God's Banker

One of the world's most notorious holy men is quietly giving Mass in Sun City

His claims of innocence often reach the absurd, though. He has, on various occasions, claimed he didn't know people who were proven by mountains of evidence to be intimate friends and business associates. The evidence, according to Italian newspapers and prosecutors, is building weekly.

Last year, he even told an investigative journalist that he wasn't Paul Marcinkus, even though the journalist had a photo of him and had watched the archbishop give Mass only a few hours earlier.

In my mind, the Marcinkus case sheds even more light on the attitude of the international church, and the local diocese, toward criminal priests.

Marcinkus, front, clearing the way for Pope John Paul II on an early U.S. tour.
Marcinkus, front, clearing the way for Pope John Paul II on an early U.S. tour.

Do you really think Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien is going to be totally forthcoming regarding sexual abuse by his priests when he is willing to give harbor to one of the most wanted men in the world?

O'Brien acts as the church acts. And the church has a millennium-and-a-half history of covering up its sins and sinners, and nobody exemplifies this truth more than Paul Marcinkus.

In the past six months, the Marcinkus case has taken on renewed interest around the world.

Attorneys for Croatian holocaust victims want Marcinkus deposed in their billion-dollar case. They want to know what Marcinkus knows about hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Croatians by the Nazis during World War II. Authorities have discovered that much of the money passed through the Vatican Bank during Marcinkus' tenure as bank president.

Indeed, a 1998 U.S. State Department report confirmed that at least $47 million of Nazi gold was laundered by Marcinkus' bank. The money "was originally held in the Vatican before being moved to Spain and Argentina," the report said.

Marcinkus has been silent on the issue. His silence clearly has the blessings of the church.

"He is the first person I would want to depose in this case," says Jonathan Levy, who leads the monumental class-action suit. "But I don't know if it will ever happen. Marcinkus is heavily protected, and he has no willingness to talk about the incredible amount of things he knows."

He also has been pursued by attorneys for plaintiffs in Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Bahamas.

Marcinkus, in the meantime, up until his hip surgery, had been playing a lot of golf at Palmbrook Country Club, behind his house. The staff there knows him well.

Another person who wants Marcinkus to talk is Carlo Calvi. Calvi, a 49-year-old Montreal banker, wants to know what Marcinkus knows about the murder of his father, Roberto Calvi, who was the chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, Italy's largest bank group until its collapse in the early 1980s that had close ties to Marcinkus and the Vatican Bank.

Calvi's father was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London on the morning of June 19, 1982. At the time, the death was ruled a suicide.

Calvi had been forced to flee Italy after his Banco Ambrosiano went bankrupt with debts of up to $1 billion. Much of that money, it was later learned, had been siphoned off via the Vatican Bank under Paul Marcinkus.

The Vatican later paid $200 million to creditors after the bank's downfall. The Vatican admitted no legal responsibility, but did acknowledge it had a "moral involvement" in the case.

In the late 1990s, Italian criminal investigators exhumed Roberto Calvi's body. Using forensic technologies not available 20 years ago, pathologists determined that Calvi had indeed been murdered. They determined he had been strangled before he was hung from the bridge.

Three known Mafiosi were arrested for the murder. And Carlo Calvi and Italian prosecutors would love to hear what Paul Marcinkus knows about what was, for him, a fortuitous death. At the time of his murder, Calvi allegedly was promising to provide proof of more money-laundering activities between the Vatican Bank and Banco Ambrosiano.

"I want to try to ensure that we get to the bottom of things [in the case] and show that my father was not simply the victim of Mafia hoods," Carlo Calvi says.

Besides the most recent testimony by Vincenzo Calcara last week, testimony by known Mafiosi in the last decade has continually linked Marcinkus to money laundering of Mafia cash and other illicit moneys through the Vatican Bank.

"Marcinkus is the key to so many things," Carlo Calvi told me in a phone interview last week. "But nobody can get to him."

And Archbishop Marcinkus is fine with that. And Bishop O'Brien is fine with that. And Pope John Paul II is fine with that.

So much moral authority doing nothing moral in this case.

Carlo Calvi first met Paul Marcinkus in the late 1970s. Marcinkus had come to visit Calvi's father at the Calvi family home in the Bahamas. Marcinkus, Calvi says, was in the Bahamas for the wedding of the daughter of one of his closest banking associates, Michele Sindona.

Sindona was later convicted in the United States on dozens of counts of fraud. In 1984, Sindona was extradited to Italy where he was sentenced to life in prison. Two years later Sindona was murdered in prison.

In 1981, Carlo Calvi says, he found a letter written by Marcinkus in 1978 to his father. The letter, Calvi alleges, was evidence that Marcinkus was involved personally with money laundering. Carlo Calvi says he turned the document over to United Nations investigators.

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