Dec 11, 2010

WikiLeaks Pokes the Untouchable Vatican

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

If the priestly abuse scandal has taught us anything, it's that the Vatican values secrecy above all other principles. Enter WikiLeaks and a fresh wave of embarrassment for the Holy See. Amongst other disclosures comes a behind the scenes look at the Vatican's refusal to cooperate with Irish authorities in their abuse investigation.

The Vatican refused to allow its officials to testify before an Irish commission investigating the clerical abuse of children and was angered when they were summoned from Rome, US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks reveal.

Requests for information from the 2009 Murphy commission into sexual and physical abuse by clergy "offended many in the Vatican" who felt that the Irish government had "failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the investigations", a cable says.

Despite the lack of co-operation from the Vatican, the commission was able to substantiate many of the claims and concluded that some bishops had tried to cover up abuse, putting the interests of the Catholic church ahead of those of the victims. Its report identified 320 people who complained of child sexual abuse between 1975 and 2004 in the Dublin archdiocese.

So it should come as no surprise that this airing of the secret communication about its right to keep secrets has deeply offended Vatican officials.

The Vatican hit back Saturday after cables released by WikiLeaks indicated it had refused to cooperate with an Irish probe into child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Dublin.

The Vatican press office expressed scepticism at the reliability of the reports in a statement that referred to "the extreme seriousness of publishing such a large amount of secret and confidential material, and its possible consequences".

As ever, the Vatican holds dear its right to stay above the fray. It's more a dispenser of judgment than a participant in justice; excoriating the Irish diocese for protecting and enabling abusers but only after counseling bishops to protect and enable abusers. It's a study in top down management where absolutely everything rolls downhill.

In recent years, the Vatican has relied increasingly on diplomatic immunity and its status as a sovereign state to prop up its illusory moral authority. The result is a kind of warped reasoning in which its lack of accountability equals lack of guilt.

This conflation of its role as moral arbiter and its position as an institution above the law will also be tested as it faces charges of money laundering. This is not the first time the Vatican Bank has faced charges of financial impropriety. For instance, an earlier attempt at a law suit by Holocaust survivors to recover Nazi wealth from the bank failed. And previous allegations of collusion with the Mafia resulted in suicides but largely avoided legal recourse.

Yet the scandal is hardly the first for the centuries-old bank. In 1986, a Vatican financial adviser died after drinking cyanide-laced coffee in prison. Another was found dangling from a rope under London's Blackfriars Bridge in 1982, his pockets stuffed with money and stones. The incidents blackened the bank's reputation, raised suspicions of ties with the Mafia, and cost the Vatican hundreds of millions of dollars in legal clashes with Italian authorities.

The Archbishop indicted in the Banco Ambrosanio scandal never even stood trial because of diplomatic immunity. Instead he lived out his days in sunny Arizona.

The current investigation faces similar hurdles.

The prosecutors' office stated in court papers last month that while the bank has expressed a "generic and stated will" to conform to international standards, "there is no sign that the institutions of the Catholic church are moving in that direction." It said its investigation had found "exactly the opposite."

Legal waters are murky because of the Vatican's special status as an independent state within Italy. This time, Italian investigators were able to move against the Vatican Bank because the Bank of Italy classifies it as a foreign financial institution operating in Italy. However, in one of the 1980s scandals, prosecutors could not arrest then-bank head Paul Marcinkus, an American archbishop, because Italy's highest court ruled he had immunity.

One wonders how much longer the Vatican will be able to defer responsibility for all wrong-doing that occurs under its auspices. In response to the WikiLeaks revealed documents they are now passing responsibility on to the individuals who wrote them.

The Holy See's press office Saturday urged the public to read the latest Vatican-related diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks with "great prudence," claiming the allegations cited in the documents reflect only the view of their writers.

Without going into specifics on a number of allegations that emerged with the U.S. cables, the Holy See Press Office said that the reports "reflect the perceptions and opinions of the people who wrote them and cannot be considered as expressions of the Holy See itself."

"Their reliability must, then, be evaluated carefully and with great prudence, bearing this circumstance in mind," the statement said.

Is there no messenger they won't kill? And to what end? As with most of the "cablegate" document dump from WikiLeaks, there is little actual news; only back-story. It's not like we didn't know that the Vatican weaseled its way out of testifying during the Murphy Commission. That's a matter of public record. But I guess when an institution expends as much energy sweeping things under the carpet as the Vatican does exposing any particle of hidden dirt is a grave betrayal.


  1. "One wonders how much longer the Vatican will be able to defer responsibility for all wrong-doing that occurs under its auspices."

    Why not really be brave and ask the same of Islam?

  2. For a start, because that's not the subject of this post. But I'm unlikely to write such a post because that would be roughly like asking the same of Christianity. Islam is not a singular, top-down institution like Catholicism. There are many Islams just as there are many Christianities. There are sects and movements within Islam that I find very troubling, such as Wahhabism. But also, at least as of now, I don't really feel qualified to critique Islamic sects because it's the religion about which I know the least. And this is probably the best and worst time to undertake such a study. There is a lot of information coming our way and a lot of discussion, but much of it is highly distorted due to the current, politically charged environment.

    I was raised Christian so of the world's "great religions" that's the one that I'm most familiar with. Living in a primarily Christian country also makes that inevitable. I am equally unlikely to take on elements of Judaism except where it specifically overlaps due to the fact that I grew up studying old and new testament. The only place my study really intersects Islam is Sufism because my beliefs are also mystical. Well, that and the fact that Islam is also an Abrahamic faith with a lot of the same flaws that afflict the Judeo-Christian tradition it grew out of.

    That's it in a nutshell. My courage or the lack of it really doesn't enter into it.


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