Personally, I view the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy as among the most corrupt and morally bankrupt institutions in the world. But, as a story in The Guardian reveals, a world wide conspiracy to protect and cover up for sexual predators who molested thousands and thousands of children and minors and past charges of money laundering aren't the Church's only dirty laundry. Now, we find out that the Vatican has used millions in Fascist money to build a secret real estate empire. As I have frequently maintained, tawdry whore are more virtuous that the leadership of the Catholic Church. Here are story highlights:
Few passing London tourists would ever guess that the premises of Bulgari, the upmarket jewellers in New Bond Street, had anything to do with the pope. Nor indeed the nearby headquarters of the wealthy investment bank Altium Capital, on the corner of St James's Square and Pall Mall.
But these office blocks in one of London's most expensive districts are part of a surprising secret commercial property empire owned by the Vatican.
Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church's international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.
Since then the international value of Mussolini's nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James's Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.
The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James's Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company's true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican. Instead, they list two nominee shareholders, both prominent Catholic bankers.
Ultimate control is recorded as being exercised by a Swiss company, Profima SA. British wartime records from the National Archives in Kew complete the picture. They confirm Profima SA as the Vatican's own holding company, accused at the time of "engaging in activities contrary to Allied interests". Files from officials at Britain's Ministry of Economic Warfare at the end of the war criticised the pope's financier, Bernardino Nogara, who controlled the investment of more than £50m cash from the Mussolini windfall.
Nogara's "shady activities" were detailed in intercepted 1945 cable traffic from the Vatican to a contact in Geneva, according to the British, who discussed whether to blacklist Profima as a result.
The Mussolini money was dramatically important to the Vatican's finances. John Pollard, a Cambridge historian, says in Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: "The papacy was now financially secure. It would never be poor again."
The Mussolini investments in Britain are currently controlled, along with its other European holdings and a currency trading arm, by a papal official in Rome, Paolo Mennini, who is in effect the pope's merchant banker. Mennini heads a special unit inside the Vatican called the extraordinary division of APSA – Amministrazione del Patrimonio della Sede Apostolica – which handles the so-called "patrimony of the Holy See".
While secrecy about the Fascist origins of the papacy's wealth might have been understandable in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vatican subsequently continued to maintain secrecy about its holdings in Britain . . . . True to its tradition of silence on the subject, the Roman Catholic church's spokesman said that the nuncio had no comment.
For those unfamiliar with Mussolini, here are some highlights from Wikipedia:
Following the March on Rome in October 1922 he became the 27th Prime Minister of Italy and began using the title Il Duce by 1925, within five years he had established dictatorial authority by both legal and extraordinary means, aspiring to create a totalitarian state. After 1936, his official title was Sua Eccellenza Benito Mussolini, Capo del Governo, Duce del Fascismo e Fondatore dell'Impero ("His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Duce of Fascism, and Founder of the Empire").
Mussolini argued that Italy was right to follow an imperalist policy in Africa because all black people were "inferior" to whites. Mussolini claimed that the world was divided into a hierarchy of races (stirpe), though this was justified more on cultural than on biological grounds, and that history was nothing more than a Darwinian struggle for power and territory between various "racial masses"
after 1922, Mussolini personally took over the ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, colonies, corporations, defense, and public works. Sometimes he held as many as seven departments simultaneously, as well as the premiership. He was also head of the all-powerful Fascist Party and the armed local fascist militia, the MVSN or "Blackshirts", who terrorised incipient resistances in the cities and provinces. He would later form the OVRA, an institutionalised secret police that carried official state support. In this way he succeeded in keeping power in his own hands and preventing the emergence of any rival.
Between 1925 and 1927, Mussolini progressively dismantled virtually all constitutional and conventional restraints on his power,
He did not hesitate laying siege to towns, using torture, and holding women and children as hostages to oblige suspects to give themselves up.
Mussolini pushed for government control of business: by 1935, Mussolini claimed that three-quarters of Italian businesses were under state control. That same year, he issued several edicts to further control the economy, including forcing all banks, businesses, and private citizens to give up all their foreign-issued stocks and bonds to the Bank of Italy.
All teachers in schools and universities had to swear an oath to defend the fascist regime. Newspaper editors were all personally chosen by Mussolini and no one who did not possess a certificate of approval from the fascist party could practice journalism.
By 1938, the enormous influence Hitler now had over Mussolini became clear with the introduction of the Manifesto of Race. The Manifesto, which was closely modeled on the Nazi Nuremberg laws, stripped Jews of their Italian citizenship and with it any position in the government or professions.
On 11 February 1929, he signed a concordat and treaty with the Roman Catholic Church Under the Lateran Pact, Vatican City was granted independent statehood and placed under Church law—rather than Italian law—and the Catholic religion was recognized as Italy's state religion. The Church also regained authority over marriage, Catholicism could be taught in all secondary schools, birth control and freemasonry were banned, and the clergy received subsidies from the state, and was exempted from taxation. Pope Pius XI praised Mussolini, and the official Catholic newspaper pronounced "Italy has been given back to God and God to Italy."
And there you have it - a little bit of background on the man who was the source of the Vatican's new found wealth following the Lateran Pact. Wealth that allowed the Vatican to build its secret real estate empire. Ill gotten money financing an ill gotten institution. How appropriate that the current Pope is literally a former Nazi - or at minimum, a Hitler Youth.