Report: Vatican Invested Peter’s Pence Funds in Elton John Biopic

According to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the investment in the film came via Vatican funds channeled through a Malta-based investment fund run by an Italian financier who lives in Switzerland.

(photo: Register Files)

The Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera has reported that Vatican prosecutors are investigating how funds from Peter’s Pence have been allegedly invested in loss-making enterprises as well as a movie censored in some countries because of its explicit homosexual scenes.

In the latest in a string of recent stories involving financial misconduct at the Holy See, the Secretariat of State reportedly invested more than $1 million in the movie Rocketman, a biopic of the singer Elton John, and $3.6 million in Men in Black: International.

The first major Hollywood studio release to include an on-screen homosexual sex scene, Rocketman was censored in a number of locations, including Russia, Malaysia, Samoa and the Cook Islands, as well as temporarily on Delta Airlines.

Peter’s Pence refers to financial support offered by the faithful to the Pope, which according to the Vatican are “destined to Church needs, to humanitarian initiatives and social promotion projects, as well as to the support of the Holy See.”

According to the Corriere della Sera article, written by Mario Gerevini and Fabrizio Massaro, the movie investments are just a small amount of the Vatican’s funds, millions of which are reportedly handled by an investment company in Malta called the Centurion Global Fund. At least two-thirds of the capital entrusted to it, according to various and reliable sources, comes from the Secretariat of State, the article says.

The head of the fund is Enrico Crasso, a 71-year-old Italian financier and recipient of a papal medal who lives in Switzerland. Gerevini and Massaro allege that Crasso has been a “reference point for many financial transactions,” that he “managed the Vatican coffers for years,” and been the recipient of “millions of euros in commissions.”

Their report goes on to say he has managed to raise 70 million euro through investments, some of which are “nothing short of speculative.” In particular, the article singles out Crasso’s 6 million-euro stake in Italia Independent, a company owned by Lapo Elkann, the grandson of the late Fiat company-owner, Gianni Agnelli. The newspaper says the deal currently “looks like a loss.”

More significantly, the article alleges Crasso played a “central role” in the 2014 purchase of a luxury London property, made through a 200 million-pound speculative loan taken out by the Secretariat of State. The deal, which led to a substantial commission for the main broker of the deal, Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, has drawn widespread criticism, with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, admitting it was “rather opaque” and that the Vatican is “working to clear everything up.”

According to Corriere’s report, Crasso’s fund also made various other multimillion-euro investments in Italy, including 1.3 million euro in an Italian internet start-up that lost 39,000 euro in 2018. The company’s president has “important contacts” in the Secretariat of State, Gerevini and Massaro write.

The fund’s largest investment is 16 million euro in the Swiss-Swedish technology giant ABB, while it also made loans worth 4.5 million euro to a small construction company in Rome.

Overall, Gerevini and Massaro write that at the end of last year, the Centurion fund “had lost 4.61%, that’s about €2 million. And most of that ended up in executives’ pockets by way of commissions.”

Asked what the precise connection is between the Secretariat of State and Crasso’s fund, the Vatican told Corriere della Sera that “investigations are in progress, and lines of enquiry which may help clarify the position of the Holy See with respect to the aforementioned funds and any others, are currently being examined by the Vatican judiciary, in collaboration with the competent authorities.”

In his new book, Giudizio Universale (Last Judgement), Italian investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi writes that, according to Cardinal Angelo Becciu, former deputy of the Secretariat of State, only 10%-15% of Peter’s Pence goes to charity. The rest, he said, is used to fund the maintenance of Church structures. Nuzzi’s book reveals that much is opaque, assets are mismanaged, and the annual contribution by the faithful to Peter’s Pence is declining.

In October, the Vatican denied claims Nuzzi makes in his book that the Holy See risks default over its structural deficit. The Vatican hasn’t published a budget since 2015 and has been without an in-house auditor since the previous one, Libero Milone, was ousted in 2017. Milone, whom the Vatican exonerated of wrongdoing last year, said he was framed and dismissed because he was getting too close to uncovering financial corruption in the Curia.

Similar mismanagement of Vatican funds is not new.

In 2012, then-Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone pushed the Vatican, against professional advice, including from then Vatican Bank president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, to invest 15 million euro in convertible bonds with Lux Vide, an Italian film company founded by Ettore Bernabei, a friend of Cardinal Bertone.

Although the company made films suitable for the family and on the Catholic faith, the investment resulted in a 15 million-euro loss to the Vatican Bank.

A hearing in the Vatican finance trial on Nov. 17, 2021.

The Puzzle of the Peter’s Pence and the Vatican London Deal

While the circumstances surrounding the property’s purchase are the focus of the ongoing trial in the Vatican courts, with accusations of fraud and embezzlement against 10 people, the question of how Peter’s Pence has been raised requires a look behind the scenes.