The Washington Post recently published a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. It was a reminder of how, among other factors, President Nixon’s paranoia and suspicions of “press leaks” and “enemies” led to the only presidential resignation in U.S. history and the election of a Democrat, Jimmy Carter.
As I read this past week’s news about Pope Benedict, I couldn’t help but reflect on how he and his Curia are becoming so similar in their continuing response to the “Vatileaks” scandal.
In a recent article, Der Spiegle reported:
The mood at the Vatican is apocalyptic….Fear is running rampant in the Curia, where the mood has rarely been this miserable. It's as if someone had poked a stick into a beehive. Men wearing purple robes are rushing around, hectically monitoring correspondence. No one trusts anyone anymore, and some even hesitate to communicate by phone….The Italian newspaper, La Stampa, in its section “Vatican Insider,” is covering what one of their reporters termed “phase two” of this papacy in which Benedict has turned on his most loyal and trusted friends.
The pope’s hand-picked collaborator who co-wrote his encyclical and many other teachings about monetary morality, professor of financial ethics Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was dismissed as head of the Vatican Bank in what Der Speigle said was a disagreement over who would control Vatican finances. Gotti Tedeschi wanted transparency and cooperation with international financial authorities. His papal-backed adversaries who oppose this made press statements attacking Gotti Tedeschi’s character, including a psychiatric evaluation just as Nixon had tried to do with Daniel Ellsberg, provider of the Pentagon Papers to the press.
Gotti Tedeschi’s private papers were later seized by the Italian police and have been reported to contain extremely damaging confirmation of financial malfeasance. Gotti Tedeschi, reportedly in fear for his life, may yet become, like White House Counsel John Dean, a key witness to the Vatican’s criminal transactions.
The day after Gotti Tedeschi’s ouster, Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s valet, was arrested - still the only person identified as leaking official documents to the press. Most agree he is a scapegoat (Nixon had several) since this massive number of documents could not have been accumulated and copied in the papal apartment without notice. In addition, a member of the domestic staff wouldn’t be familiar with the type of documents which are most damaging like those confirming the Vatican Bank as an “offshore” facility used for money-laundering by politicians, businessmen and the Mafia or that the sex abuse scandal in the U.S. is viewed as only a question of how much money is needed to pay-off accusers to avoid more incriminating disclosures in trials.
Nixon dismissed his closest advisers, John Ehrlichman and H.R. “Bob” Haldeman. La Stampa reports that Benedict is preparing to replace his top two officials, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada.
As Nixon villified the press, Bertone stated the journalists who reported the leaked documents were fiction writers like Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), calling their information “lies” and “slander.”
Veteran Fox News reporter, Greg Burke, hired to do the same type of spin control as Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler, said he will “shape the news” issued from the Holy See’s press office. He is replacing current spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi.
Last Saturday, Benedict called a private meeting with five cardinals (in addition to the bishops’ oath of obedience, cardinals swear “not to divulge what may bring harm or dishonor to Holy Church”) to help him uncover the identity of the Deep Throat(s).
Nixon was famously anti-Semitic, a charge leveled against Benedict after he revised the Church’s Good Friday service in 2008 to include a prayer that Jews acknowledge Jesus as savior and another that “all Israel may be saved” through “recognition of the truth.” After being condemned by Jewish groups throughout the world, the prayers were omitted.
The European press has not been favorable to Benedict’s desire for reintegration of the schismatic group, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), into the Catholic Church. The religious order was founded by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a Vichy French collaborator and anti-Semite. SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson is an infamous Holocaust denier. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the SSPX to be a hate group “characterized by open anti-Semitism.”
When the excommunication of Williamson and three other SSPX prelates was lifted by Benedict in 2009, protests came from the German, Irish, French and Belgian governments, among others, as well as Israel’s chief rabbi and the U.S.’s Anti-Defamation League.
Meanwhile, the Vatican’s finances continue to come under scrutiny.
In September 2010, investigators froze €23 million in two Vatican accounts held in Italian banks for suspicion of money-laundering.
This past February, JP Morgan Chase closed the Vatican account in their Milan branch because the Church wouldn’t provide the provenance for the €1.5 billion moved through that account over an 18-month period.
Susan Pittman of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement spoke to Reuters in March after the Holy See was placed on their watch list of problematic countries for the first time. "With the large volumes of international currency that goes through the Holy See, it is a system that makes it vulnerable as a potential money-laundering center," she said.
Church officials are currently refusing to cooperate with a request made by Italian police that the Vatican Bank disclose records regarding the “vast sums of money” passed through the account of an Italian priest suspected of laundering money for a Mafia godfather.
A dysfunctional mothership might be a hindrance to the U.S. bishops’ campaigns to make the rich richer at the expense of the commonweal. If Pope Benedict was eventually replaced by someone with the morals and character of Jimmy Carter, the whole world would be a better place.