When money speaks, the truth remains silent.
The adventurer Michele Sindona was already at the head of a vast
financial empire when his friend Pope Paul VI, in 1969, made use of
his services as financial adviser to the Vatican. The Sicilian’s
influence on both sides of the Atlantic was sufficient to ensure
that he received universal respect; irrespective of personal
character. The American ambassador in Rome referred to Sindona as
‘the man of the year’, and Time magazine was later to call him ‘the
greatest Italian since Mussolini’.
His connection with the Vatican increased his status, and his
business operations, carried out with the dexterity of a spider
spinning a web, soon placed him on a near footing with the more
political and publicly advertised
burrowed into banks and foreign exchange agencies, outwitted
partners as well as rivals, and always emerged in a controlling
He invested money under assumed or other persons’ names, disposing
of and diverting funds, always with set purpose, and he pulled
strings for the underground activities of the Central Intelligence
Agency as well as for more secret bodies, that brought about
political repercussions in European centers. All this was done with
an air of confidential propriety and by methods that would not have
survived the most casual examination, carried out by the most
One of his early banking contacts was with Hambro, and from that
followed a list that came to include the Privata Italiana, Banca
Unione, and the Banco di Messina, a Sicilian bank that he later
owned. He held a majority stake in the Franklin National Bank of New
York, controlled a network that covered nine banks, and became
vice-president of three of them. The real assets of those banks were
transferred to tax shelters such as Switzerland, Luxembourg, and
Before long he had taken over the Franklin National, with its 104
branches and assets of more than five billion dollars,
despite an American law that forbade direct ownership of any bank by
groups with other financial interests. But a way round this was
found by the then President Nixon, and by Sindona’s friend and share
manipulator David Kennedy, a former secretary to the United States
treasury and that country’s ambassador to NATO.
At one time it was reckoned that the amount involved in his foreign
speculations alone exceeded twenty billion dollars. Apart from the
interests already named, two Russian banks and the National
Westminster were finger deep in his transactions. He was president
of seven Italian companies, and the managing director of several
more, with shares in the Paramount Pictures Corporation,
Mediterranean Holidays, and the Dominican sugar trade. He had a
voice on the board of Libby’s, the Chicago food combine. He bought a
steel foundry in Milan.
It was only to be expected that, when estimating such a man, his
past and his character counted for less than the jingle in his
pocket. New friends, acquaintances, public figures, and distant
relatives pressed forward for a sight of the Sindona smile; and
among them was a churchman, Monsignor Ameleto Tondini. Through him
the financier met Massimo Spada, who managed the affairs of the
Vatican bank, or, to give it a more innocuous title, the Institute
for Religious Works.
Its main concern was with the handling of Vatican investments, which
to some extent came under a body known as the Patrimony of the
Apostolic See. That had come into existence, as a financial entity,
in 1929, under one of the conditions of the Lateran Treaty concluded
It had since outgrown the limitations imposed by the Treaty, and had
taken on truly international dimensions under a conglomerate of
bankers including John Pierpont Morgan of New York, the Paris
Rothschilds, and the Hambros Bank of London. Its clerical supervisor
was Monsignor (soon to be Cardinal) Sergio Guerri.
Spada, who was the chairman of Lancia, became chairman of a part
ecclesiastical, part financial institution, known as the
Pius XII Foundation for the Lay Apostleship, a very wealthy concern
which was later taken over by Cardinal Villot, who
was in many ways a reflection of Paul VI.
There is always a sinister side to big money dealings, and one of
Sindona’s associates, Giorgio Ambrosoli, became increasingly nervous
as the carrying out of increasing frauds kept pace with the profits,
and with the effects they produced in
several European social,
economic, and political structures. He expressed his doubts to Sindona
(image left), who brushed them aside. But he did not do the same with
Ambrosoli. Instead he made him the object of rumour and surrounded
him with a network of suspicion. And one more unsolved crime was
added to the Italian police register when Ambrosoli (image
below right) was shot dead
outside his house by ‘unknown assassins’.
Even before Sindona was concerned with its investment policy, the
Vatican, despite its condemnation of money-power in the past, was
heavily involved in the capitalist system. It had interests in the
Rothschild Bank in France, and in the Chase Manhattan Bank with its
fifty-seven branches in forty-four countries; in the Credit Suisse
in Zurich and also in London; in the Morgan Bank, and in the Banker
Trust. It had large share holdings in General Motors, General
Electric, Shell Oil, Gulf Oil, and in Bethlehem Steel.
Vatican representatives figured on the board of Finsider which, with
its capital of 195 million lire spread through twenty-four
companies, produced ninety per cent of Italian steel, besides
controlling two shipping lines and the Alfa Romeo firm. Most of the
Italian luxury hotels, including the Rome Hilton, were also among
the items that figured in the Vatican share portfolio.
Sindona’s influence at the Vatican, deriving from his earlier
friendship with Paul VI, and the recent meetings with Spada,
was soon felt in much the same way as it had been in the outer
world. He assumed complete control of the Banca Privata.
bought the Feltrinelli publishing house, and the Vatican shared in
its income despite the fact that some of its
productions included calls to street violence and secret society
propaganda. The same quarter gave support to Left-wing
Trades Unions, and to the none too healthy work, often on the seamy
side of the law, conducted by the Central Intelligence
Agency. The same lack of discernment was shown by the fact that one
of the firms that helped to swell the Sindona Vatican
funds had been making, at least for a time, contraceptive pills.1
Other and more direct Vatican commitments were with the Ceramica
Pozzi which supplied taps, sanitary equipment, and bidets, and with
a chemical group, again with Hambros in the background, that
manufactured synthetic fibres for textiles. Vatican representatives
appeared on the boards of Italian and Swiss banks, and their
influence was increasingly felt in the management of holding
companies in many parts of the Western world.
Another ‘shut eye’ operation was when Cardinal Casaroli concluded an
agreement with Communist authorities, whereby one of the Vatican
companies erected a factory in Budapest.
Almost within hearing distance of the work was another Cardinal, Mindszenty, Archbishop of Hungary who, abandoned by Rome because of
his anti-Communist stand, had taken refuge in the American Embassy
after the abortive 1956 uprising.
Had it been possible to conduct a genuine inquiry at that time, the
names of Vatican officials would have been found figuring in some of
President Nixon’s complicated ventures. So much emerges when, by
steering a way through a mass of often contradictory manoeuvres, one
pin-points the Vatican ownership of the General Immobiliare, one of
the world’s largest construction companies which dealt in land
speculation, built motorways and the Pan Am offices, to quote but a
few of its operations, and also controlled a major part of the
Watergate complex in Washington. It was thereby enabled to build,
and own, the series of luxury buildings on the banks of the River
Potomac that became the headquarters of the Democratic electoral
campaign in 1972.
The management of the Generale Immobiliare was in the hands of
Count Enrico Galeazzi, the director of an investment
and credit company (estimated capital twenty-five billion lire), who
could so freely come and go at the Vatican that he was known as the laypope.
The Holy See became a substantial partner in Sindona’s commercial
and industrial empire in the spring of 1969 when, in answer to calls
from Paul VI, the financier made several visits to the Vatican where
the two men met, in the Pope’s study on the third floor, at
midnight. (Only, so far as the minor clerics and staff of the
Vatican were concerned, and according to the Pope’s appointment book
that was duly ‘doctored’ before being entered up, it was not His
Holiness who conferred with Sindona but Cardinal Guerri, who in all
probability was sleeping at the time.)
Besides wishing to fortify the Vatican’s investment policy, the Pope
was concerned with maintaining the Church’s non-liability for
Government control, in the shape of tax, of its currency and assets.
That exemption, with the Christian Democrats
heading a four-party
coalition since the end of the Second World War, had never been
seriously questioned. But new voices were now being heard. The
Vatican was named as the biggest tax-evader in post-war Italy, and
there was a growing demand for its arrears to be settled.
Another member of this sanctified business circle was Paul Marcinkus
(image left), one of a Lithuanian family who had emigrated to Chicago.
He was in the good books of Monsignor Pasquali Macchi, the Pope’s
personal secretary, and had so far not been prominent in any
pastoral field. His most practical experience, in the sphere of
Church activity had been gained when, due to his standing six feet
four in his socks, and his long powerful arms (which earned him the
nickname of ‘gorilla’) he supervised the guarding of Paul VI during
his travels. Paul made him a Bishop.
As controller of the Vatican Bank, a post that was handed to him by
Paul VI, he was responsible for more than 10,000 accounts belonging
to Religious Orders and to private individuals, including the Pope.
The number of the latter’s account, by the way, was 16.16. He
handled the Vatican’s secret funds and its gold reserves at Fort
Knox, and he transferred a substantial part of the funds, in the
hope of making a quick profit, to the Sindona holdings.
He was also President of the Institute for Religious Training, and a
director of the Continental Illinois Bank of Nassau. His rise was
neither unexpected nor brought about without influence being
exerted, for on July 2nd, 1963, Marcinkus followed the example of
those many clerics who, in defiance of Canon 2335, had joined a
secret society. His code name was Marpa.
Taking advantage of the fact that clerical garb was no longer
essential, Marcinkus shouldered his way through the fringes, then
into the colourful noisy heart, of Roman society. He was the
affluent manager of one of the city’s most influential, privileged,
and respected banks. He lounged at bars, joined exclusive clubs that
had hitherto been envied and far-off places to him, and showed his
animal strength on the links by sending numerous golf balls into
oblivion. In time his blatant playboy attitude annoyed the more
established Roman community, who turned a cold shoulder. It would
seem that he had little more than gangling brawn to recommend him.
But there were always plenty of Americans, who were there on
business, to take their place, though even they were shocked when
the Bishop was said to be involved in fraudulent bankruptcy.
Meanwhile the first warnings, conveyed by hints of danger, were
reaching Sindona and the Vatican from many parts of the world. The
current call was to transfer money to the United States, as events
in Europe pointed to political unrest and economic collapse; and the
future of the Franklin Bank, in which Sindona and the Vatican were
heavily involved, became highly doubtful following a series of
disastrous speculations. There were frantic efforts to persuade more
secure banks to buy outright, or at least re-float, the Franklin.
Calls went out from Montini to arrange the transfer of Vatican
investments to a safer haven.
It was not that Sindona had lost his touch; but world forces,
assisted by enemies in the Mafia who envied Sindona’s rise,
were proving too much for the maintenance of far-flung ventures like
some over which he had presided. Aware that he
was standing on shaky ground, Sindona tried to gain the support of
the Nixon administration, by offering a million
dollars, which perhaps could have materialized only if the deal had
been accepted, for the President’s electoral fund. But
as Sindona, for obvious reasons, insisted on not being named, and
since the acceptance of anonymous gifts for an election was
forbidden by law, his offer was declined. It was disappointing for
all concerned that it impinged upon one of the few laws that even
the elastic Federal system could not openly stretch.
Sindona made a final gesture in the approved style of a Hollywood
gangster. He threw a lavish and spectacular evening party at Rome’s
foremost hotel (that was probably owned by the Vatican) which was
attended by the American ambassador, Cardinal Caprio (who had been
in charge of Vatican investments before the arrival of Marcinkus),
and the accommodating Cardinal Guerri.
Marcinkus merely came in for a great deal of blame. His operations
with Vatican funds, said Monsignor Benelli, one of his critics, had
been intolerable. But Marcinkus, who knew too much of what went on
behind the scenes at the Vatican, could not be abandoned, and he was
given a diplomatic post in the Church.
Sindona had been tipped off, by one of his hirelings who was also
employed by the secret service, that a warrant was out for his
arrest. But he bluffed and drank his way through the festivities,
went off for a time to his luxury villa in Geneva, then took a plane
to New York.
There, pending actual charges, he was kept under a form of mild
surveillance. But it seems that some of those who were detailed to
watch him belonged to the Mafia, and the next the Pope heard of his
former adviser was that he had been shot and wounded in a scuffle.
It was easy enough, by delving into his past that was more than
ankle-deep in great and petty swindles, and now that he was no
longer a power to be reckoned with, to bring him to trial; and an
attempted kidnap case, and widespread bribery, were now added to the
charges against him. When the obliging Cardinal Guerri heard of
this, he seems to have become suddenly convinced, perhaps because
his name had figured in talks that clinched the bargaining between
Pontiff and financier, that Sindona was a much maligned man. He
wanted to go to New York and testify on his behalf.
But the Pope, aware of Guerri’s easy-going nature, and not wanting
the extent of his own co-operation with the accused to be dragged
out in the witness box, kept Guerri in Rome.
The trial ended, in the autumn of 1980, with Sindona receiving a
sentence of twenty-five years’ imprisonment. Few, apart from those
members of the public who expressed indignation as the financial
antics of Sindona were made known to them for the first time,
believe that such a sentence will ever be served. At least one
anti-clerical paper suggested that Pope Paul was lucky not to have
been put on the stand alongside his banker.
As it was, the Pope was left with two reminders of their
partnership. The Church had sustained a heavy financial loss which
meant, as the Pope asserted with a quite gratuitous beating of the
breast, that the Bride of Christ was face to face with bankruptcy;
while there was a new administrative agency for finance that he had
founded as a result of Sindona’s help.
At the head of this was Cardinal Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate in New
York. He was assisted by Cardinal Hoeffner, of Cologne, and
John Cody of Chicago.
The last named of that trio was soon to make a sensational entry
into the news. Cardinal John Patrick Cody, aged seventy-three, the
son of a St. Louis fireman, was Archbishop of the largest Roman
Catholic diocese in America. He therefore had the handling of many
thousands of tax-exempt ecclesiastical funds. And in the autumn of
1981 his congregation was overwhelmed, as only loyal Church members
can be, by rumours that soon became facts, to the effect that the
United States Attorney’s office in Chicago was looking into Cody’s
A Federal Grand Jury had also asked for the records of a St. Louis
investment company, where a certain Mrs. Helen Dolan Wilson had an
account, to be examined.
The inquiry, most unusual in the case of a contemporary Cardinal,
turned upon what was called the diverting,
disposition, or misuse of Church funds amounting to more than
£500,000 in English money. It also came to light that the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops had lost more than four million
dollars in a single year, during which time the Cardinal had been
The Mrs. Wilson referred to, of the same age as the Cardinal, was
variously referred to as a relation of his by marriage, as his
sister, as a niece, while Cody usually spoke of her as his cousin.
Her father, more precise judgments claimed, had married the
Cardinal’s aunt, while others were sure that no real blood
relationship existed between them. The couple concerned said that a
brother and sister relationship, begun in their childhood in St.
Louis, was their only tie.
‘We were raised together’, explained Mrs. Wilson. Their remaining
close friends was therefore a natural development. They travelled
together, and for the past twenty-five years she had followed his
every move about the diocese. He had become, in the religious sense,
her ‘supervisor’, a role that she found beneficial when her
marriage, which left her with a son, ended in the divorce court.
It was easy enough for the Cardinal to place her, as manager, in an
office connected with the Church in St. Louis. Her appearances there
were far from regular but, whether working or not, she nonetheless
remained on the Church’s pay-roll. He also helped her son to set up
business, in the same town, as an insurance agent, a post that
Wilson resigned when, with the Cardinal, he started dealing in ‘real
Mrs. Wilson retired, after having earned a modest £4,000 a year, but
before long she was known to be worth nearly a million dollars,
mostly in stocks and bonds. She was also the beneficiary of a
hundred thousand dollars insurance policy, taken out on the
Cardinal’s life, on which she borrowed.
The inquiries made by the Federal Grand Jury, and publicized by the
Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, brought forth a flood of allegations.
The Cardinal had made over most of the missing money to her. Part of
it had gone in buying her a house at Boca Raton, in Florida. There
had also been a luxury car, expensive clothes and furs, and holiday
The Cardinal, though saddened and feeling rejected because of the
allegations, was firm in saying that he didn’t need a chance to
contradict them. He was ready to forgive all those responsible. Mrs.
Wilson was equally firm in saying that she had received no money
from the Cardinal. To say that there was anything more than
friendship between them was a vicious lie, or even a joke. She
strongly resented being scandalized, and being portrayed as a kept
woman or (as her fellow-countrymen put it) ‘a tramp’.
Had it not been for the many falls from grace that have overtaken
the modern Church, a case like this would scarcely have merited more
than a mention. But now it prompts questions. Was it a frame-up,
part of the age-long wish to bring the Church into disrepute? Was
the Cardinal personally corrupt? Or was he one of the infiltrators
who, without any real religious conviction, have been secretly
fostered into the Church for the sole purpose of wearing away its
moral and traditional fabric?
There is, in the light of other strange happenings that have
occurred, nothing extravagant in that suggestion; and it would seem
to be borne out by a long report in The Chicago Catholic of
September 29th, 1978. An Archdiocesan Liturgical Congress was held
in order, as one of the jargon-crazed Modernists said, to keep the
Church ‘living, moving, changing, growing, becoming new, after some
centuries of partial paralysis.’
As part of that process, dance groups frolicked under flashing
multi-coloured lights, trumpets blared, people reached and scrambled
for gas-filled balloons, and donned buttons that bore the message
‘Jesus loves us’; while a priest, who was looked upon as an expert
in the new liturgy, his face whitened like a clown’s, paraded about
in a top hat and with a grossly exaggerated potbelly emerging from
the cloak he wore.
The background to all this was made up of vestments, banners, and
the hotch-potch of a mural, all of which, in the
approved style of ‘modern art’, revealed no more than casually
applied splashes of paint. The Mass that marked the close of
this truly ridiculous Congress (that, as we shall see, was only a
faint reflection of what happened elsewhere, and which would
never have been dreamt of before the days of ‘Good Pope John’) was
presided over by Cardinal Cody.
At another time The Chicago Tribune, in a report describing what was
said to be a ‘Gays’ altar’, referred to a concelebration (meaning
celebration of the Eucharist by two or more priests) at a church in
that city: One hundred and twenty-two priests were present at what
passed for Mass, and every one of them was a self-confessed moral
Neither of these profanities called forth a word of protest from
John Patrick, Cardinal Cody.
He died of a heart attack in April, 1982, while this book was in
1. Yet Pope Paul criticized the capitalist system in his social
encyclical Populorum Progressio on the development of peoples.
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