VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has threatened legal action against an Italian television station for using “questionable journalistic methods” in a program that alleged a former senior Vatican official had been transferred against his will after complaining about internal corruption.
The program, called The Untouchables and broadcast on the channel La 7 on Wednesday night, showed several letters that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, then-deputy governor of Vatican City and now apostolic nuncio to the United States, sent to superiors, including Pope Benedict XVI, last year.
In one letter to the Holy Father, Archbishop Viganò, who was responsible for maintaining much of the city state’s infrastructure, claims he is a victim of a smear campaign launched by other Vatican officials after he had made extensive efforts to save the Vatican money by cleaning up its procedures. He also resisted efforts to transfer him, citing his efforts to root out malpractice.
“Holy Father, my transfer right now would provoke much disorientation and discouragement in those who have believed it was possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and abuse of power that have been rooted in the management of so many departments,” the archbishop wrote in a letter to the Pope on March 27, 2011.
In another letter to the Holy Father on April 4 last year, Archbishop Viganò singled out for criticism two funds managed by a committee of Italian bankers who “looked after their own interests more than ours.” He also said that when he took up his position in 2009, he discovered a web of corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to outside companies at inflated prices, according to a Jan. 26 Reuters report.
In other correspondence, Archbishop Viganò highlighted that previous incompetence at the Vatican had caused officials to rack up losses of “50%-60%,” and referred to one single financial transaction in December 2009 in which “they made us lose two and a half million dollars.”
Also appearing on the program is a man whose identity is concealed but whom the program creators claim is a member of the bankers’ committee. He said the archbishop had developed a reputation of being a tough administrator in dealing with companies that had contracts with the Vatican and insisting on transparency and competition.
The program also revealed other details in the letters, including Archbishop Viganò’s assertion that Vatican-employed maintenance workers are demoralized because work was always given to the same companies even though the cost was double what it might otherwise have been. One example given was the Vatican’s Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square. The cost was 550,000 euro in 2009, but Archbishop Viganò managed to have the following year’s crèche completed for 200,000 euro less, according to the program.
Yet despite the archbishop’s successful efforts to cut costs and increase efficiency and transparency, unsigned articles began to appear in the Italian daily Il Giornale during 2011 in which he was described as inefficient. In his letter to the Pope in early April, he told the Pope how hard he has worked to “eliminate corruption, private interests and dysfunction that are widespread in various departments.”
He also told the Holy Father in the same letter that “no one should be surprised about the press campaign against me” because he tried to root out corruption and had made enemies.
Around the time of Archbishop Viganò’s appointment as apostolic nuncio to the United States in October 2011, succeeding Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who died in July, Italian newspapers claimed a “power struggle” was taking place in the Vatican.
Some reports said Archbishop Viganò was tipped to become governor of Vatican City, but he encountered resistance from other officials, including from the then-governor, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo. Reports also alleged that Archbishop Viganò was offered the position of head of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See but he refused, resulting in a loss of support from the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
In a statement released Jan. 26, the Vatican implied the letters were authentic by expressing “disappointment at the revelation of reserved documents,” but added that it was considering taking legal action “to protect the honor of morally upright and highly professional people who serve the Church, the Pope and the common good.”
The statement said the work of the archbishop “had many positive aspects, as he contributed to the efforts being made to ensure administrative rigor, economization and the improvement of what was a difficult overall economic situation.” But it added that the program should have made a “fairer evaluation” that would have taken account of the “trends of the market, the investment criteria adopted over recent years, and other important circumstances.”
The Vatican said that the criteria of correctness and transparency that inspired the archbishop “certainly continue to guide the current directors of the governorate” and added that this was in keeping with the Holy See’s commitment to “increasing transparency and attentively monitoring of economic activities.”
On the day this story broke, the Vatican announced it was ratifying three U.N. conventions intended to curb corrupt financial transactions: the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the U.N. Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
It also added that the program presented the complexities of the governorate “in a superficial and biased manner, highlighting the evidently negative aspects with the simplistic result of presenting the structures of government in the Church as being, not so much affected by human frailty (which would be easily understandable), as profoundly characterized by arguments, divisions and power struggles.”
“All this disinformation will certainly not obscure the daily and serene efforts towards increasing transparency in all Vatican institutions,” the statement continued. “In this context, it must be decisively affirmed that entrusting Archbishop Viganò with the role of apostolic nuncio to the United States — one of the most important roles in Vatican diplomacy, given the importance of the country and of the Catholic Church there — is proof of unquestionable respect and trust.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.