God's Bankers
A History of Money and
Power at the Vatican

Gerald Posner
(Simon & Schuster)
The news of the incipient holocaust began to leak out to the world long before the Wannsee Conference, which would mean early 1942. About people, you-and-me people, that are being shot and stabbed and beaten and gassed and strangled and buried alive.

And this news also starts edging into the Holy See there in Rome. Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII was informed of Hitler's 2 February 1942 speech, where he said that "The Jews will be liquidated for a thousand years."

He knew, too, a month later, of other ominous signs: an SS officer reported to the Nuncio in Berlin, Cesare Orsenigo, telling of the murder of "eight hundred Jews at the death camp Belźec."

And, then, during the summer, the archbishop of Ruthenia in the southern Ukraine reported to the Vatican that "the number of of Jews massacred in our small region has certainly exceeded 200,000." And, shortly after, when the Polish government-in-exile advised that "700,000 Jews had been killed since the Nazi invasion and even cited the exsistence of gas vans at the Chelmno death camp." And, then, there was a report from the Geneva office of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, which passed along an account of German war crimes from two surviving eyewitnesses, "Liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto is taking place,"

    without distinction all Jews, irrespective of age or sex, are being removed from the ghetto in groups and shot. Their corpses are utilized for making fats and their bones for the manufacture of fertilizer.

"The report went on to detail mass executions in Lwów and Belźec."

Response from the Vatican to these news reports, in 1942, and in 1943, and in 1944, and in 1945 was . . . zilch. Nada. Nothing. No me toca.

Move ahead to the spring and summer of 1945. Certain Germans are trying to avoid being caught by the "Nazi Hunters." So who did they contact? Bishop Alois Hudal, "the rector of the Pontificio Santa Maria dell'Anima."

    The Vatican picked him as the intermediary with the German ambassador during the 1943 roundup of Rome's Jews.

"Franz Stangl was the commandant of the notorious Sobibor and Treblinka death camps, where an estimated 1,000,000 to 1,250,000 Jews and Gypsies were gassed." In interview with Gitta Sereny, published in Into the Darkness: An Examination of Conscience (Vintage Books, 1983), Stangl told Sereny, "I heard of a Bishop Hudal at the Vatican in Rome who was helping Catholic SS officers, so that's where we went . . . I had no idea how one went about finding a bishop at the Vatican." Other Germans led him to a rectory, where he met Hundal, who "put out both hands to welcome him. 'You must be Franz Stangl,' Hundal said in German, 'I was expecting you."

    Hundal put Stangal at the Germanikum, a Jesuit hostel for German theological students. He remained there until his Red Cross passport arrived, at which time Hudal gave him some money and sent him packing to Syria.

Let's move ahead to 1979. Several Italian prosecutors were investigating Vatican insiders who had been involved in money laundering, manipulating stock prices, "and passing any profits through different countries to circumvent taxes and restrictions on the export of the lira." In a period of a year, four of the investigators --- Emilio Alessandrini, Giorgio Ambrosoli, Bioris Giuliano and Emanuele Basile --- were shot to death on streets in various cities of Italy. Soon after, "A team of five financial forensics police inspectors abandoned plans to trace lost funds transferred abroad by Banca Privata Italiana." BPI was owned by Michele Sidona, an attorney who did extensive legal work in, for, and within the IOR, the Vatican Bank.

This is a fat book, running well over 700 pages, with fairly small type --- at least too small for some of us anciens to read comfortably. The bibliography runs ten pages, the index more than 30 pages, and the notes --- in what looks to be four-point type to my old eyes --- a staggering 170 pages.

Almost all you could want to find about the financial ins and outs of the Vatican are here, but it makes for dismal reading: we find ourselves hoping that those running the show might show some compassion, but they seem always to be run by passion merely to say nothing, avoid any controversy.

600,000,000 people in the world pay homage to the Mother Church, but we learn here that compassion is rather rare, for in truth, the church is a billion dollar industry feeding off peoples' hopes and their fears. Their sacred institution is one where the divine includes off-shore banking, stock speculation, and, apparently, no accountability anywhere.

A run through Google offers the surprising fact that there have been not all that many newspaper or magazine reviews of this astonishing book, and few telling of the stoic silence of Pope Pius during the twelve years of Nazi rule. And certainly no mention that the Vatican was the first state to give official recognition to Nazi Germany in 1933. In July of that year, the church signed a Reichskonkordat with Germany recognising Hitler's brand new government. The agreement included a clause that "required German bishops and cardinals to swear an oath of loyalty to the Third Reich."

In a recent review of Posner's book, the Catholic Insight hurries over the facts about the Church's early support of Hitler's regime, and its consequent silence during the mass killings in Europe and in Eastern Europe, ones that began long before the onset of WWII. The Insight's analysis of the book also comes up with a slight misreading of the central message of God's Bankers. Paula Adamick's on-the-one-hand-this on-the-other-hand-that review ends,

    A careful reading should also prompt Catholic readers to notice how, despite everything, the spiritual role of Holy Mother Church in the history of mankind has always remained above the fray. All due to the salvific grace of its founder, Jesus Christ, and to the graces He bestows on mankind to fulfill His sacred mandate, despite the schemes and machinations of its errant members.
In a follow-up article in the Los Angeles Times to the publication of this book, Posner wrote,

    When Francis was the cardinal of Buenos Aires, an author asked him about those sealed documents [about the Church silence during the Holocaust]. "What you said about opening the archives relating to the Shoah seems perfect to me," said the future pontiff. "They should open them and clarify everything. The objective has to be the truth."

    Since Francis was so unequivocal before he became pope, there was high hope that he would quickly release the documents to independent historians for review. Despite pleas from Jewish groups and leaders during his visit to Jerusalem in May, he did nothing.

    It is time for Francis to free the files. It would burnish his reformer pedigree. And it is an act that could not be reversed. In so doing, Francis would send the unequivocal message that his insistence on transparency is not simply a buzzword but a theme he insists on applying to the finances of the church, both in its past and going forward. He would cement his reputation as the tough new sheriff in town.

The effect of Posner's detective work ultimately brings the reader to despair. We are surprised that he --- a practicing Catholic --- was able to follow through. Me? I had to leave off reading God's Bankers around page 250. Not for lack of interest, but because I was unwilling to take any more. All this was going on for the last eighty years, and no one was willing to drag the Vatican to its own confessional. The Mea Culpa of averting the holy eyes when there is bad stuff going on right next door.

Maybe those of us who grew up in the arms of the Mother Church are better off going to Mass and saying our Hail Marys and pretending that one diligent reporter did not spend years of research proving that our favorite golden palace there on the hill could be an institution whose main business is something we are all familiar with --- in this instance, a very ironical "making a killing." And all the while covering itself by pretending that it is but a poor bystander, innocent of the sin of ignoring the deaths of 6,000,000 innocents, the great church, poor as a church-mouse.

Mice and rats, we have to point out, do figure large in God's Bankers. The exit for Nazis running from their WWII crimes through the Vatican and direct to the Middle East or South America was nicknamed . . . are you ready? . . . The Ratline.

--- Terrence O'Halihan
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