Vatican defends whistleblower’s transfer to US

The Vatican has defended its transfer of a top official to Washington after he exposed alleged corruption in the awarding of Holy See contracts.

The Vatican also warned it could take legal action against a TV show that reported on the case. The Italian news programme showed letters from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano to Pope Benedict XVI begging not to be transferred after exposing corruption costing the Vatican millions of euro.

The Vatican said transferring the Italian to the prestigious post of apostolic nuncio to the US is proof of the Pope’s “undoubted esteem and faith”. The Holy See also said it would pursue “all opportune ways, if necessary legal ones” to protect the reputation of Vatican officials mentioned.

The respected Italian news programme obtained letters from the top Vatican official to the Pope in which he begs not to be transferred after exposing corruption.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano was removed in October as the number two administrator of the Vatican city-state and was named the Pope’s ambassador to Washington. While the job is highly prestigious, the posting took Vigano far from headquarters and out of the running for the Vatican’s top administrative job, which carries with it the rank of cardinal.

The investigative news programme The Untouchables on the private La7 network broadcast a series of letters Vigano sent Pope Benedict XVI and the secretary of state last year in which he claimed to have exposed corruption and abuse of office in the running of the Vatican’s administration.

Vigano said he corrected them during his two years as secretary-general of the Vatican city-state, the Vatican department that is responsible for everything from maintaining the Pope’s gardens to running the Vatican museums. However, in the process of cutting costs, Vigano made enemies whom he blamed for launching a smear campaign in the Italian media in 2011 calling for his removal that, he claimed, sealed his fate.

“Blessed Father, my transfer in this moment would provoke confusion and discouragement for those who thought it was possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and abuse of office” that for a long time have been rooted in the Vatican administration, Vigano wrote Benedict on March 27, 2011.

Seven months later he was named ambassador to Washington after the sudden death of the previous envoy following complications from surgery.

Vigano claimed that, when he came into office in 2009, he discovered a small coterie of businesses held the vast majority of Vatican contracts and charged the Holy See twice the going rate for services, according to the letters shown on the La7 report. The Vatican’s larger-than-life-sized nativity scene, for example, cost the Holy See €550,000 in 2009. Vigano said he trimmed the cost for the 2010 edition to €300,000.

He denounced the workings of an unofficial group of Italian bankers appointed after the global financial crisis to try to shore up the Vatican’s finances, charging that their management of two investment funds “resulted more in their own interests than ours.”

In one December 9 transaction they lost the Vatican $2.5 million, the letter on La7 said.

Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the recently retired head of the Vatican’s finance department, was asked by the show’s host if Vigano’s claims of corruption were well-founded.

“From what I know, I don’t think there was actual corruption,” De Paolis said. But he suggested there may well have been “instances of a lack of correctness” that can happen anywhere.

Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, insisted on the show that Vigano’s transfer to Washington wasn’t a punishment for exposing wrongdoing or stepping on too many toes.

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