Visiting The Shady Underbelly Of, Uh, Vatican City
Italy has a corruption problem. "Duh," you say. But in this particular instance, allow us to suggest the rot goes far deeper than merely politicians or the corporate world. There's one resilient institution that you might be forgetting, and their profits are matched only by their brazenness. Nope, not the mob either. Still too broad? Allow us to narrow down the scope to a .49-square-km speck in the middle of Rome with Swiss men decked out in the least effective camouflage in the history of mankind.
Instead of the trash racket that regular crime syndicates settle for, the Vatican wets its beak in the more refined things. Yup, we're going there, and we realize this might be a sensitive topic. We trust you're all big girls and boys and can handle the fact that a bureaucracy does not reflect the totality of the group nor its individual members. At this point, any sane observer studying the Holy See has to wonder whether a lenient deity or the Pope's own FBI could find in Vatican City 50 righteous men. Genesis reference ... get what we did there? See Mom and Dad, $$$ on a comparative religion major well spent!
We no longer need to point out the absurdity (or necessity) of a religious institution with its own internal intelligence squad. The Vatican seems barely distinguishable from a criminal organization in 2021, only with colorful robes instead of tracksuits and far more incompetent. If it were any other charity, it would have been dissolved. If it were any other government, it would have been overthrown. Flush with an art collection second to none, 716,290 kilometers of property around the world, steel and construction investments, a shady bank at its beck and call, and a billion loyal donors, The Vatican has got more than a few C-notes to squander on red slippers. Although they denied declaring bankruptcy in 2020, The Vatican and the various financial and bureaucratic institutions connected to it have been knee-deep in scandal and crazy-ass financial shenanigans for years. Once open about their finances, since 2015, the Vatican (under Pope Francis's leadership) has classified all Vatican accounting. Not a good look when your bishops spend $42 million on house renovations.
The culture has been poisoned for some time. The Vatican's go-to bank, going by the innocuous official title: Institute for Works of Religion, has been rumored to be a haven for money laundering for years. The former chief of the bank was sentenced for money laundering and embezzlement this year. Paolo Oliverio, a consultant for a Church charitable organization, was purportedly caught in bed (figuratively speaking) with cocaine smugglers. The Church's financial offices were raided in 2019. That was then, and now is a new era, right? Nah. New year, new alleged fraud and corruption charges.
Francis, selected in part to mop up years-long corruption in The Vatican, has not made any discernible progress in cleaning the cesspit; the Catholic Church bilked blind by dubious characters. In the US, dioceses are declaring bankruptcy one by one to strategically protect what little assets they have left to ensure settlements from sexual abuse lawsuits don't wipe them out. Basically, they're playing three-card monte with creditors. All that cash promised to go to the poor? Yeah, it ain't there either. According to Wall Street Journal reports, it's allegedly going to pay off the cratering hole from operating expenses, as their budget deficit ballooned to an estimated $76 million. Only about 10% of donations earmarked for good causes are going to the poor and needy if investigative reports are accurate. If all this is true, it's some NFL-level charity scamming.
Don't expect their legal problems to go away anytime soon because that's only the tip of the iceberg. The money woes will only get worse, and they know it. This shit gets way darker and morally indefensible the deeper you dig. Unless you know the difference between exhortations, constitutions, and encyclicals and speak proficient Latin, there's a lot of finer details you will never know about Church management, and that's by design. For example, it's totally possible to purchase child molestation liability insurance from a reputable insurer. But that's a whole other level of unfathomably depressing evil to process for another day, and psychiatrists only work five days a week. So, forgive us if we gloss over that topic.
Yeah, we know, the Vatican has dark secrets? Unthinkable. Maybe you're numb to it. Maybe you just want to enjoy your vacation after a long lockdown and concentrate on Michelangelo's ceiling. Nothing will temper your Stendhal Syndrome quite like discovering where those tithes go. But we all ought to know the price for all that magnificent art, and tour guides sure as hell aren't going to voluntarily tell you about the former rector of the illustrious Collegio Santa Maria dell'Anima. You could certainly ask them and see what happens, though. We're not sure if the Vatican can boot you out and blacklist you like the casino goons in Vegas, but it's always worth a try just for the story.
Top Image: AngMoKio/Wiki Commons