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A Lavender Mafioso

Sandro Magister, one of the most credible journalists covering the Vatican, exposes Monsigner Battista Ricca, a Vatican insider who has been elevated to head of the Vatican bank — also known as the Institute for the Works Of Religion (IOR) — by the new pope, and charged with cleaning up corruption in its ranks. Excerpts:

Before the appointment, Francis had been shown, as is customary, the personal file on Ricca, in which he had not found anything unseemly. He had also heard from various personalities of the curia, and none of them had raised objections.

Just one week after appointing the “prelate,” however, during the same days in which he was meeting with the apostolic nuncios who had come to Rome from all over the world, the pope became aware, from multiple sources, of some episodes from Ricca’s past previously unknown to him and such as to bring serious harm to the pope himself and to his intention of reform.

Sadness over having been kept in the dark with regard to such grave matters, and the intention to remedy the appointment he had made, albeit not definitive but “ad interim”: these were the sentiments expressed by Pope Francis once he was aware of those matters.

Ricca served in the Vatican diplomatic corps. When he was stationed in Uruguay, he allegedly arranged for Patrick Haari, a Swiss guard, to be stationed there with him. They were thought to be lovers. Ricca also allegedly got caught with a gay prostitute, and was beaten up while cruising. Finally the nuncio was able to get rid of Ricca and his Swiss guard lover. Magister writes:

As for Haari, in the process of leaving the nunciature he demanded that some of his luggage be sent to the Vatican as diplomatic baggage, to the address of Monsignor Ricca. Nuncio Bolonek refused, and the luggage ended up in a building outside of the nunciature. Where it remained for a few years, until from Rome Ricca said that he didn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore.

Once the luggage was opened to get rid of its contents –  as decided by the nuncio Bolonek – a pistol was found in it, which was handed over to the Uruguayan authorities, and in addition to personal effects, an enormous quantity of condoms and pornographic material.

In Uruguay, the facts reported above are known to dozens of persons: bishops, priests, sisters, laypeople. Without counting the civil authorities, from security forces to fire protection. Many of these persons have had direct experience of these facts, at various moments.

But at the Vatican as well there are those who know about them. The nuncio at the time, Bolonek, always expressed himself with severity with regard to Ricca, in reporting to Rome.

And yet a blanket of public silence has covered until today these past episodes of the monsignor.

Magister reports that a network inside the Curia has protected Ricca and advanced his career, in part by keeping his seedy past out of his official files. Ricca was able to rise far and fast in the Curia, which is to say the Vatican bureaucracy. And then:

Moreover, beginning in 2006, Monsigner Ricca was entrusted with the direction first of one, then of two, and finally of three residences for cardinals, bishops, and priests visiting Rome, including that of Saint Martha. And this allowed him to weave an intricate network of relationships with the highest levels of the Catholic hierarchy all over the world.

The appointment as “prelate” of the IOR was for Ricca the crowning of this second career of his.

But it was also the beginning of the end. Because of the many upright persons who knew about his scandalous past, the news of the promotion was a cause of extreme bitterness, all the more keen because it was seen as a presage of harm for the arduous enterprise that Pope Francis has in the works, of purification of the Church and of reform of the Roman curia.

This is a pretty classic example of how the lavender mafia works. I don’t know anything about Ricca, but the process outlined here is very familiar. It’s the kind of thing Church insiders — priests, especially — talk about privately, but not in public, and definitely not on the record. In this case, it’s crystal clear that other Vatican insiders who are sick and tired of this garbage leaked the Ricca files to Magister, one of the top Vatican journalists and commentators. Now we will see what Pope Francis will do.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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