New books allege financial scandals at the Vatican

Rome (CNN)Vatican documents and taped conversations, leaked to Italian journalists and published in two new books, allegedly reveal numerous financial scandals and extravagant expenditures in the Vatican as well as the private admonitions of Pope Francis to his closest advisers.

"Something isn't right! We have to get this problem under control," the Pope is alleged to have said during a meeting with his financial oversight committee in July 2013. The conversation is detailed in the book "Merchants in the Temple," by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, which was published on Wednesday.
The book claims the Pope complained to the committee in particular about the excessive number of employees hired at the Vatican and inflated bills from outside contractors, hired and paid without due diligence.
    "It's no exaggeration to say that most of our costs are out of control," the Pope is alleged to have said. "We always have to check the legality and clarity of contracts with the utmost attention."
    "Clarity. That what's done in the most humble companies, and we have to do it, too." the Pope said, according to the book.
    The other allegations of financial scandal that emerge from that book, and a second one also published today in Italian called "Avarizia" ("Avarice"), are:
    • Peter's Pence, the Pope's fund for charity, financed by a yearly collection in dioceses around the world and by donations to the Pope, is actually diverted in large part to cover expenses of the Vatican administration. "Of the 53.2 million euros taken in through the Peter's Pence (2012), a good 35.7 million (67%) was spent on the Curia," the book states. The uses of the fund, according to the report, are kept secret and excluded from the Vatican's yearly financial report;
    • The Vatican bank still holds accounts open for Pope John Paul I (with a balance of 110,864 euros) and Pope Paul VI (balance of 125,310 euros and another account for 296,151 dollars). Both popes died 37 years ago;
    • The Vatican's real estate holdings total 2.7 billion euros, more than seven times what is declared in its financial reports;
    • Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See's secretary of state under former Pope Benedict XVI, took a 23,000-euro helicopter ride to southern Italy paid for by funds for sick children from a Catholic Hospital, apparently to do "marketing" for the hospital;
    • The same hospital, Bambin Gesu, paid 200,000 euros for enlarging Cardinal Bertone's apartment at the Vatican, an allegation which the hospital confirmed, according to the author of the book, claiming they were also hoping to use the apartment for "institutional" purposes.

    Vatican considering legal actions against authors

    A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said most of the books' allegations were "already known," since they come from an investigation spurred by the Pope himself.
    "These issues return to the fore periodically," Lombardi said, "but are always occasions for curiosity and polemics."
    Lombardi also defended the Vatican's spending of Peter's Pence donations, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says are used to aid those "who are suffering as a result of war, oppression, natural disaster, and disease."
    "The Pope's works of charity for the poor are certainly one of the essential uses, but is certainly not the intention of the faithful to exclude the possibility that the Pope himself may evaluate situations of urgency and the way of responding, in the light of his service for the good of the universal Church," Lombardi said. "The Pope's service also includes the Roman Curia, as an instrument of his service."
    On Monday, the Vatican arrested a priest and a laywoman in connection with the leaks. Since 2013, "theft and dissemination of confidential information and documents" has been a crime at the Vatican.
    Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, secretary of the prefecture for economic affairs, and Francesca Chaouqui, arrested by the Vatican on Monday, both were nominated by Pope Francis in 2013 to form part of a committee to study the economic and administrative problems of the Vatican.
    Chaouqui was subsequently released for cooperating with the investigation, according to the Vatican.
    The Vatican also announced possible legal action against the authors of the two books.
    "Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establishing clarity and truth," the Vatican said in a statement on Monday, "but rather create confusion through partial and tendentious interpretations."
    "We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope," the Vatican said.