Pope Paul VI and Roberto Calvi
Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. I do. Don’t you?
And everyone loves a conspiracy involving all the big players – bankers, the mafia, the Vatican, the C.I.A., murder. I mean, how juicy can it get?
First, an introduction to “God’s banker” – Roberto Calvi, Chairman of Italy’s largest private bank in the ‘80s, Banco Ambrosiano.
Banco Ambrosiano was founded in Milan in 1896 by Giuseppe Tovini as a “catholic bank” as a counter-balance to Italy’s “lay banks”. Ambrosiano’s purpose was servicing “moral organizations, pious works, and religious bodies set up for charitable aims.” The bank came to be known as the “priests’ bank”; one chairman was Franco Ratti, nephew to Pope Pius XI.
Our man Calvi came to Ambrosiano in 1971 as chief of operations; in 1975 he was appointed as Chairman and began a dramatic expansion of the bank, including creating a number of off-shore companies in the Bahamas and South America; a controlling interest in the Banca Cattolica del Veneto; and funds for the publishing house Rizzoli to finance the Corriere della Sera newspaper, giving Calvi control of the newspaper from the shadows.
Now as you all probably know, the Vatican has a bank – Instituto per le Opere Religione – the Institute for Religious Works. The Vatican bank is private with a capital “P” and is accountable to no banking authority; only to the Pope and his cardinals.
The Vatican Bank had been on hard times. It’s “financial advisor” Michele Sindona was in jail for fraud; he was connected to the Mafia, laundering Gambino profits obtained from drug dealings. He owned a string of banks in Italy and had acquired ownership of Franklin National Bank in New York from Laurence Tisch, a founder of Loew”s Corporation. With a controlling interest in Franklin National, Sindona took his money laundering and currency speculation big time.
Meanwhile, he served the Vatican, persuading it to invest in a number of his dubious deals. The Vatican probably lost $30 million on the collapse of Franklin National. The Mafia lost money too. The Mafia doesn’t like losing money.
Sindona was murdered in his Italian jail cell where he was serving a life sentence via cyanide in his morning coffee.
Archbishop Paul Marcinkus
Our man Calvi now began a close relationship with Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the Pope’s body guard and Chairman of the Vatican Bank. Why you ask? Well, the Vatican was the largest shareholder of Banco Ambrosiano.
Calvi began throwing profitable pieces of Ambrosiano’s deals to Marcinkus- a higher interest rate here, a bigger fee there. The Vatican Bank needed to make up it’s losses.
Part three of our conspiracy is an “irregular” masonic lodge known as P2 – “Propaganda Due”. Our secret organization was not uncovered until much later in our tale but let us say it was later described as a “shadow government” of industrialists, government officials, military men, bankers, publishers. All the movers in Italian society united by their neo-fascism. Silvio Berlusconi was a young member before he entered politics. P2 had a plan for a coup in Italy in the event the Italian Communist Party ever came to power.
As coincidence would have it both Calvi and Sindona were members of P2. They knew each other and all the secrets.
Enter the C.I.A. How to fund the Solidarity movement in Poland and the Contra rebels in Nicaragua? The Vatican under John Paul II was sympathetic and a fierce anti-communist. Banco Ambrosiano (remember the Vatican was it’s largest shareholder) became the conduit, moving funds from the C.I.A. to Latin America through it’s off shore subsidiaries and to Solidarity in Poland.
Calvi and Marcinkus shuffled funds between the Vatican Bank and Ambrosiano as the church launched it’s assault on “liberation theology” and socialism in Latin America and Eastern Europe.
On 5 June 1982, two weeks before the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, Calvi wrote a letter of warning to Pope John Paul II, stating that a forthcoming event would “provoke a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions in which the Church will suffer the gravest damage.” Banco Ambrosiano collapsed in June 1982 following the discovery of shortages (according to various sources) between 700 million and 1.5 billion US dollars. Much of the money had been siphoned off via the Vatican Bank. Calvi was looting Ambrosiano, moving funds into the Vatican Bank, Marcinkus sending it onward and then it disappeared. Hundreds of millions of dollars have never been found. The authorities in Italy were on Calvi’s trail.
Calvi went missing from his Rome apartment, having fled the country on a false passport. He shaved off his mustache and fled initially to Venice. From there, he apparently hired a private plane to London via Zurich.
At 7:30 am on Friday, 18 June 1982, a postal clerk was crossing Blackfriars Bridge and noticed his body hanging from scaffolding beneath the bridge on the edge of the financial district of London. Calvi’s clothing, he was wearing a monk’s black robe, was stuffed with bricks. It was eventually ruled he was murdered.
So who killed Calvi? While searching his villa in 1981, police discovered a P2 membership list that included 953 high-level officials: Judges, bankers, police chiefs, members of Parliament and the Cabinet, admirals and generals, respected political leaders, even religious leaders connected to another secret society, Opus Dei. A parliamentary commission concluded that 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.
Licio Gelli, the head of P2 was arrested for the murder but never went to trial for it; he was convicted on several counts but not the murder..
Who was Gelli? A member of Mussolini’s Black Shirts and Hitler’s S/S during WWII, a personal acquaintance of Herman Goering, 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; He was deeply involved in the Vatican “rat line” which helped wanted Nazis escape to South America after the war. In 1974, he was a major player in the return of Juan Peron to power in Argentina.
The Vatican shrugged it’s shoulders at Calvi’s death but in 1984, the Vatican Bank agreed to pay US$224 million to the 120 creditors of the failed Banco Ambrosiano as a “recognition of moral involvement” in the bank’s collapse. It admitted nothing.
Did the mafia do it, their drug profits being skimmed? Did Opus Dei to protect the church from a nervous banker on the run who knew too much? Perhaps the KGB to embarrass the church and its virulent anti-communism? The church did quiet down quite a bit after it’s involvement in the Calvi-CIA- P2-Ambrosiano affair.
The C.I.A? Who would put it passed them during the contra-Iran scandal? Ollie North knew Ambrosiano well and had accounts in Switzerland to fund the Contras – weapons were delivered, paid for in drugs sold through Zurich, the funds going into accounts North controlled. Sindona knew it through his connections with David Kennedy of Continental Illinois Bank in Chicago, who introduced him to the Republican Party hierarchy, Calvi knew it and Archbishop Marcinkus knew it. The CIA were using P-2’s secret lodge and regularly sent illicit funds through Ambrosiano to conduct P-2’s covert warfare on Italy’s communists.
Well, this is Italy. Nobody was ever convicted of Calvi’s murder. Archbishop Marcikus hid out inside the Vatican to avoid questions by the Italian authorities. John Paul II played the diplomatic immunity card. When it all quieted down seven years later the Archbishop retired to Sun City, Arizona – still with a sort of diplomatic immunity. He’s never said a word.
Oh, and finally Roberto Calvi’s personal secretary, Graziella Corrocher, left a note denouncing Calvi before jumping from her 5th floor office window to her death the day before Calvi’s body was found. Suicide? Murder? Who knows. This is Italy.
P.S. – Paul VI, who was suspected of being homosexual and had to publicly deny it, died on August 8, 1978 and was succeeded by John-Paul I who reigned in the Vatican for 33 days before unexpectedly, and some say suspiciously dying in his bed in spite of being a relatively young man and in good health. He was a bit of a “leftie” socially and considered a liberal for his time. It was reported he was going to investigate the corruption in the Vatican Bank, replace Marcinkus and had a list of Catholic clergy wo were members of P2 – membership in a Masonic lodge was strictly forbidden to Catholics.
He was succeeded by the virulent anti-communist John-Paul II who funded Solidarity and the contra-rebels with the CIA through the Vatican Bank, promoted Marcinkus and worked with Ollie North. More about these events in the next post.