Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis's Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican

Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis's Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican

by Gianluigi Nuzzi


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From a bestselling author with unprecedented access to Pope Francis, an investigative look at the recent financial scandals at the highest levels of the Vatican

A veritable war is waging in the Church: on one side, there is Pope Francis’s strong message for one church of the poor and all; on the other, there is the old Curia with its endless enemies, and the old and new lobbies struggling to preserve their not-so-Christian privileges.

The old guard do not back down, they are ready to use all means necessary to stay in control and continue the immoral way they conduct their business. They resist reforms sought by Pope Francis and seek to delegitimize their opponents, to isolate those who want to eliminate corruption. It’s a war that will determine the future of the church. And if he loses the battle against secular interests and blackmail, Pope Francis could resign, much like his predecessor.

Based on confidential information—including top secret documents from inside the Vatican, and actual transcripts of Pope Francis’s admonishments to the papal court about the lack of financial oversight and responsibility—Merchants in the Temple illustrates all the undercover work conducted by the Pope since his election and shows the reader who his real enemies are. It reveals the instruments Francis is using to reform the Vatican and rid it, once and for all, of the overwhelming corruption traditionally encrusted in the Roman Catholic Church.

Merchants in the Temple is a startling book that will shock every reader. It’s a story worthy of a Dan Brown novel, with its electrifying details of the trickery and scheming against the papacy—except that it is real.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250106247
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/20/2016
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.71(w) x 8.75(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

Gianluigi Nuzzi is an Italian journalist, nonfiction writer and TV anchorman. He is the author of two bestselling titles,Vaticano SpA and Sua Santità, which sold more than one million copies in Italy, Germany, France, Spain, the United States, Brazil and the Netherlands. He lives in Milan.

Read an Excerpt

Merchants in the Temple

Inside Pope Francis's Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican

By Gianluigi Nuzzi, Michael F. Moore

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2015 Gianluigi Nuzzi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62779-864-8


Pope Francis Issues a Shocking Accusation

On July 28, 2013, a few hours after his customary religious obligations, Pope Francis prepared to go to the Apostolic Palace. As always, he checked his datebook first. "This is what I've always done. I carry it in a black briefcase. Inside is a razor, a breviary, an appointment book, and a book to read." The Pope carefully reviewed his notes. That morning he had a meeting with Archbishop Jean Louis Bruguès, the librarian and archivist of the Holy See. But his most important appointment of the day was a noon meeting scheduled to take place in one of the most inaccessible and mysterious spaces in the Palace: the Sala Bologna, on the third floor, between the papal apartment recently vacated by Benedict XVI and the quarters of the Secretariat of State. The decorations for this sumptuous dining room had been commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII (1502–1585), who wanted frescoes of immense maps and cosmic charts to convey the measure of his ambitious pontificate. Although they had originally been created for the 1575 Jubilee, they were timelier than ever today, in perfect harmony with the designs of Pope Francis. Like Gregory's, Francis's plans were also ambitious and mysterious, inspired by his wish to bring the Church into the world and to fight the Curia's secret dealings and privileges. His was a soft but steady revolution that had already triggered a war without rules or limits. Francis's enemies were powerful, duplicitous, and hypocritical.

The Pope made his entrance to what looked like a miniconclave. The cardinals were waiting for him, conversing quietly in small clusters. The tension was palpable. Cardinal Versaldi, the President of the Prefecture, was present. Off to the side was Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello — a staunch ally of Bertone — who headed the Governorate. Domenico Calcagno, the President of APSA, was also there. All the key players who administer the money and the property of the Holy See were in attendance.

The official order of business was to approve the annual financial report for 2012, but everyone knew that a different issue would be addressed today. Immediately upon his election Pope Francis had announced his intention to reform the Curia. One month later, in April 2013, he had established a group to help him with the governance of the Church: a council of eight cardinals from five continents, created for the purpose of breaking the stranglehold that the cardinals residing in Rome had over the Vatican.

On June 24, the Pope established the Commission for Reference on the IOR, the first commission in history to review the Institute after the many scandals in which it had been embroiled. Although there was already an IOR Supervisory Commission, chaired by Cardinal Bertone, the new Pope wanted more oversight. "The Commission" — announced the Vatican press release — "will gather accurate information on the legal status and various activities of the Institute and ... shall deliver to us promptly, upon the conclusion of its tasks, the results of its work, as well as its entire archives." In other words, Francis wanted to get a clear picture of the facts and to hear from an impartial new body that reported directly to him.

The Curia was devastated by these moves, but no one had grasped the full scope of the changes: would Pope Francis intervene only superficially, through big media announcements, or would he get to the root of the problems, eliminating the power centers and the infighting? And in these first months of his pontificate, how well did he know the secrets behind the massive circulation of money inside the Vatican?

The cardinals attending the July 3, 2013, meeting with Francis found an immediate answer in the confidential file that they each received with their name on it. Among the papers inside, the most important was a two-page letter that had been sent to the Pope one week earlier, on June 27, from five of the international auditors of the Prefecture. Two of the members expressed the auditors' concerns over the way the Vatican's finances were being managed and decided to take the risk of conveying these concerns to Francis: the loyal Santo Abril y Castelló and the President of the Prefecture, Giuseppe Versaldi. The cardinals were shocked by the letter, a document that has never before been made public. Among other things, it listed the emergency situations that had to be addressed immediately to rescue the Vatican from impending bankruptcy:

Holy Father,

... There is a complete absence of transparency in the bookkeeping of both the Holy See and the Governorate. This lack of transparency makes it impossible to provide a clear estimate of the actual financial status of the Vatican as a whole and of the single entities of which it consists. This also means that no one person can be considered actually responsible for financial management ... We only know that the data examined show a truly downward trend and we strongly suspect that the Vatican as a whole has a serious structural deficit.

The general financial management within the Vatican can be defined, in the best of cases, as inadequate. First, the budgeting and decision-making processes of both the Holy See and the Governorate are senseless, despite the existence of clear guidelines defined by the current regulations. ... This reality seems to suggest that, at a minimum, the prevailing attitude of the Vatican is best captured by the expression, "the rules don't apply to us." Costs are out of control. This applies in particular to personnel costs but it also extends elsewhere. There are various cases of duplicate activities, where consolidation would instead guarantee significant savings and improve the management of the problems. We have not been able to identify clear guidelines to follow for investments of financial capital. This is a serious limit and it leaves too much discretion to the managers, which increases the overall level of risk. The situation that is applicable to the investments of the Holy See, Governorate, Pension Fund, Health Insurance Fund, and other funds managed by autonomous entities should be immediately improved ... The managers must clearly shoulder their responsibilities for preparing the budgets and sticking to them in a more realistic and effective way.

We are aware that we have presented strong and sometimes severe advice and suggestions. We sincerely hope that Your Holiness realizes that our actions are inspired by our love for the Church and our sincere desire to help and to improve the temporal aspect of the Vatican. We and all our families beg for Your apostolic blessing, while confirming ourselves as the humble and devout children of Your Holiness.

After reading the letter, Agostino Vallini turned pale. He had been made a cardinal by Benedict XVI and since 2008 had served as the Vicar of the diocese of Rome. He immediately sensed the explosive potential of the documents and invoked the need for confidentiality. These papers "are under papal seal" — he hastened to recall, addressing the Pope — "and we hope they conserve ... not for our part but, you know ..."

Vallini's main concern was that nothing be leaked outside the Vatican walls. He was well aware of the impact that this report could have on public opinion. The elderly cardinal turned around slowly to gaze at his colleagues and observed only silence and anxiety. On the surface the reaction was placid, but there were clear undercurrents of tension, dismay, and shock.

The cardinals did not know the full extent of the Vatican's troubled economic situation. Earlier that year, during the congregations for the Conclave in March, they had received information, reports, and numbers, but they were piecemeal and disorganized. A more reassuring picture had been painted instead by the same cardinals who were in charge of the various dicasteries.

None of the members of the Curia were accustomed to the new requirement that information be transparent and openly circulated. Francis probably saw what he had been expecting. As a good Jesuit, he would use the alarming documents he had received from the auditors to make everyone understand that from that moment on, nothing would be the same.

The Holy Father took the floor. He delivered an indictment that would last sixteen interminable minutes, using harsher words than had ever been expressed by a Pontiff to the assembly — words that were supposed to remain secret, protected by the gravity of their contents and the confidentiality demanded of all those who had access to the room. But that would not be the case. Foreseeing the risks that his innovative action would entail — sabotage, manipulations, theft, break-ins, and attempts to discredit the reformers — someone recorded the Pope's charges, word for word.

* * *

Dead silence fell over the room as the Pontiff prepared to speak, the clicking on of the recorder going unobserved. On the recording, the sound quality is perfect, and the voice of Francis unmistakable. He is calm and dry but firm and resolute. He speaks in halting but clear Italian, as befitting the Bishop of Rome, leaving long pauses between each item of his indictment.

The silences lend even greater drama to his words. It is evident that Francis wants every cardinal — including the ones who tolerated bad behavior for years — to realize that the time has come to choose sides:

We have to better clarify the finances of the Holy See and make them more transparent. What I will say is that to help, I would like to identify some elements that will definitely help you in your reflections.

First. It was universally ascertained in the general congregations [during the Conclave] that [in the Vatican] the number of employees has grown too much. This fact creates a huge waste of money that can be avoided. Cardinal Calcagno told me that in the past five years there has been a 30 percent increase in employee expenses. Something isn't right! We have to get this problem under control.

The Pontiff had already known that most of the new hiring was based on cronyism. The persons in question were employed for vague projects or hired through nepotism or personal connections. It was no accident that, in this small state, rather than have one human resources office, like a private company with thousands of employees, there were fourteen, one for each power center on the organizational chart of the Holy See. Francis denounces this in a lucid crescendo that highlights each of the most alarming situations:

Second point: the lack of transparency continues to be an issue. There are expenses for which no clear procedures were followed. According to the men who spoke with me [i.e., the auditors who wrote the report and some cardinals] — this comes out in the financial statements. In this connection, I think we have to move forward with the work of clarifying the origins of the expenses and the forms of payment. We have to create a protocol for estimates and also for the last step, payments. [We need to] follow this protocol rigorously. One of the department heads told me: they come to me with the invoice so we have to pay ... No, we don't. If a job was done without an estimate, without authorization, we don't pay. So who will pay? [Pope Francis simulates a dialogue with a bursar.] We don't pay. [We need to] start with a protocol and be firm: [even if] we're making this poor clerk look bad, we don't pay! God help us but we don't pay!

C-l-a-r-i-t-y. That's what's done in the most humble companies and we have to do it, too. The protocol for starting a project is the payment protocol. Before any purchase or construction job we have to request at least three different estimates to decide which one is more convenient. Let me give you an example, the library. The estimate said 100 and then 200 was paid. What happened? A little more? Alright, but was it budgeted or not? [Some say] we have to pay for it. No we don't! Let them pay ... We don't pay! This is important for me. Discipline, please!

Francis goes on to describe the utter superficiality of Vatican bookkeeping. He's angry. Seven times he repeats, "We don't pay." For too long, in an incredibly facile and superficial manner, millions have been disbursed to pay for unbudgeted jobs that were executed without the required oversight and with ridiculously padded invoices. Many have taken advantage, pocketing even the donations of the faithful, the offerings that were supposed to go to the needy. The Pope then addresses the cardinals who lead dicasteries that over the years have mismanaged Church money, the department heads who haven't exercised the necessary oversight. His criticism of them is overt: harsh, direct, scathing, even humiliating. He emphasizes issues that any manager working in even the smallest business should know and understand.

Francis stares Secretary of State Tarciso Bertone in the face. Those who are sitting near the Pope see no signs of the friendship and indulgence that Ratzinger felt for the Italian cardinal that led him to elevate Bertone to the pinnacle of power at the Vatican. No, Francis's gaze conveys the icy admonishment of the Jesuit who came to Rome from the "ends of the Earth." These accusations are an indirect rebuke of Bertone. At the Vatican, in fact, resource management and governance are the responsibility of the Secretariat of State, which had accumulated unprecedented power under Bertone. In the unreal silence that dominates the room, the Pope delivers the final blow by raising the most embarrassing issue:

It is no exaggeration to say that most of our costs are out of control. This is a fact. We always have to check the legality and clarity of contracts with the utmost attention. Contracts can be very tricky, right? The contract might be clear but in the footnotes you find the fine print — that's what it's called, right? — which is tricky. Examine it carefully! Our suppliers should always be businesses that guarantee honesty and propose a fair market price for both products and services. And not all of them can guarantee that.

The Pope's Accusation: "Our costs are spiraling out of control"

The financial situation inherited from Ratzinger and Bertone — as described by the auditors and seconded by Francis — was a dead-end, prebankruptcy scenario. On the one hand there was total chaos in the management of resources and spending, which was spiraling out of control, with inflated costs, deceptive contracts, and dishonest suppliers dumping obsolete and overpriced products on the Vatican. On the other, cronyism and shady financial dealings prevented change and undermined the policies already adopted by Benedict. This might have been the unspoken reason for Ratzinger's decision to step down. By giving the helm of Peter's Bark to someone else, he hoped to break their grip on power and prevent a storm that might ultimately compromise the financial and the evangelical future of the Church. Francis delivered his indictment in the same room used in the dramatic days leading up to the Conclave, when there had been talk about irregularities and concerns at the meetings on the eve of the voting for the new pope — concerns that may have led Bergoglio to choose the name of Francis, the first pope in history to do so — after the saint who dedicated his life to poverty.

The Pope was not done. While condemning the items that fell under "expenses," the Holy Father reserved his greatest wrath for the handling of revenue — the donations and inheritances left by the faithful. There was a complete lack of "oversight of investments." As we shall see in the next chapter, the question is very simple: does the money left by the faithful end up in good works or is it swallowed up by the black holes in the Holy See's wasteful administration? This question demands an investigation.

So concerned was Francis that he pressed on with another disturbing example. The situation illustrated by the auditors reminded him of Argentina in the dark days of the military junta, of the desaparecidos, when he discovered that the Church in Buenos Aires had made some truly unholy investments:

When I was a provincial prelate, the general accountant told me about the attitude we should take toward investments. And he told us the story of how the Jesuit province of the country has a good many seminaries and made investments into a serious, honest bank. Then, when they changed accountants, the new man went to the bank to check up on things. He asked how the investments were doing: he came to find out that more than 60 percent had gone to weapons manufacturing!


Excerpted from Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi, Michael F. Moore. Copyright © 2015 Gianluigi Nuzzi. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

About This Book 1
1. Pope Francis Issues a Shocking Accusation 7
2. The Saints’ Factory 24
3. The Secrets of the Peter’s Pence 45
4. Handcuffs in the Vatican 62
5. The Sins and Vices of the Curia 80
6. The Immense Real Estate Holdings of the Vatican 99
7. Holes in the Pension Fund 125
8. Attack on the Reform 138
9. The War, Act I: Blocked Budgets and Bureaucratic Assaults 156
10. The War, Act II: The Revolution of Francis and the Rise of Cardinal Pell 178
Epilogue: Will Francis Resign, Too? 200
Notes 209

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