Broken Cross - Piers Compton

Part Six: Mafia Bankers in the Vatican

"When money speaks, the truth remains silent."
— Russian proverb

The adventurer Michele Sindona was already at the head of a vast financial empire when his friend Pope Paul VI, in 1969, made use of his services as financial adviser to the Vatican. The Sicilian's influence on both sides of the Atlantic was sufficient to ensure that he received universal respect; irrespective of personal character. The American ambassador in Rome referred to Sindona as 'the man of the year,' and Time magazine was later to call him 'the greatest Italian since Mussolini.'

His connection with the Vatican increased his status, and his business operations, carried out with the dexterity of a spider spinning a web, soon placed him on a near footing with the more political and publicly advertised Rothschilds and Rockefellers. He burrowed into banks and foreign exchange agencies, outwitted partners as well as rivals, and always emerged in a controlling capacity.

He invested money under assumed or other persons' names, disposing of and diverting funds, always with set purpose, and he pulled strings for the underground activities of the Central Intelligence Agency as well as for more secret bodies, that brought about political repercussions in European centres. All this was done with an air of confidential propriety and by methods that would not have survived the most casual examination, carried out by the most inefficient accountant.

One of his early banking contacts was with Hambro, and from that followed a list that came to include the Privata Italiana, Banca Unione, and the Banco di Messina, a Sicilian bank that he later owned. He held a majority stake in the Franklin National Bank of New York, controlled a network that covered nine banks, and became vice-president of three of them. The real assets of those banks were transferred to tax shelters such as Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liberia.

Before long he had taken over the Franklin National, with its 104 branches and assets of more than five billion dollars, despite an American law that forbade direct ownership of any bank by groups with other financial interests. But a way round this was found by then President Nixon, and by Sindona's friend and share manipulator David Kennedy, a former secretary to the United States treasury and that country's ambassador to Nato.

At one time it was reckoned that the amount involved in his foreign speculations alone exceeded twenty billion dollars. Apart from the interests already named, two Russian banks and the National Westminster were finger deep in his transactions. He was president of seven Italian companies, and the managing director of several more, with shares in the Paramount Pictures Corporation, Mediterranean Holidays, and the Dominican sugar trade. He had a voice on the board of Libby's, the Chicago food combine. He bought a steel foundry in Milan.

It was only to be expected that, when estimating such a man, his past and his character counted for less than the jingle in his pocket. New friends, acquaintances, public figures, and distant relatives pressed forward for a sight of the Sindona smile; and among them was a churchman, Monsignor Ameleto Tondini. Through him the financier met Messimo Spada, who managed the affairs of the Vatican bank, or, to give it a more innocuous title, the Institute for Religious Works.

Its main concern was with the handling of Vatican investments, which to some extent came under a body known as the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. That had come into existence, as a financial entity, in 1929, under one of the conditions of the Lateran Treaty concluded with Mussolini.

It had since outgrown the limitations imposed by the Treaty, and had taken on truly international dimensions under a conglomerate of bankers including John Pierpont Morgan of New York, the Paris Rothschilds, and the Hambros Bank of London. Its clerical supervisor was Monsignor (soon to be Cardinal) Sergio Guerri.

Spada, who was the chairman of Lancia, became chairman of a part ecclesiastical, part financial institution, known as the Pius XII Foundation for the Lay Apostleship, a very wealthy concern which was later taken over by Cardinal Villot, who was in many ways a reflection of Paul VI.

There is always a sinister side to big money dealings, and one of Sindona's associates, Giorgio Ambrosoli, became increasingly nervous as the carrying out of increasing frauds kept pace with the profits, and with the effects they produced in several European social, economic, and political structures. He expressed his doubts to Sindona, who brushed them aside. But he did not do the same with Ambrosoli. Instead he made him the object of rumour and surrounded him with a network of suspicion. And one more unsolved crime was added to the Italian police register when Ambrosoli was shot dead outside his house by 'unknown assassins.'

Even before Sindona was concerned with its investment policy the Vatican, despite its condemnation of money-power in the past, was heavily involved in the capitalist system. It had interests in the Rothschild Bank in France, and in the Chase Manhattan Bank with its fifty-seven branches in forty-four countries; in the Credit Suisse in Zurich and also in London; in the Morgan Bank, and in the Banker Trust. It had large share holdings in General Motors, General Electric, Shell Oil, Gulf Oil, and in Bethlehem Steel.

Vatican representatives figured on the board of Finsider which, with its capital of 195 million lire spread through twenty-four companies, produced ninety per cent of Italian steel, besides controlling two shipping lines and the Alfa Romeo firm. Most of the Italian luxury hotels, including the Rome Hilton, were also among the items that figured in the Vatican share portfolio.

Sindona's influence at the Vatican, deriving from his earlier friendship with Paul VI, and the recent meetings with Spada, was soon felt in much the same way as it had been in the outer world. He assumed complete control of the Banca Privata. He bought the Feltrinelli publishing house, and the Vatican shared in its income despite the fact that some of its productions included calls to street violence and secret society propaganda. The same quarter gave support to Left-wing Trades Unions, and to the none too healthy work, often on the seamy side of the law, conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency. The same lack of discernment was shown by the fact that one of the firms that helped to swell the Sindona Vatican funds had been making, at least for a time, contraceptive pills.'

Other and more direct Vatican commitments were with the Ceramica Pozzi which supplied taps, sanitary equipment, and bidets, and with a chemical group, again with Hambros in the background, that manufactured synthetic fibres for textiles. Vatican representatives appeared on the boards of Italian and Swiss banks, and their influence was increasingly felt in the management of holding companies in many parts of the Western world.

Another 'shut eye' operation was when Cardinal Casaroli concluded an agreement with Communist authorities, whereby one of the Vatican companies erected a factory in Budapest.

Almost within hearing distance of the work was another Cardinal, Mindszenty, Archbishop of Hungary who, abandoned by Rome because of his anti-Communist stand, had taken refuge in the American Embassy after the abortive 1956 uprising.

Had it been possible to conduct a genuine inquiry at that time, the names of Vatican officials would have been found figuring in some of President Nixon's complicated ventures. So much emerges when, by steering a way through a mass of often contradictory manoeuvres, one pin-points the Vatican ownership of the General Immobiliare, one of the world's largest construction companies which dealt in land speculation, built motorways and the Pan Am offices, to quote but a few of its operations, and also controlled a major part of the Watergate complex in Washington. It was thereby enabled to build, and own, the series of luxury buildings on the banks of the River Potomac that became the headquarters of the Democratic electoral campaign in 1972.

The management of the Generale Immobiliare was in the hands of Count Enrico Galeazzi, the director of an investment and credit company (estimated capital twenty-five billion lire), who could so freely come and go at the Vatican that he was known as the lay pope.

The Holy See became a substantial partner in Sindona's commercial and industrial empire in the spring of 1969 when, in answer to calls from Paul VI, the financier made several visits to the Vatican where the two men met, in the Pope's study on the third floor, at midnight. (Only, so far as the minor clerics and staff of the Vatican were concerned, and according to the Pope's appointment book that was duly 'doctored' before being entered up, it was not His Holiness who conferred with Sindona but Cardinal Guerri, who in all probability was sleeping at the time.)

Besides wishing to fortify the Vatican's investment policy, the Pope was concerned with maintaining the Church's non-liability for Government control, in the shape of tax, of its currency and assets. That exemption, with the Christian Democrats heading a four-party coalition since the end of the Second World War, had never been seriously questioned. But new voices were now being heard. The Vatican was named as the biggest tax-evader in postwar Italy, and there was a growing demand for its arrears to be settled.

Another member of this sanctified business circle was Paul Marcinkus, one of a Lithuanian family who had emigrated to Chicago. He was in the good books of Monsignor Pasquali Macchi, the Pope's personal secretary, and had so far not been prominent in any pastoral field. His most practical experience, in the sphere of Church activity had been gained when, due to his standing six feet four in his socks, and his long powerful arms (which earned him the nickname of 'gorilla') he supervised the guarding of Paul VI during his travels. Paul made him a Bishop.

As controller of the Vatican Bank, a post that was handed to him by Paul VI, he was responsible for more than 10,000 accounts belonging to Religious Orders and to private individuals, including the Pope. The number of the latter's account, by the way, was 16.16. He handled the Vatican's secret funds and its gold reserves at Fort Knox, and he transferred a substantial part of the funds, in the hope of making a quick profit, to the Sindona holdings.

He was also President of the Institute for Religious Training, and a director of the Continental Illinois Bank of Nassau. His rise was neither unexpected nor brought about without influence being exerted, for on July 2nd, 1963, Marcinkus followed the example of those many clerics who, in defiance of Canon 2335, had joined a secret society. His code name was Marpa.

Taking advantage of the fact that clerical garb was no longer essential, Marcinkus shouldered his way through the fringes, then into the colourful noisy heart, of Roman society. He was the affluent manager of one of the city's most influential, privileged, and respected banks. He lounged at bars, joined exclusive clubs that had hitherto been envied and far-off places to him, and showed his animal strength on the links by sending numerous golf balls into oblivion. In time his blatant playboy attitude annoyed the more established Roman community, who turned a cold shoulder. It would seem that he had little more than gangling brawn to recommend him. But there were always plenty of Americans, who were there on business, to take their place, though even they were shocked when the Bishop was said to be involved in fraudulent bankruptcy.

Meanwhile the first warnings, conveyed by hints of danger, were reaching Sindona and the Vatican from many parts of the world. The current call was to transfer money to the United States, as events in Europe pointed to political unrest and economic collapse; and the future of the Franklin Bank, in which Sindona and the Vatican were heavily involved, became highly doubtful following a series of disastrous speculations. There were frantic efforts to persuade more secure banks to buy outright, or at least re-float, the Franklin. Calls went out from Montini to arrange the transfer of Vatican investments to a safer haven.

It was not that Sindona had lost his touch; but world forces, assisted by enemies in the Mafia who envied Sindona's rise, were proving too much for the maintenance of far-flung ventures like some over which he had presided. Aware that he was standing on shaky ground, Sindona tried to gain the support of the Nixon administration, by offering a million dollars, which perhaps could have materialised only if the deal had been accepted, for the President's electoral fund. But as Sindona, for obvious reasons, insisted on not being named, and since the acceptance of anonymous gifts for an election was forbidden by law, his offer was declined. It was disappointing for all concerned that it impinged upon one of the few laws that even the elastic Federal system could not openly stretch.

Sindona made a final gesture in the approved style of a Hollywood gangster. He threw a lavish and spectacular evening party at Rome's foremost hotel (that was probably owned by the Vatican) which was attended by the American ambassador; Cardinal Caprio (who had been in charge of Vatican investments before the arrival of Marcinkus), and the accommodating Cardinal Guerri.

Marcinkus merely came in for a great deal of blame. His operations with Vatican funds, said Monsignor Benelli, one of his critics, had been intolerable.

But Marcinkus, who knew too much of what went on behind the scenes at the Vatican, could not be abandoned, and he was given a diplomatic post in the Church.

Sindona had been tipped off, by one of his hirelings who was also employed by the secret service, that a warrant was out for his arrest. But he bluffed and drank his way through the festivities, went off for a time to his luxury villa in Geneva, then took a plane to New York.

There, pending actual charges, he was kept under a form of mild surveillance. But it seems that some of those who were detailed to watch him belonged to the Mafia, and the next the Pope heard of his former adviser was that he had been shot and wounded in a scuffle.

It was easy enough, by delving into his past that was more than ankle-deep in great and petty swindles, and now that he was no longer a power to be reckoned with, to bring him to trial; and an attempted kidnap case, and widespread bribery, were now added to the charges against him. When the obliging Cardinal Guerri heard of this, he seems to have become suddenly convinced, perhaps because his name had figured in talks that clinched the bargaining between Pontiff and financier, that Sindona was a much maligned man. He wanted to go to New York and testify on his behalf. But the Pope, aware of Guerri's easy-going nature, and not wanting the extent of his own co-operation with the accused to be dragged out in the witness box, kept Guerri in Rome.

The trial ended, in the autumn of 1980, with Sindona receiving a sentence of twenty-five years' imprisonment. Few, apart from those members of the public who expressed indignation as the financial antics of Sindona were made known to them for the first time, believe that such a sentence will ever be served. At least one anti-clerical paper suggested that Pope Paul was lucky not to have been put on the stand alongside his banker.

As it was, the Pope was left with two reminders of their partnership. The Church had sustained a heavy financial loss which meant, as the Pope asserted with a quite gratuitous beating of the breast, that the Bride of Christ was face to face with bankruptcy; while there was a new administrative agency for finance that he had founded as a result of Sindona's help.

At the head of this was Cardinal Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate in New York. He was assisted by Cardinal Hoeffner, of Cologne, and Cardinal John Cody of Chicago. The last named of that trio was soon to make a sensational entry into the news.

Cardinal John Patrick Cody, aged seventy-three, the son of a St. Louis fireman, was Archbishop of the largest Roman Catholic diocese in America. He therefore had the handling of many thousands of tax-exempt ecclesiastical funds. And in the autumn of 1981 his congregation was overwhelmed, as only loyal Church members can be, by rumours that soon became facts, to the effect that the United States Attorney's office in Chicago was looking into Cody's financial affairs.

A Federal Grand Jury had also asked for the records of a St. Louis investment company, where a certain Mrs. Helen Dolan Wilson had an account; to be examined.

The inquiry, most unusual in the case of a contemporary Cardinal, turned upon what was called the diverting, disposition, or misuse of Church funds amounting to more than £500,000 in English money. It also came to light that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops had lost more than four million dollars in a single year, during which time the Cardinal had been treasurer.

The Mrs. Wilson referred to, of the same age as the Cardinal, was variously referred to as a relation of his by marriage, as his sister, as a niece, while Cody usually spoke of her as his cousin. Her father, more precise judgments claimed, had married the Cardinal's aunt, while others were sure that no real blood relationship existed between them. The couple concerned said that a brother and sister relationship, begun in their childhood in St. Louis, was their only tie.

'We were raised together,' explained Mrs. Wilson. Their remaining close friends was therefore a natural development. They travelled together, and for the past twenty-five years she had followed his every move about the diocese. He had become, in the religious sense, her 'supervisor,' a role that she found beneficial when her marriage, which left her with a son, ended in the divorce court.

It was easy enough for the Cardinal to place her, as manager, in an office connected with the Church in St. Louis. Her appearances there were far from regular but, whether working or not, she nonetheless remained on the Church's pay-roll. He also helped her son to set up business, in the same town, as an insurance agent, a post that Wilson resigned when, with the Cardinal, he started dealing in 'real estate.'

Mrs. Wilson retired, after having earned a modest £4,000 a year, but before long she was known to be worth nearly a million dollars, mostly in stocks and bonds. She was also the beneficiary of a hundred thousand dollars insurance policy, taken out on the Cardinal's life, on which she borrowed.

The inquiries made by the Federal Grand Jury, and publicised by the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, brought forth a flood of allegations. The Cardinal had made over most of the missing money to her. Part of it had gone in buying her a house at Boca Raton, in Florida: There had also been a luxury car, expensive clothes and furs, and holiday cash presents.

The Cardinal, though saddened and feeling rejected because of the allegations, was firm in saying that he didn't need a chance to contradict them. He was ready to forgive all those responsible. Mrs. Wilson was equally firm in saying that she had received no money from the Cardinal. To say that there was anything more than friendship between them was a vicious lie, or even a joke. She strongly resented being scandalised, and being portrayed as a kept woman or (as her fellow-countrymen put it) 'a tramp.'

Had it not been for the many falls from grace that have overtaken the modern Church, a case like this would scarcely have merited more than a mention. But now it prompts questions. Was it a frame-up, part of the age-long wish to bring the Church into disrepute? Was the Cardinal personally corrupt? Or was he one of the infiltrators who, without any real religious conviction, have been secretly fostered into the Church for the sole purpose of wearing away its moral and traditional fabric?

There is, in the light of other strange happenings that have occurred, nothing extravagant in that suggestion; and it would seem to be borne out by a long report in The Chicago Catholic of September 29th, 1978. An Archdiocesan Liturgical Congress was held in order, as one of the jargon-crazed Modernists said, to keep the Church 'living, moving, changing, growing, becoming new, after some centuries of partial paralysis.'

As part of that process, dance groups frolicked under flashing multi-coloured lights, trumpets blared, people reached and scrambled for gas-filled balloons, and donned buttons that bore the message 'Jesus loves us;' while a priest, who was looked upon as an expert in the new liturgy, his face whitened like a clown's, paraded about in a top hat and with a grossly exaggerated potbelly emerging from the cloak he wore.

The background to all this was made up of vestments, banners, and the hotchpotch of a mural, all of which, in the approved style of 'modern art,' revealed no more than casually applied splashes of paint. The Mass that marked the close of this truly ridiculous Congress (that, as we shall see, was only a faint reflection of what happened elsewhere, and which would never have been dreamt of before the days of 'Good Pope John') was presided over by Cardinal Cody.

At another time The Chicago Tribune, in a report describing what was said to be a "Gays' altar," referred to a con-celebration (meaning celebration of the Eucharist by two or more priests) at a church in that city: One hundred and twenty-two priests were present at what passed for Mass, and every one of them was a self-confessed moral pervert.

Neither of these profanities called forth a word of protest from John Patrick, Cardinal Cody. He died of a heart attack in April, 1982, while this book was in preparation.