Pope Francis must answer questions about church’s financial dealings with Hitler
A new book, ‘God’s Bankers,’ sheds light on the Vatican Bank and the Nazis
It’s time for Pope Francis to confess.
His Holiness has said he wants to bring a new era of openness and light to the Roman Catholic Church.
Good for him.
He can start by at last throwing open the Vatican’s secret records about its shady dealings with Hitler, Mussolini and their allies before, during and after World War II.
What did the Vatican know about the Holocaust and other atrocities taking place? How much did it cover up? And, most of all, how much did it profit from them?
Those issues have been given new life by the publication of Gerald Posner’s new book, “God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican,” which details for the first time all that we do know about the financial shenanigans in the Holy See from that time. But it is tantalizing how much remains buried in the Vatican’s so-called “Secret Archive,” hidden from prying eyes.
These are not private or confidential Roman Catholic Church matters that have no business being aired in public. These relate directly to the church’s conduct during and after the war — as a moral authority in the world, a sovereign state, an investor and as an offshore bank.
Here are the questions that Posner’s book raises and which the pope should answer if he seriously wants to be considered “the People’s Pope.”
The scale of the Vatican’s financial entanglements raises too many questions for us to ignore.
How much money did the Vatican receive each year from Hitler in the guise of the so-called “Kirchensteuer,” or church tax, which he levied on its behalf in the Reich? (Posner finds that this tax came to $1.7 billion — in today’s money — in 1943 alone.) How far did that influence Pope Pius XII’s infamous policy of silence about the rising atrocities against Jews and others throughout occupied Europe — atrocities that the Vatican received the first direct, eyewitness evidence as early as 1941?
How much money did the Vatican make by investing in Italian munitions manufacturers in the 1930s at the start of Mussolini’s wars of conquest and slaughter, wars that the church (initially) blessed?
Why did the Vatican choose to invest in big Italian insurance companies after Mussolini purged them of Jewish owners and board members (but not Jewish customers)? And how much did senior figures at the church know about those companies’ policy of denying life-insurance claims for Holocaust victims during the 1940s on the grounds that the families couldn’t produce a body?
How much gold looted by Nazis and fascists from occupied Europe made its way into the vaults of the Vatican Bank at the end of the war? What happened to that gold afterward? Did any of it go to South America to support the lifestyles of death-camp commanders and gas-chamber operators who had been helped to escape by the so-called “ratline” run by sympathetic priests? Were U.S. intelligence reports, which described a convoy of trucks loaded with gold arriving in St. Peter’s Square, accurate or not?
And why did the Vatican refuse to join with the Swiss banks and others in making settlements with survivors’ groups and heirs in the 1990s?
Maybe there are innocent explanations for many of these questions. But they can’t be dismissed with a wave of the hand.
The scale of the Vatican’s financial entanglements raises too many questions for us to ignore. And these involve moral imperatives. As early as March 1942, a guilt-ridden SS officer went to the Catholic bishop of Berlin and gave him the first, detailed account of systematic, industrialized death-camp operations, at Belzec. The shocked and horrified bishop sent the information to the Vatican both by diplomatic pouch and by encoded telegram. Yet the information apparently wasn’t broadcast, or shared with other countries. If not, why not?
The Vatican had a gigantic network of priests in every town across Poland, ground zero for the death squads and the Holocaust. How much was reported back and when?
The Vatican has steadfastly refused to answer those questions. I tried again last week, with both the office of the Nuncio in Washington and the media-relations department in Rome, but received no response. (If that changes, I will update this article.)
Pope Francis will be visiting America in September. The president, the media and other public figures ought to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jewish groups and insist that if he wants to be hailed for his openness and candor, he has to be open and candid first.