The Vatican has branded as “criminal” the publication this weekend of confidential papal documents exposing the internal power struggles surrounding possible corruption and mismanagement involving international money laundering, the Associated Press reported.
Already dubbed “Vatileaks,” the scandal had been brewing for months and was further inflamed with Saturday’s publication of “His Holiness,” a book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, that included a trove of Pope Benedict XVI’s correspondence.
Vatican officials are threatening criminal action against the author who exposed the alleged corruption and infighting. Keeping secrets of wrongdoing, financial and moral, is not unusual for the Vatican, where it is apparently believed that confession may be good for the soul but not for the Church.
Sixty-seven years after the fall of the Third Reich, the Vatican remains the only country that refuses to open its Holocaust-era archives, fueling speculation that it has a lot to hide. Despite repeated promises to be more forthcoming, the Vatican has been slow and parsimonious about opening those records to scholars, both Jewish and Catholic.
It is of particular concern as the Church moves ahead to canonize its wartime leader, Pope Pius XII, whose relations with the Third Reich continue to be a source of much controversy – and very likely much embarrassment. His Vatican-sanctioned biographer labeled him “Hitler’s Pope.”
The author, Catholic scholar John Cornwell, found the Pope’s wartime actions drew the Church “into complicity with the darkest forces of the era.” Pius XII was an anti-Semite who “prevented Catholic protest in defense of Jews, even if they’d converted to Christianity,” Cornwall found.
The ongoing effort to deny full access to Pius XII’s records even as his beatification proceeds has revived the controversy over his papacy, especially in light of the fact that the archives of his predecessor, Pius XI, who died in 1939, have long been available to scholars.
Documents discovered at the U.S. National Archives indicate the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime in Croatia systematically plundered and killed Jews, Serbs and gypsies. At the end of the war, Ustasha leaders fled to Rome with an estimated $80 million in stolen gold, which the Church helped to conceal. The Vatican gave them sanctuary at the pontifical College of San Girolamo. Cornwell says some of the gold was kept by the Vatican to pay for false passports and identities and escape routes for fleeing war criminals.
It is long overdue for the Vatican to let the sun shine in on this dark era.