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Gerald T. Slevin: Philly Criminal Trial Reveals Vatican’s Fatal Strategy

 

As the jury in the Philadelphia archdiocesan trial continues to be deadlocked, and as Catholics and others concerned about the issue of abuse of minors by Catholic clerics continue to monitor this trial, Jerry Slevin has provided another valuable statement dealing with the situation in Philadelphia and its implications from a more “global” perspective, and placing this situation against the backdrop of Vatican concerns and Vatican politics.  What follows is Jerry’s statement: 

VATICAN’S STRATEGIC CHOICES: (A) HOPEFUL TRANSPARENCY OR (B) FATAL SECRECY

Assume you were a key executive for a couple of decades of a multinational religious organization. What would you choose?

By 1992, twenty years ago, you and your executive team knew that numerous top executives had for years tolerated, and often likely covered-up, many potentially criminal acts by employees involving sexual assaults on children.

By 2002, with the publicity from the Boston and Irish abuse scandals, key executives were facing escalating financial and legal risks from victims’ claims and from  prosecutors’ charges.

By 2012, the organization’s reputation had suffered dramatically, thereby reducing  revenues from contributions, while costs, especially legal expenses, continued to climb.

In 1992, there had been a clear choice still available : (A) hopeful transparency and being authentic, while endeavoring to curtail priest misconduct by organizational reforms, or (B) fatal secrecy and being duplicitous, while hoping to ride out the storm by vigorously resisting criminal charges and financial claims.

By 2012, the consequences of the original choice of Plan B made by 1992 were irreversible and dismal. The relentless governmental forces applying the rule of law were steadily crashing through the Vatican’s defenses in many countries.

Leaving compelling Gospel mandates aside for a moment, Plan A’s transparency choice had entailed high risks of (1) significant financial liability, (2) some leadership prosecutions and (3) indeterminate reputational damage, i.e., “scandal.” To successfully avoid Plan A’s risks by choosing Plan B’s secrecy, it is evident that Plan B would at a minimum have required the CEO, in this case, the pope: (a) to accept the ruthless handling of victims’ claims, (b) to seek significant influence over prosecutors’ political superiors and over corporate media coverage, and (c) to require maximum secrecy, tight discipline and financial controls throughout the organization. To maintain secrecy, bishops had to be chosen on the basis of their unswerving blind loyalty, and persons perceived as potentially “uncontrollable,” like married or female priests, had to be forbidden. To maintain tight discipline, maximum sexual repression had to be required, or so it appeared to the Vatican.

The  incontrovertible disclosures from the just completed Philly criminal trial of two cardinals’ former top aide are clear, detailed and unambiguous.  These unchallenged disclosures are unaffected by any outcome of complicated legal charges against the top Philly aide, Monsignor Lynn, relating to conspiracy and endangerment. The outcome of the charges against Lynn cannot negate the major disclosures he made about his superiors’ massive cover-up.

Plan B was clearly chosen and followed in Philly. The implications for the Vatican are most troublesome. The Vatican’s key Philly executives, over a dozen bishops, including three prominent cardinals, have been shown to have pursued for decades Plan B, with Vatican acquiescence if not occasional direction. It appears obvious that the Philly Plan B approach was and may still be the standard operating procedure for the worldwide Catholic Church.

The catastrophic consequences for the Vatican of having chosen and followed Plan B are now cascading through Rome and feeding into other Vatileaks revelations. Together, they are inundating and threatening the continuation of the current imperial papacy, which now, along with its worldwide bishops, is potentially facing unprecedented criminal charges and  financial liability with no relief in sight.  Meanwhile, contributions from Catholics, the Church’s life blood, are being seriously negatively impacted by the scandal.

The links of the Vatican to the Philly case have been and are both extensive and long standing.  Ironically, the still unfolding failure of Plan B is resulting in the realization of many of the risks that were inherent had Plan A been pursued and failed, with even worse consequences than the Vatican may have anticipated.

PAPAL STONEWALLING 40 YEARS AFTER WATERGATE

Forty years ago, the Washington Post‘s top editor and his two key reporters investigating the Nixon White House, were told by a then secret whistleblower to “follow the money.” They did, leading to the first resignation of a U.S. president following the “Saturday Night Massacre” when President Nixon fired the Watergate Prosecutor, Harvard Law School’s Archibald Cox. Two years ago, this editor’s wife compared the pope’s current plight to Nixon’s Watergate scandal and called upon the pope to resign.

Having worked for Archibald Cox as a law student, I then indicated to the pope in a Washington Post article two years ago that Prosecutor Cox would surely have observed that the pope would fail if he continued following a Nixon-style stonewalling strategy on priest sexual abuse of children, especially in this Internet age. The pope didn’t listen. He is now reaping what he sowed.

Last Saturday night, the pope met privately with three trusted senior cardinals apparently to assess their joint survival plans in the midst of continuing leaks of more embarrassing papal documents, even after the firing of the pope’s top banker and the arrest of his butler, evidently both actions having the pope’s blessing. Complicating this are new reports that the Vatican Bank will soon fail many of the European bank regulators’ financial practices tests due apparently to the Bank’s past misconduct and present shortcomings, including reportedly laundering money for the Sicilian Mafia.

Meanwhile, Italian investigators are continuing to analyze numerous “self-protection” files seized during a recent surprise police raid on the fired Vatican bankers’ home. A few days ago, the pope told Irish Catholics their numerous and massive scandals involving priest sexual abuse of children are a “mystery.”  There are, as indicated below, ways in which the Vatican Bank scandal and the abuse scandal may be related. Not really “mysteries,” it appears, as much as possible crimes that government prosecutors are still currently investigating.

Since the Vatican is frequently secretive and at times even seemingly disingenuous as to its real situation and strategy, one must infer from its reported actions what is really going on.  Some will object that this is “conspiracy theorizing” and disrespectful  and should be avoided. But do Catholics really have any other alternative?

Jesus said unequivocally we must protect children. Today, children are clearly still too often unprotected in the Catholic Church. For example, U.S. bishops recently failed again at their national meeting to make bishops fully accountable for overseeing child protection matters. So Catholics have little choice but to look past the hierarchy’s mystical smokescreens and endless diversions. If there is in fact a continuing conspiracy against children, as there surely appears to be,  Catholics must call it by its correct name. Most importantly, all Catholics are commanded by Jesus himself to do their best to end it.

THE  VATICAN’S CURRENT  COUNSELORS

The pope, and the three cardinals he recently turned to in his effort to save his imperial papacy, are all in their eighties. They share some significant common experiences, which will likely affect their individual assessments and proposed solutions. Much of their critical formative Catholic youth occurred during the papacy of Pope Pius XI, whose formative youth in turn occurred under Pope Pius IX, before the first Vatican Council and the 1870 loss of the popes’ centuries-old Kingdom of the Papal States.  Each of these octogenarians was raised as a young man in an anti-modernist Church, where scholastic philosophy, biblical fundamentalism, rote catechetics, triumphalistic history and monarchical popes reigned supreme.

Each of these octogenarians also as youths lived at critical times in difficult circumstances directly under the totalitarian dictators, Hitler, Mussolini and/or Franco. Each of them has had significant Vatican curial experience, and one of them served for some time in Sicily, where the reported  money laundering originated.  In short, they each grew up in the pre-Vatican II Church. They all have extensive experience with both operating under the pretensions of papal monarchy, as well as dealing with earlier major external threats to the monarchy’s survival.

THE VATICAN’S CURRENT PLIGHT

Can we discern any common denominator to the current papal problems that these octogenarians are assessing? There appears to be one: MONEY,  or at least the related possibility that the Vatican and its worldwide bishops-dominated organization may run out of it soon, at a time when the hierarchy may need more to survive financially, and in some cases to pay the legal costs of defending against criminal prosecution.

Why have a Vatican Bank these days? Why not just rely on international commercial banks the way many international organizations and even some governments do? The answer appears to be that the Vatican Bank has provided the Vatican with both secrecy and profits. Ominously also, at least one major international bank recently refused to do further business with the Vatican Bank, namely, at J.P. Morgan’s office in Milan, Italy’s financial center.

Monarchs, including popes, for many centuries preferred secrecy. If these monarchs  were generally not accountable to their subjects, why let their subjects know about their finances? This is what Popes Pius IX, Pius XI and Pius XII learned and followed, and what the four current Vatican octogenarians were weaned on and apparently generally prefer.

Unfortunately, in today’s digital economy that relies on internationally regulated computerized money transfer systems, even local banking has worldwide financial and digital connectivity. After the 9/11 attacks revealed terrorist exploitation of a loosely regulated “funds transfer system” among banks, international bank regulators began to demand greater transparency and policing of secret accounts. This apparently was hardly a welcome development for the Vatican Bank.

This post 9/11 regulatory development explains the new bank regulatory environment that may be flushing out some shady Vatican Bank transactions, but it does not really explain why after the several major Vatican banking scandals that had already occurred on these octogenarians’ watch, the Vatican is apparently still engaged in questionable financial transactions. Some Vatican Bank officials had to have been aware of these transactions and their questionable character, yet permitted them. Why? Was this the source of friction with the pope’s fired banker? This will likely be disclosed more completely by governmental regulators very soon.

A common explanation, found in other banking scandals, is that secret transactions are often also significant sources of bank profits. Was this very important to the Vatican? It would be if there were a perceived need that generating greater profits is a key part of the Vatican’s current strategy. The Vatican really doesn’t issue comprehensive and independently certified profit and loss statements that one might rely on, but it seems clear the Vatican has an increasing need for more money. Disgraced child sex abuser,  Maciel, seemed to understand this well with his frequent cash payments to influential Cardinals and reportedly even to Pope John Paul II as well.

Vatican revenue reductions surely are  resulting from the mass exodus from the Church of Catholics in wealthier Western countries, who obviously take their contributions with them. Some in European countries in these tough economic times also are calling for ending or reducing the large existing government subsidies to the Catholic Church. The pursuit of critically needed additional Church revenues has had repercussions even beyond possibly leading to apparent financial misdeeds at the Vatican Bank.

It appears that greater attention is being given currently by the Vatican to large papal donors such as members of the Knights of Malta and The Papal Foundation and to the leadership of the Knights of Columbus. It also appears that a form of “quid pro quo” for greater contributions to the Vatican from  some of the wealthiest donors is greater papal support for national political parties whose policies advance the interests of the wealthy donors.

For example, in the U.S. the current papal anti-contraception “religious liberty” crusade appears directed at electing a political party that will extend the Bush tax breaks that favor the 0.1 % wealthiest, while support for preserving U.S. government programs for the poorest donors is being postponed by U.S. bishops until after the election. This crusade is supported by members of the Knights of Malta and Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus. Anderson is also a former Reagan Administration staffer and on the Vatican Bank’s supervisory board.

In return for papal support, the pope can likely be expecting his U.S. donors (A) to contribute some of their many billions of dollars of U.S. federal  tax savings to the Vatican and (B) to support the pope and bishops’ lobbying efforts to reduce the risks for U.S. bishops of Federal criminal prosecution and financial liability, including by appointing more “pope friendly” U.S. Supreme Court Justices to replace the several expected to retire soon.

Moreover, a significant part of the Vatican’s recent multi-year investigation of the American Sisters has been related to assessing their financial assets. Given last year’s legally contested effort by Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley to get more control over some Boston Sisters’ pension financial reserves, it is likely that the recent and continuing attempt of the Vatican to get quick control over many American Sisters’ religious orders has some financial motivations.

So clearly the Vatican is experiencing some significant revenue stresses that appear to be playing a key role in some of the Vatican’s actions which are often wrapped in smokescreens like opposing contraception and masturbation, or associating with the prominent moral theologian, Fr. Charles Curran, who is apparently still on the Vatican’s hit list. It does not yet appear that the Vatican is seeking to get a piece of the Girl Scouts’ cookie revenues, but stay tuned, it is still not over! Who would have thought the pope would try to push to make his anti-contraception insurance position as the law of the land in the U.S.?

What about the Vatican’s expenses? The escalating and significant negative financial impact on the Vatican,  and on the worldwide bishops as well, of the sex abuse scandal may be the major financial factor driving current Vatican policy. The costs are in the billions and are likely to continue for many years to come in more and more countries.

Having chosen Plan B above, the current Vatican leadership seems incapable of containing the abuse scandal effectively or efficiently. As the pope told the International Eucharistic Congress meeting in Dublin last Sunday, he thinks the abuse scandal is a “mystery.” Will he and the other octogenarians solve this mystery? The odds are against this.

The choice of Plan B appears to have had other implications. Clearly, one way to curtail priest abuse is by expelling predatory priests more quickly and expanding the priest candidate pool by permitting married and female priests to replace them. In lieu of this needed expansion, the Vatican instead has pursued ineffective half-measures like moving around foreign priests, poaching Anglican priests and pushing “retro” priests from the cult-like reactionary groups. This has mainly failed to solve the problem.

Theologically, married priests are clearly permitted. And the pope’s own Pontifical Biblical Commission has indicated there are no Scriptural impediments to female priests.

So what’s the problem? Under Plan B above, it was essential  to be able to keep the hierarchy’s secret sins. To do this new bishops have evidentally been picked in part for their willingness to maintain the secrets. Eventually, married and female priests would likely have wanted to know the “secrets.” Until now, it appears that the Vatican had concerns that married priests and women priests presented too great a risk and might not keep the secrets, especially about rampant child abuse. Now that the Philly trial and Vatileaks are uncovering the secrets anyway, married and woman priests may be less of a risk for the Vatican.

Will the octogenarians save the imperial papacy? That is very unlikley. The next pope could make a difference, but probably won’t, given the way cardinals have been selected in recent decades. A broad-based ecumenical council held away from Rome with empowered lay and women members could have some very positive potential, but it is unlikley to be called by the octogenarians or existing cardinals in the near term, anyway.

It appears that the only crucial force for change in the Church will be the pressure from criminal and bankruptcy courts throughout the world. It is already beginning to happen. Vatican officials have run out of places to hide, as the Philly trial and Vatileaks are showing us in real time. Instead, some of them are pointing fingers by leaks at others, hoping to enhance their own positions and save their own neck. Too little too late.

Cross-posted at Bilgrimage, 21 June 2012.

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One Response

  1. Thanks once again, Jerry. Too little too late says it all.

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