply with international transparency standards. This introduced a momentous change for the Vatican and it was opposed by some Vatican insiders.

In May 2012 Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published a book entitled His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI. It revealed confidential letters and memos between Pope Benedict and his personal secretary. The book portrays the Vatican as a hotbed of jealousy, intrigue and underhanded factional fighting.

In early November this year there was a sequel to the first Vatileaks. Nuzzi released his new book Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’ Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican (Via Crucis). His book is based largely on confidential documents and reports from members of a temporary commission Pope Francis established in July 2013 to clean up the Vatican’s financial chaos, control costs and eliminate the possibilities for misusing funds. Another book, Emiliano Fittipaldi’s Avarizia (Greed), was published the same day in Italian.

In an unusual move, Pope Francis addressed the issue in his Sunday Angelus talk Nov. 8. “Stealing those documents was a crime,” he said, but “both I and my advisers” were “well acquainted with” the contents of the documents. He denied the claims of the two authors and their anonymous sources, who said their intention was to inform him of what was really going on in the Vatican. He emphasized that his reform project of the roman curia will continue.

What is revealed in the two books?

Respected Vatican commentator John Allen Jr. writes in his blog Crux: Nuzzi’s book describes how cardinals live in elegant and spacious quarters, often at zero cost, and that Vatican-owned apartments often bring in substantially below-market rents because residents have been cut sweetheart deals.

The Tablet blogger Christopher Lamb lists further details:

• In 2011-12 the majority of Peter’s Pence worth 378 million euros was used to pay for the Vatican bureaucracy.

• In 2014 there was a theft of documents from the archive of Cosea, a commission that was conducting an overhaul of Vatican administration and finances.

• A lay postulator for a saint’s cause asked for 40,000 euros in order to make preliminary investigations.

• In 2013, 80 per cent of 204 million euros deposits held by Apsa — the body which looks after money that funds the work of the Roman Curia — were with one investment at the Banca Prossima.

• Vatican departments were keeping unaccounted money in their safes.

Meanwhile, Emiliano Fittipaldi’s book Avarizia (Greed) details how commercial operations inside the Vatican walls — a gas station, pharmacy, tobacco shop, and supermarket — generate tens of millions of euros in income by selling products at discounted prices due to tax exemptions. In theory, those services are reserved to Vatican personnel, but they often lend their employee cards to friends who are not Vatican employees.

Pope Francis was elected on a reform ticket. May God give him the strength and time to finish his mission.