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New Books Allege Years Of Financial Mismanagement At The Vatican


Now to the Vatican, which is embroiled in another scandal. Two books coming out this week allege long-running financial mismanagement at the Holy See. Most of the reporting is based on confidential sources. Vatican watchers say Pope Francis is facing strong opposition in his efforts to bring austerity and transparency to church finances. NPR's Silvia Poggioli joins us now from Rome. And Sylvia, what exactly are the books alleging here?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, they both contain revelations of waste and mismanagement at the Vatican. Today, the author of "Avarice," Emiliano Fittipaldi, told reporters that Pope Francis's efforts are going very slowly, that there's a lot of opposition from his cardinals, many of whom oppose his vision of a poor church for the poor. He says the Vatican acts like a merchant bank.

SIEGEL: Like a merchant bank - what would be examples of that?

POGGIOLI: Well, he said Peter's Pence, which is the fund of charitable offerings made by churches all over the world to help the poor - in 2013, it raised close to $400,000. But that sum didn't go charity. It covered the expenses of the curia. And Fittipaldi claims that the Vatican bank, with its sleazy past as a money-laundering machine and offshore bank for Italian tax invaders, is still behind in full transparency and that coincidentally this weekend, two people - a priest and a lay woman, both of whom worked at the Vatican - were arrested for allegedly leaking confidential documents.

SIEGEL: Sylvia, this isn't the first time that the Vatican has faced embarrassing allegations of mismanagement and waste. I want you to remind us of the Vatileaks scandal of 2012.

POGGIOLI: Well, it started with a book by Gianluigi Nuzzi. It was also based on leaked documents, and it also revealed corruption and fraud at the Vatican. And it gave a name, as you said, to Vatileaks, the scandal, and - that may have triggered Pope Benedict's resignation.

Nuzzi is the author of the second book that's coming out. Incidentally, it'll be coming out also in English this week. And publisher's releases and Italian media reports say it reveals the lavish lifestyles of some cardinals and the Vatican's huge real estate holdings, and it's based mainly on emails, minutes of meetings and, most surprising, secretly recorded conversations of the pope himself. In one, Francis allegedly lets his anger at waste and mismanagement of Vatican finances be known, saying costs are out of control. And in another, he allegedly says if we don't know how to safeguard our money which can be seen, how can we safeguard the souls of the faithful which are invisible?

SIEGEL: Well, what does this say about Pope Francis's effort to reform the church's management of its wealth?

POGGIOLI: Well, the authors insist they don't want to harm the pope, but the Vatican reacted very angrily. When it announced the arrest of the Spanish monsignor and the lay woman public relations expert, the Vatican said, and I quote, "publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establish clarity and truth but rather to create confusion and - partial indentations - interpretations," end quote. It also said it might take legal action to try to block publication of the books.

But you know, the arrests seem to be a preemptive move by the Vatican to play down potentially damaging revelations. From the information available, it seems to me the books are much more damaging to Francis's opponents than to him. The question is, will the anti-Francis forces fight back even more, or will they be weakened?

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.