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Vatican Big Brother

“Everyone was spied on in the Vatican,” Ignazio Ingrao, Panorama magazine’s Vatican expert, declared in a telegraph.co.uk report dated March 1, 2013. He said the efforts “seemed eerily like a Vatican Big Brother,” a reference to the motto “Big Brother is watching you” in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.  

Recent testimonies in a Vatican financial crimes investigation and trial indicate the spying is ongoing.  

Msgr. Mauro Carlino gave his testimony in a Vatican courtroom this past March. As a former official in the Secretariat of State, he said he passed the Vatican Bank director’s phone number to a security expert hired by a Secretariat official “suggesting the phone was subsequently hacked,” The Pillar wrote.

Carlino said the Secretariat’s second highest official “authorized the action” because the bank director denied a loan to the Secretariat to cover their losses in the purchase of a London property, The Pillar reported on March 30.

Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the Secretariat’s sostituto, or No. 2 man, also “engaged an Italian intelligence officer to sweep his own offices and phones for electronic surveillance [because he] discovered that elements of his private conversations were regularly becoming known around the Vatican,” Vincenzo Mauriello, a former lay employee in the Secretariat, testified in the Vatican investigation, as reported by The Pillar on Feb. 10

“It is unclear why Peña Parra would have elected to use an Italian intelligence officer to secure his offices, instead of the Vatican’s own gendarmes who have considerable expertise in electronic surveillance [emphasis mine],” noted The Pillar.

“Perhaps there were things he didn’t want the Vatican’s own prosecutors to know?” Phil Lawler asked in an article for Catholic Culture.  “Eventually you realize, sadly, that some Vatican officials have good reason to worry about surveillance: They don’t want the truth to come out.” Lawler wrote.

“Luciano Capaldo, a property developer closely involved in the Secretariat’s plans for the London building … recounted that he put Carlino in touch with an IT security expert he knew after Carlino expressed concern that someone was interfering with his computer and mail,” Capaldo testified to Vatican investigators in April 2021.Additionally, Carlino’s “mobile phone was being monitored, possibly by Vatican authorities,” Capaldo stated as reported by The Pillar.

Spying was not confined to the Vatican. Capaldo told investigators that he had access to surveillance cameras inside the offices of Gianluigi Torzi, one of the brokers hired by the Secretariat to finalize the London deal. Capaldo passed information and images to Carlino “as required by the Secretariat of State,” The Pillar wrote.

A sordid history

When Ignazio Ingrao said “Everyone was spied on in the Vatican,” he was speaking just weeks before Pope Francis was elected on March 13, 2013.

Panorama magazine added that “the biggest and most detailed wiretapping operation ever conducted in the sacred palaces was conducted, and was still ongoing” as of the report dated March 1. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then sostituto in the Secretary of State, also “read emails of officials as part of an investigation into the so-called Vatileaks scandal,” the magazine stated as quoted by huffpost.com.

Vatileaks is the name given to “several high-profile and salacious scandals alleging corruption and sexual politics inside the Vatican” during 2012-2013, explained huffpost.com

Four months after his election, the first law enacted by Pope Francis criminalized the disclosure of Vatican secrets with a penalty of up to eight years in prison for any whistleblower.

EPILOGUE: Pope Francis himself exposed Vatican secrets

The discord and suspicion among Vatican departments and personnel, and the current testimony revealing extensive spying, is known to the public only because of Pope Francis’ own actions.

The purchase of the London commercial property was unknown until Vatican gendarmes raided offices of the Secretariat of State and the Financial Information Authority (AIF) on Oct. 1, 2019. They seized documents, computers, telephones and passports and blocked bank accounts.

The raid was Pope Francis’ response to information given him by the Vatican Bank regarding the Secretariat’s financial losses.

Five employees were suspended, four in the Secretariat and the AIF’s second highest official. Two of the Secretariat employees, Caterina Sansone and Vincenzo Mauriello, were never charged with any wrong-doing. Tommaso Di Ruzza, director of the AIF section acting as the Vatican’s financial watchdog, was described as “devoted to transparency and control to prevent illegal actions” by Vatican reporter Francesca Bernasconi.

Many Vatican reporters thought the raid unnecessary or having a hidden motive. “Could not these documents and electronic devices been requested and reviewed through ordinary channels?” asked Dr. Robert Moynihan. “The controversial raid … suggests that the investigation was sparked at least in part by fears that the AIF was being too aggressive in rooting out financial malfeasance that could have implicated high ranking Vatican officials,” cruxnow.com reported. “An attack by groups of interests is underway that did not like the attempt by the AIF to make the Vatican Bank accounts more transparent,” stated the Associated Press.

The Commandant of the Gendarmerie Corps, Domenico Giani, became the fall guy for the many criticisms. “Was not Giani acting under orders to carry out the Oct. 1 raid”? Moynihan asked. Nevertheless, “Giani understood that he was being ordered to submit his resignation letter,” noted Moynihan.

Replacing Giani is “the last act of an internal war that has been going on for months,” Fiorenza Sarzanini reported for Corriere della Sera. Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, Giani had a “not idyllic” relationship with Gianluca Gauzzi Broccoletti, appointed by Pope Francis in December 2018 as Vice Commandant, Sarzanini noted.

Pope Francis appointed Gauzzi Broccoletti, a cyber security expert, as Commandant two weeks after the raid. Is it any wonder that, afterwards, Secretariat employees did not trust their secrets to the “gendarmes considerable expertise in electronic surveillance”?

The Trial

A Vatican trial began on July 27, 2021, following an investigation by the prosecutors. Ten defendants were charged with a various financial crimes including fraud and embezzlement. Most were involved in the purchase of the London building. All ten defendants claimed their innocence.

Like the raid on Vatican employees, the trial is meant to give the appearance that Pope Francis takes financial corruption seriously. “I think this [proceeding] marks a turning point that can lead toward greater credibility regarding the Holy See’s financial affairs,” Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero, appointed by Pope Francis as head of the Secretariat for the Economy, said to the official Vatican News Agency.  

However, “the picture painted by [several testimonies] is not that the Vatican was fleeced, but rather that it negotiated a series of stunningly inept business deals, eyes wide open, which were fully endorsed and even applauded by the most senior figures in the system,” reported John L. Allen Jr. for cruxnow.com on April 10.

What we still don’t know

The Vatican Bank and APSA, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, are the two departments that are supposed to manage Vatican finance. The Secretariat had 350 million euros to buy a commercial building. How many more hundreds of millions euros do they have on hand? How much is being held in the other two-dozen-plus non-financial Vatican departments?

Regardless of Guerrero’s comment, almost all Vatican assets and  investments remain secret.

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.

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