CIA and the Vatican
Albion Monitor, issue 53, 14 April 1998
The latest news came from a newly-revealed intelligence report by the Italian equivalent of the CIA. The Soviets, it seems, bugged the apartment of the Vatican’s secretary of state around 1979, hoping to gather information they could use to discredit the newly-elected Pope John Paul II. The report also implies that the KGB was willing to assassinate the Catholic leader: “…the figure of the Pope [would], if necessary, be physically eliminated.” This seems to support long-held assumptions that a Communist government (probably Bulgaria) instigated the 1981 attempt on the Pope’s life.
The Soviets hated the new Polish Pope. His outspoken anti-Communist views made him a heroic figurehead to many in the Eastern Bloc, particularly with the popular Solidarity movement in Poland. And anticipating Reagan’s covert funding of the Nicaraguan contras by several years, the Pope began secretly financing Solidarity.
Laundering Vatican money through Latin America (mostly Panama), millions were slipped to the Solidarity movement. The Vatican also helped the CIA channel money to Solidarity, which may have been the start of a longer anti-commie alliance between the Church and America’s spy agency. (Officially, the arrangement stopped after Sen. Patrick Moynihan discovered this and another operation, where the CIA was using a private corporation to fund anti-Sandinista Catholics in Nicaragua.) Using CIA money or no, the Catholic Church became the most vocal critic of Latin America socialism.
The Vatican’s main conduit was Banco Ambrosiano, the largest privately-owned bank in Italy. Bank Chairman Roberto Calvi shuffled money between his vaults and the Vatican Bank. In one scheme, the Vatican Bank sold stock at an inflated price to the Vatican’s dummy “Laramie” corporation in Panama, using cash advanced by Calvi. It would have netted the Vatican a $60 million profit—that is, if Calvi had lived. In June, 1982, he was found dead, his body hanging under London’s Blackfriars Bridge with a brick in the pocket of a melodramatic black monk’s robe.
In the weeks following his death, Banco Ambrosiano closed after $1.3 billion was found missing. It became Italy’s biggest financial scandal since WWII; the director of the Vatican Bank resigned after its ties to Calvi were disclosed (much of the money was later recovered from Vatican Bank accounts), and eventually 33 others were convicted of bank fraud.
But who killed Roberto Calvi—and why? There are (at least) three main suspects:
- KGB Now the most likely candidate because those newly- revealed documents show that the Soviets were determined to stop the Pope’s anti-Red crusades. And sure enough, after the 1982 front page embarassment of the Vatican Bank’s involvement with the Calvi affair—and, of course, the 1981 Papal murder attempt—the Church apparently stopped such clandestine funding.
- MAFIA A mob defector claimed in 1992 that Calvi was strangled because he betrayed La Cosa Nostra. In this version, Banco Ambrosiano was laundering drug money and Calvi earned a death sentence by “borrowing” their money to keep his bank afloat.
- OPUS DEI A powerful secular group of right-wing Spanish Catholics, Opus Dei had been a significant force in their nation during the waning years of dictator Franco. Did the group silence a nervous banker on the Vatican’s behalf?
Conspiracy pros will note that the KGB and Opus Dei theories are opposites. The KGB version assumes the Soviets accurately predicted that Calvi’s death would expose the dishonest business, and the Opus Dei story assumes that insiders probably believed that his murder would keep these complex deals secret.
Or was it a suicide? London police ruled that he had taken his own life, although his family spent a fortune trying to prove otherwise. A follow-up inquest ruled that it couldn’t be proven either way.
The fascist’s banker
The Albion Monitor, 2 November 1998
If you were to collect all of the daily important news from all the major newspapers around the world, the result would probably easily fit in a typical edition of the New York Times. And what a marvel this global newspaper would be. Unlike the real New York Times—where foreign stories often flash in the headlines for a few days, then fade just as quickly—readers would also have some inkling of why these events occur. As a side benefit, this paper would be far more interesting to read; every day fascinating stories appear, like the tale of Pauline Hanson and “Paula Pantsdown,” told in our last edition.
One ongoing story that reads like a John Le Carre thriller surfaced again recently, capturing headlines throughout the European press. A portion of the story was introduced in a previous 404 report, describing how Banco Ambrosiano, the largest privately-owned bank in Italy, served to funnel $1.3 billion from the CIA and the Vatican to phony corporations in Panama that were really fronts for anti-communist groups. Adding to the mystery of the case, bank chairman Roberto Calvi was found hanged, his body dangling under London’s Blackfriars Bridge with a brick in the pocket of a melodramatic black monk’s robe.
In mid-October, Licio Gelli, the mastermind behind the Banco Ambrosiano swindle, was returned to Italy to face a 12-year jail term. Gelli, now 79, had evaded authorities since his 1982 conviction for bank fraud in the Ambrosiano case, but other evidence confirmed that he was involved in schemes far darker.
Gelli was the head of “P2”—Propaganda Due, an ultra-right group that used any means necessary to keep communists from power in post-WWII Italy. Technically a Masonic Lodge, P2 became a true secret society controlling Italy. While searching his villa in 1981, police discovered a membership list that included 953 high-level officials: Judges, bankers, police chiefs, members of Parliment and the Cabinet, admirals and generals, respected political leaders, even religious leaders connected to another secret society, Opus Dei. A parliamentary commission concluded that Gelli and P2 were operating as “a state within the Italian state.” It remains the greatest scandal in Italy (and maybe, Europe) since the end of WWII.
But rumors had swirled around both Gelli and P2 for decades, and many thought the neo-fascist organization a myth. At worst, P2 was thought to be a CIA-funded outfit that resorted to terrorism, including the 1980 bombing that killed 85—Gelli and others were convicted of involvement, although the judgement was overturned on appeal. P2 and Gelli were also said to be linked to the 1978 assassination of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro and mysterious death of Pope John Paul I. (An excellent article on CIA ties to P2 appeared in Covert Action Quarterly in 1994.)
Who was Gelli? A member of Mussolini’s Black Shirts during WWII, he spent the two decades after the war living in in South America among the European fascist emigres. Gelli was always ready to open his wallet to help neo-fascists, anywhere; in 1974, he was a major player in the return of Juan Peron to power in Argentina. Called l’intoccabile (the untouchable), police captured Gelli three times after he was convicted for the P2 conspiracy and each time he escaped, once by bribing a Swiss jailer.
What was the source of his fabulous wealth? Legend held that Gelli made his fortune by helping “escort” a Red Cross-marked train loaded with 55 tons of plundered Yugoslav gold in 1942. (”Pure nonsense,” he was always quoted.) But as Gelli was extradited to Italy last month, police stumbled upon 150 gold bars worth more than more than $1.76 million buried in patio flowerpots among his geraniums and begonias. Authorities believe that the markings on the 363 pounds of gold bars show they are from Eastern Europe, probably confirming his legendary WWII cache.
Did any of this amazing story appear in the American press? Only a short Associated Press description of the extradition of “fugitive financier” Gelli, with a muddled rehash of the entire Calvi / Ambrosiano / P2 / flowerpot story, altogether less than half the length of this 404 item. By contrast, almost all of the leading European papers featured in-depth stories about Gelli’s past and P2.
The scandal of Gelli and P2 is clearly not over, but don’t expect mention of it in the U.S. media.