God's Banker

A woman in her 60s answers the knock at the door. I ask for Paul Marcinkus. She says he can't talk. She says he is recovering from hip surgery.

I give her my card. Please have him give me a call, I say.

She says it is unlikely that he will call. Why is that? She says he never talks to people about his past.

"Has he ever talked to you about his past?" I ask.


"How long have you known Archbishop Marcinkus?"

"Thirty-five years," she says, growing increasingly unfriendly. "And he has told me nothing. I don't know anything about the things I'm sure you want to ask about. And he won't talk. Do you understand? Now it is time you go away."

So I go away from this humble white cinderblock house backed up to a country club fairway in the heart of Sun City.

And so one of the most notorious figures in the history of the Catholic Church remains shrouded in secrecy.

Archbishop Paul Marcinkus was president of the Vatican Bank from 1971 to 1989. As such, he held the purse strings for the international church. He was constantly seen accompanying Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II, and he was considered by many to be the second most powerful man in the church.

He arguably held the most power in the Catholic Church of any American in the history of the church.

But by the early 1980s, Marcinkus was increasingly being implicated in massive financial scandals, scandals that spent months on the front pages of newspapers and magazines throughout Europe. His dealings were also the subject of several books published in the 1980s.

In the mid-'80s, Italian authorities tried to arrest Marcinkus in connection with a stunning array of crimes, including assassination financing, arms smuggling, and trafficking in stolen gold, counterfeit currencies and radioactive materials.

Italian authorities also wanted to talk to Marcinkus regarding what he knew about numerous murders. Through the late 1970s and early 1980s, most every key player involved in schemes with Marcinkus ended up dead. A journalist investigating Marcinkus, the Vatican Bank and their ties to the mob also was murdered at the time.

But Marcinkus was never interviewed or arrested. Pope John Paul II sheltered Marcinkus in the Vatican, protecting him for seven years with Vatican City's sovereign immunity, an immunity granted to the Vatican in 1929 by Benito Mussolini.

Then Marcinkus was shipped off to Chicago, his home. Then, soon after, he moved, or was moved by the church, to Sun City.

Now, the 80-year-old Marcinkus gives Mass at Sun City churches within the Diocese of Phoenix, with the full knowledge of Bishop Thomas O'Brien, as investigators around the world continue to fight Marcinkus' Vatican immunity.

O'Brien is even willing to use Marcinkus and his high rank to bring star power to local fund raisers and church events. For example, just last spring, Marcinkus was a guest of honor at a Valley Knights of Columbus event over which O'Brien presided honoring top church officials such as Monsignor Dale Fushek, the embattled founder of the church's Life Teen program.

This while Marcinkus was wanted for questioning in numerous civil and criminal cases around the world, according to prosecutors.

Last week, according to the Italian paper Gazzetta del Sud, Marcinkus was again implicated in mob financial dealings in a five-hour deposition of a mob informant by Italian prosecutors.

In the coming weeks, Italian prosecutors will pursue new legal avenues to finally force Marcinkus to tell what he knows about the Vatican Bank's links to mob money during the 1970s and 1980s.

Prosecutors still may not get him. Marcinkus lives in Sun City under the protection of a Vatican State diplomatic passport, which gives him the same immunity as when he was hiding behind the gates of the Vatican. No cops, let alone plaintiffs' attorneys, can even approach him.

"Marcinkus is a crook, a criminal, a man who in the normal world would have served a long prison sentence for his part in a whole array of financial crimes," alleges British author David Yallop, who wrote about Marcinkus' myriad scandals in his famous 1984 book In God's Name.

"What saved him from justice?" Yallop asks me rhetorically. "The Vatican."

Clearly with lots of aiding and abetting from folks here in the Phoenix Diocese.

Who, we learned last week in the Arizona Republic, were also willing to quietly harbor a priest by the name of John M. Picardi, a man with a sickening history of sexual misconduct who was recommended for defrocking in 1996 by a sexual abuse board under Boston Cardinal Bernard Law.

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Robert Nelson