by Gianluigi Nuzzi
In March 2013, before the election of the new Pontiff, the prosecutors’ offices in Salerno and in Rome had begun an investigation into the financial activities of Monsignor Scarano, the chief accountant of the special section of APSA. According to the indictment, the evidence gathered, and various wiretaps— even during the tense, frenzied days of Benedict’s resignation and the preparations for the Conclave— instances emerged of money laundering and attempts to import large amounts of capital from abroad through illegal channels. In practice, according to the indictment, Monsignor Scarano provided a simple system of laundering money through his account at the IOR: he offered cashier’s checks for hundreds of thousands of euros in exchange for suitcases stuffed with 500 euro bills, which earned him the nickname, “Monsieur 500.”
The Case Against Monsignor Scarano
Monsignor Scarano, originally from Salerno, had worked in a bank before becoming a priest at the age of twenty- six. A lover of luxury, he had always enjoyed rubbing shoulders with celebrities, and could count among his friends jet setters from the world of cinema and television.
He befriended some of Italy’s most popular showgirls, like Michelle Hunziker. But his true passions had always been real estate and money. In Salerno he bought and remodeled a 700-square-meter house and started up various real estate companies. In Rome he lived in an apartment owned by APSA: 110 square meters, on Via Sant’ Agostino, a few blocks away from Piazza Navona and the Italian Senate. Unlike other illustrious cardinals over the age of eighty living in princely residences, Monsignor Scarano had to pay the rent: 740 euros a month. Similar apartments in the same neighborhood were commanding rents as much as three times greater.
Immediately after Francis’s election, disturbing rumors were circulating at the Curia and in Casa Santa Marta about a criminal investigation into the Monsignor Scarano. The newly elected Pope realized that he had to move with extreme caution. The situation did not materialize until May 29, after the deposition of Father Luigi Noli, an old friend of Scarano. As an employee of a central office of the Holy See, the APSA accountant enjoyed a kind of diplomatic immunity guaranteed by the Lateran Pacts signed in 1929 by the Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Gasparri, and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. The investigators had to pursue their leads with the utmost discretion, through the proper diplomatic channels, but they were able to formalize the arrest warrant.
The Pope’s Dilemma
The Pope was at a crossroads reminiscent of the dilemma faced by John Paul II in 1987, when the Italian Supreme Court rejected the arrest warrant that the Milanese prosecutors had issued against the President of the IOR, Paul Casimir Marcinkus, on the charge of fraudulent bankruptcy, and against Luigi Mennini and Pellegrino de Strobel. The Supreme Court’s ruling confirmed that the Italian court system had no jurisdiction over the actions of persons who report to the Vatican. The three men were found to be employees of a central office of a foreign state and therefore immune from prosecution without the authorization of senior Vatican officials, which would never be granted. After long discussions and negotiations, Marcinkus, Mennini, and de Strobel did not serve a single day in prison.
In the first weeks of Francis’s pontificate, the old nightmares resurfaced, starting with the Banco Ambrosiano scandal and the murder of its president, Roberto Calvi, whose body had been found hanging under the Blackfriars’ Bridge of London in 1982.
The Pope had to decide on the freedom of a man, of a priest, so he consulted his colleagues. Opinions were divided within the Secretariat of State and between cardinals strolling in conversation through the splendid gardens of the Vatican. Some felt that the warrant should be rejected, as had always been the case in the past. Allowing the arrest would set a disturbing precedent in the history of relations between Italy and the Vatican City, and future decisions would be held hostage to it. Francis listened in silence. Only later would everyone realize that his mind was already made up. The policy of a soft but decisive revolution prevailed: a tangible sign of his break with the past.
The Final Arrest
At dawn on June 28, 2013, Monsignor Scarano was placed in handcuffs and is currently facing two trials, one in Rome for corruption, and one in Salerno for money laundering. The Pope was not at the Vatican. He was on his way back from a trip to Brazil. When he was asked for a comment on the plane, his answer was unsparing: “Do you think Monsignor Scarano ended up in jail because he was similar to the Blessed Imelda?” The Holy Father was citing, ironically, the fourteenth Century child from Bologna who had died in ecstasy after receiving Holy Communion. His reply signaled the growing unbridgeable distance between the allies of Francis and his adversaries in the world of intrigue that characterized the finances of the Curia.
Gianluigi Nuzzi is an Italian journalist, nonfiction writer and TV anchorman. He is the author of two bestselling titles, Vaticano SpA and Sua Santità, which sold more than one million copies in Italy, Germany, France, Spain, the United States, Brazil and the Netherlands. He lives in Milan and is the author of MERCHANTS IN THE TEMPLE: Inside Pope Francis’s Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican.