VATICAN CITY — Conflicting reports surround allegations that a priest, appointed last month as an interim prelate of the institution colloquially known as the Vatican Bank, has ties with a “gay lobby” operating within the Holy See.
On July 3, respected Vatican analyst Sandro Magister alleged that Msgr. Battista Ricca had a relationship with another man — the “intimacy” of which was “so open as to scandalize numerous bishops, priests and laity” of Uruguay, where he served in the nunciature from 1999 to 2004.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi July 19 rejected the allegations as “not credible.”
Pope Francis appointed Msgr. Ricca, a 57-year-old Vatican diplomat, temporary prelate of the Vatican Bank — officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) — on June 15 in a bid to help reform the scandal-ridden institution. Until now, Msgr. Ricca had served as director of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the residence where the Pope currently lives.
Magister claims the Italian clergyman’s alleged dark past was hidden from the Holy Father in a bid to embarrass the Pope and hinder reform of the IOR, which is trying to meet international anti-fraud regulations.
In a follow-up piece dated July 18, Magister said Pope Francis was only informed by members of the Vatican diplomatic corps when all apostolic nuncios came to Rome at the end of June — just a week after the Pope had made the appointment.
The longtime Italian journalist wrote that, when Msgr. Ricca was posted to the nunciature in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, in 1998, he had a residence assigned to his friend Patrick Haari. In 2000, the new nuncio to Uruguay, Archbishop Janusz Bolonek, found the arrangement “intolerable,” according to Magister, and was able to have Haari dismissed.
Msgr. Ricca was also later transferred, allegedly after he was found in two compromising situations.
By 2004, Msgr. Ricca had been transferred to the Vatican, where he worked as an official within the Secretariat of State. Since 2006, he has helped run the Domus Sanctae Marthae residence, as well as another residence for clergy where the Pope used to stay as a cardinal, in Via della Scrofa, in downtown Rome.
Magister claims this allowed him “to weave an intricate network of relationships with the highest levels of the Catholic hierarchy all over the world.” Despite Archbishop Bolonek filing detailed reports on Msgr. Ricca, Magister said, some in the Vatican “actively promoted” a cover-up of his alleged misdeeds.
But his appointment as prelate of the Vatican Bank is understood to have led to bitterness among “many” persons who “knew about his scandalous past,” and Pope Francis was finally made aware of it, Magister said.
He wrote that Pope Francis responded to the information with “sadness over having been kept in the dark with regard to such grave matters and the intention to remedy the appointment he had made.”
Magister told Catholic News Agency July 18 that his article was “verified word for word” and “constituted on primary sources, including documentation.”
Pope Francis reportedly acknowledged the existence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican on June 6, at a meeting with members of a Latin-American movement.
But responding to the Msgr. Ricca allegations July 19, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi rejected Magister’s story, saying it was “not credible.” Other Vatican reporters, drawing on other sources, also claimed Msgr. Ricca continues to enjoy the full support of the Pope.
The Register sought to contact Archbishop Bolonek July 23, but he declined to take the call. Other attempts to ascertain the veracity of the allegations were also inconclusive. An official at the pontifical household said he knew nothing about Msgr. Ricca and his alleged past.
Adriana Porteiro, a spokeswoman for the bishops’ conference of Uruguay, said that they could not confirm the allegations because, “in all honesty, we only learned of this case through the media.”
She told the Register that most of the bishops who currently make up the bishops’ conference do not even know Msgr. Ricca, “who spent just a year in our country,” though she did not exclude the possibility that some of the most senior bishops may have heard something.
The secretary general of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Heriberto Bodeant, told a Uruguayan news portal July 20 that he, too, did not know the facts. But, he said, Msgr. Ricca may have since “changed his conduct,” or, if he hasn’t, “he has been careful not to cause a new scandal.”
Bishop Bodeant speculated that it might even have been possible that the prelate was “set up.”
“Anything could be,” he said.
Whether the allegations are true or not, Porteiro said officials in the nunciature are answerable to the nuncio and the secretary of state, so “it is not surprising we have not heard what happened at that time, if it happened.” She said that, “without doubt,” Archbishop Bolonek and the Holy See would know.
The current nuncio to Uruguay, Archbishop Anselmo Guido Pecorari, told media in the country last week that the matter “is in the hands of the Holy Father who, in his wisdom, knows how to behave in a case like this.”
Magister, in the meantime, continues to stand by his report, saying that each detail in his story had been “confirmed by primary sources.”
More recently, reports have emerged that Msgr. Ricca has since offered to resign. The French news agency I Media tweeted that the monsignor had submitted his resignation to the Pope on July 20, shortly before the Holy Father left for Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day.
The Vatican Bank has been embroiled in scandal over the past months, after Italian authorities arrested a Vatican accountant, accusing him of alleged involvement in a plot to smuggle 17 million euros from Switzerland on a private jet.
The allegations led to the July 1 resignations of IOR’s director, Paolo Cipriani, and deputy director, Massimo Tulli.
The institution, which more closely resembles a financial facility to manage charitable funds than a bank, has been tarnished by accusations of failing to meet international transparency standards intended to combat money laundering and tax evasion. It is currently trying to clean up its image after a long history of scandalous allegations.
Edward Pentin is the Register's Rome correspondent.