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Vatican downplays corruption claim

Archbishop Vigano, now apostolic nuncio to the US, apparently said there was a corruption problem at Vatican City in a letter to Benedict XVI (Photo: CNS)

The Vatican’s spokesman has downplayed references to “corruption” in a letter apparently sent to Pope Benedict XVI by a Vatican official who is now apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Fr Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office, criticised as “partisan” “partial and banal” an Italian television news programme, which broadcast portions of letters addressed to Pope Benedict and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State.

The letters were apparently signed by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano and written when he was the secretary general of the commission governing Vatican City.

One of the letters, dated April 4, 2011, said that when Archbishop Vigano took office almost two years earlier, he discovered a “disastrous situation” of “chaotic management” and overspending on contracts.

The letter also complained of a “media campaign” launched by opponents of the archbishop’s efforts at reform, and implored the Pope not to remove him from his job, “even for promotion to a more important post”.

The Pope named Archbishop Vigano as nuncio to the US in October 2011.

The commission manages the 108 acres of Vatican City State, including the Vatican Gardens and Museums.

During Archbishop Vigano’s stint as the commission’s second-highest official, a budget deficit of nearly $9.8 million in 2009 turned into a surplus of $28 million in 2010.

According to Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian journalist who hosted the broadcast, the archbishop’s reforms included cutting the cost of the Christmas nativity scene in St Peter’s Square by more than 250,000 euros and lowering expenses for maintaining the Vatican Gardens by some 800,000 euros.

In a written statement, Fr Lombardi praised Archbishop Vigano’s tenure at the commission as one of “administrative rigour, savings, and rectification of a generally difficult economic situation”. However, he noted that other factors, including a rise in attendance at the Vatican Museums, help to explain the improved finances during the period in question.

The principles of “correct and healthy administration and of transparency” that inspired the archbishop continue today to guide the management of the commission, Fr Lombardi said.

The letter to Cardinal Bertone, dated March 27, 2011, eight days before the letter to Pope Benedict, complained of the cardinal’s plans to remove Archbishop Vigano from his post, accusing him of breaking a promise to let the archbishop succeed the then president of the commission, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, upon the latter’s retirement.

According to the letter, Cardinal Bertone had mentioned unspecified “tensions” within the commission to explain Archbishop Vigano’s reassignment, but the letter’s author suggested that an Italian newspaper article criticising the archbishop as incompetent had contributed to the decision.

During the broadcast featuring the letters, Mr Nuzzi was joined by Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, who voiced scepticism at the suggestion that a post as prestigious as that of nuncio to the US could be considered a demotion.

Mr Vian also noted that, according to usual practice, number two officials of Vatican offices are rarely promoted to the top job.

The apostolic nunciature in Washington declined to comment.

Fr Lombardi would neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the letters, which were shown on screen during the broadcast; but his statement deplored the “publication of private documents”.

He also suggested that the Vatican might pursue legal action to protect the reputations of Vatican officials named in the broadcast, including investment advisers whose recommendations purportedly led the Vatican to lose 2.5 million euros in a single transaction.