On May 17, I published an article in the Italian newspaper La Verità about pope Benedict’s abdication. A few days before, in a renowned Italian geopolitical magazine called Limes, Professor Germano Dottori had argued that Joseph Ratzinger’s 2013 abdication, and the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation in 2011, after a financial storm sold to public opinion as a “public debt” crisis, were the result of pressures on the part of Obama administration in the United States.
According to Dottori, Obama was eager to dethrone Benedict XVI for two reasons. On the one hand, his presidency was close to fundamentalist Islam (de facto fostered by regime change in Libya and Egypt and civil war in Syria, provoked by U.S. former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy design), whereas Ratzinger, ever since his famous Regensburg lecture, had been identified internationally as a strong opponent of Islamism. On the other hand, Obama was worried about the Church’s reconciliatory efforts toward Moscow’s Orthodox patriarch, within the scope – Dottori wrote – “of a geopolitical project aimed at European-Russian integration, actively supported by Germany and Italy.”
The Obama administration may have resorted to two instruments: fostering scandals within the Church and the Italian government and threatening to drain away Italian and Vatican financial resources. Italy was at risk of being excluded from international financial markets. The menace against the Vatican was to bar the IOR (Istituto per le Opere di Religione, the Vatican bank) from the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) network. Taking as an excuse the fact that the IOR did not abide by international rules of transparency, Deutsche Bank (which runs point-of-sale payment systems in the Vatican and was suspected by Bankitalia of hosting an IOR account where all money earned within the Vatican converged) had been induced to block all ATMs in Vatican City, a service curiously reactivated, Dottori noticed, right after Pope Benedict’s abdication.
With regard to this story, it is useful to spend a few more words on an important figure: former president of the IOR Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. Chosen by Pope Benedict in 2009 to reform the IOR and bring it back to international standards of transparency, in 2010, Tedeschi was the subject of a money-laundering investigation.
Notice how suspicious the events look: two years after the beginning of the inquiry, in 2012, Tedeschi was fired from his office; in 2014, after Pope Benedict’s resignation, Rome’s judge dismissed the inquiry and all allegations against Tedeschi; in 2015, in an interview with The Catholic Herald, Tedeschi declared that he had been kicked out by the IOR’s board of directors because of his intention to make radical reforms. And in a 2012 interview released to the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, Tedeschi had already revealed that in those months, he was so scared of being assassinated that he had written down a secret report on the IOR. (According to my sources, he had written his will as well.) The secret report had been entrusted to two of Tedeschi’s close friends as a sort of insurance policy on his own life. Tedeschi stated that he had discovered “something scary” and had engaged a struggle against the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was resolutely opposing any disclosure of the IOR’s secret archives to Italian authorities.
If you connect Tedeschi’s story to Dottori’s claim regarding financial blackmail enacted against the Vatican Bank in order to pressure Pope Benedict, you might suspect that Tedeschi was well aware that obscure forces, from within and without the Vatican, were swarming, and that his opposition to those influences was probably the cause of his misfortunes.
Dottori’s considerations should be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, his interpretation of Berlusconi’s government crisis in 2011 is slightly in contrast with the prevailing reading, which assigns responsibility to German chancellor Angela Merkel and French former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Moreover, it has to be noticed that the Obama administration’s main concern was unlikely to be Ratzinger’s ideological opposition to radical Islam. It is probably more useful to focus on the Russian question.
On the one hand, the perspective of a tighter political integration between Europe and Russia, supported by the Catholic Church for the sake of the construction of a sort of religious “conservative front,” was a cause of anxiety for Obama and Clinton. The role of the pope could be that of a trait d’union (literally, a hyphen) between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin – as a German, and as a moral leader, Benedict XVI could mediate to ease friction between two politicians joined by a love-hate relationship, but whose intentions, beyond all, were to deepen the ties between their countries. That the United States backed Ukraine’s revolt against the pro-Russian government there and supported civil war in Donbas region (the Obama administration’s involvement was denounced by Foreign Affairs in 2014), and that they sabotaged the project for the South Stream pipeline (with the help of Senator John McCain, who literally threatened Bulgaria’s prime minister and obtained his withdrawal from the project), is proof that Democrats were willing to do anything they could to prevent a closer political and economic partnership between Europe and Russia. In this sense, Berlusconi, Putin’s (and Libyan dictator Gaddafi’s) personal friend, was a troublesome individual.
On the other hand, the Obama administration was likely to be frightened by Pope Benedict’s conservative stance on the liturgy, morals, and politics. A conservative pope, in a moment when the Church’s aid was no more required to fight communism in the Soviet Union – and Russia was becoming a conservative nation – could mean an undesired, and politically dangerous, rightist breakthrough for American Catholics and an unseen convergence between religious conservatives in the U.S. and Russia.
That Obama’s fear was well informed is apparent, since Donald Trump won the Catholic vote in the 2016 election in spite of a progressive pope who almost openly endorsed Hillary Clinton, and despite Catholics’ leftward turn in the two previous elections of 2008 and 2012.
In this light, one may also interpret the recent article in La Civiltà Cattolica (a journal whose content has to be supervised by the papacy for publication) that attacked the allegiance between Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States. The message from the Vatican is clear: according to Pope Francis, good American Catholics should vote for Democrats again. Why is the new papacy so worried that conservative Catholics and Protestants might join forces in politics when it favors “inter-religious dialogue” whenever it amounts to unconditional veneration of Lutheranism?
That the Catholic vote was at stake in the Obama administration’s conspiracy against Benedict XVI is also proved by WikiLeaks’ revelations on Hillary Clinton’s right-hand man, John Podesta. His leaked emails showed that he was planning to foster a “Catholic spring,” a revolution intended to supplant conservative sections of the Church and make progressives take over.
Now, try to read against this background the new papacy’s stances on moral and political issues. The Church is almost silent on abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and euthanasia. And it is astonishing that on the question of migrants, Pope Francis is embracing George Soros’s agenda. Do not forget that Soros is one of Clinton’s most generous financiers, with a $11-million donation for her electoral campaign and a $6-million donation from the Soros Foundation to the Clinton Foundation. Soros came up nearly 60 times in John Podesta’s leaked emails. One may admit that such a triangulation among a leftist presidential candidate, a liberal billionaire accused of several political conspiracies in different nations, undesired by the government of his country, and by Israel as well in spite of his Jewish birth, and the Catholic Church’s pope is, to put it lightly, bizarre.
Now, even if Italian journalist Sandro Magister, on August 3, published for L’Espresso an article where he declares that in fact, Pope Francis is still pursuing friendly relations with Russian Orthodoxy – thereby upsetting Catholics in Poland and Ukraine, who would rather look to NATO countries, especially now that the U.S. is governed by Trump – there seems to be a substantial difference between the Russian policies of Popes Benedict and Francis. The former could at least have been a moral mediator between Europe and Russia for political and economic integration, and he was keen to converge with Russian conservatives as regards religion in society and other moral priorities. Francis, for his part, seems to be moved by concerns for the condition of Christians in Syria, where only Russia has a clear long-term strategy. But apart from formal appreciation from liberal anti-Trump leaders like Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau, or complete outsiders like Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, Pope Francis is internationally isolated, especially after his ill advised support of Hillary Clinton.
Other commentators have thrown shadows over the Church’s ambiguous connections with American Democrats. On July 4, Piero Laporta published in La Verità an article about Libero Milone, a 67-year-old manager who had been appointed by pope Francis as supervisor of the Vatican’s finances in 2015. His mandate was supposed to last for five years, but in June 2017, he decided to resign after complaining of having his office violated and his computer hacked. However, the true story behind this unexpected resignation might be different. According to Laporta, Milone was nosing around in the ambiguous maneuvers alleged to have brought about an approximately $1-million donation to Hillary Clinton’s electoral campaign, taken from Peter’s Pence. Rumors about it were already circulating in February 2016, when Laporta gathered leaks by a secret source, ironically called “Pretino” (“Little Priest”), who declared that the Vatican was providing Clinton with financial aid but that Trump would win the election thanks to an FBI investigation against Clinton. According to Laporta, it is not by chance that at the same time as Milone resigned, Cardinal George Pell was being investigated on allegations of sexual abuse for events that had occurred forty years ago. Someone was trying to divert attention from the Peter’s Pence story, and at the same time was indirectly reassuring all subjects potentially involved in the scandal that silence would be maintained.
Now, while Laporta claims to be “90% sure” of this report, it is much harder to ascertain whether, or to what degree, Pope Francis was aware of a financial and political operation that, nonetheless, was likely to have been buttressed by the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, and to have required the American Apostolic Nunciature’s mediation. Laporta hypothesizes that during his visit to Rome, in June 2017, President Donald Trump might have had an animated discussion with Pope Francis, as he asked for elucidations on the Church’s aid to Clinton. According to him, the pope’s waxen and scrawny expression in the photographs taken next to the American president was due precisely to their quarrel and to Francis’s embarrassment.
Elucidations are precisely what we need. In the spirit of the letter addressed by The Remnant to Donald Trump, American Catholics should ask their new president to investigate the Obama administration’s involvement in the events that led to Pope Benedict’s abdication. Clarifications would be welcome also on the ambiguous maneuvers between the Holy See and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. These seem to be much more urgent questions than Russophobic hysteria over Trump’s alleged plot with Vladimir Putin.
Anyway, in this troubled time, we should also be confident that the Church has a certain strength its enemies lack: it is bound to survive in spite of herself.
This article has been updated.
Alessandro Rico was born in L’Aquila (Italy) in 1991. He received an M.A. in philosophy at the University La Sapienza (Rome) in 2014, he is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program in political theory at LUISS (Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali, Rome), and he spent a period as a visiting Ph.D. at King’s College (London) in 2017. He is a journalist for the Italian newspaper La Verità and the Catholic blog Campari & de Maistre. He co-authored two books in 2016 and 2017.