It is striking how many Catholic organisations seem to do a whole range of lucrative things they were never set up to do – while still enjoying tax exemption as religious institutions.
‘Most blessed Father’ five international auditors wrote to Pope Francis on 27 June 2013 – three months into his papacy – ‘there is an almost total lack of clarity in the accounts of both the Holy See and the Governorate.’
The letter goes on:
This lack of clarity makes it impossible to establish a proper estimate of the real financial position of the Vatican whether as a whole or with regard to the single elements of which it is made up. It also means that no one can really consider themselves responsible for its financial management. All we know is that the data we examined indicates a seriously negative trend and we deeply suspect that the Vatican as a whole has a serious structural deficit.
Six days later the letter which continues with some scathing criticism of the Curia’s administrators was part of the documentation for an emergency meeting addressed by Pope Francis himself.
In a move some complain is typical of his style of management he used the occasion not to solicit advice but to announce a decision he had already taken: the formation of an ad hoc committee to study the economic and administrative structure of the Vatican.
Dubbed ‘Cosea’ the committee would have eight members one of whom Jean-Baptiste de Franssu (52, French) is now president of IOR the Vatican bank while another Monsignor Lucio Balda (55, Spanish) is in a prison cell charged with leaking the documents that form the basis for the two books under review.
Cosea lasted ten months fighting an increasingly poisonous battle with the various elements of the Curia as it struggled to obtain the information that might afford a clearer picture of what goes on in the Vatican.
Since the Curia was overwhelmingly Italian and clerical while seven of the eight-member Cosea were foreigners and five of them laypersons misunderstandings were inevitable.
To make matters worse the one Italian on the commission was also the only woman (it’s surprising there was a woman at all) and probably the least likely to get on with the elderly cardinals and monsignors.
Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui – born in Calabria to an Italian mother and a Frenchman of Moroccan descent was just thirty at the time of her appointment – a PR expert with a degree in law and a remarkable ability for making influential friends.
Pope Francis said recently that he isn’t quite sure how she came to be on the commission but believes she was recommended by Monsignor Balda.
Chaouqui is now charged along with Balda of leaking information to journalists, while the Vatican magistrates accusing her of this have made public some embarrassingly compromising text messages that the two exchanged while serving on the commission.
‘You need to fuck’ Chaouqui writes in one message.
And in another: ‘You should try my cousin. She’s squishy.’
It would be hard to imagine a better set-up for a soap opera.