Page 2, 31st August 1979

31st August 1979
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Page 2, 31st August 1979 — Cafod stands by to help Morvi
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Cafod stands by to help Morvi

Morvi's Tragedy did not end with the passing of the 20-foot wave which engulfed 31 villages and about 6,500 people. Now comes the clearing up.

Morvi's death toll will certainly exceed 5,000 and may even be higher. Alongside the mass cremations the prople will also have to build new homes and reorganise their agriculture.

The Indian High Commission told the Catholic Herald that the air force and the army were in full control of the situation, and that outside help had not been requested. They also said that the monsoon was not hampering rescue and rehabilitation work, thanks to the boats and amphibious vehicles the forces had at their disposal.

Yet no amount of amphibious vehicles and blankets can heal the parents who saw their children swept away. or help cope with the deeper scars left by a devastated home. One observer said that "wherever you put your foot you strike a body".

Nevertheless, ready to do what it can, Cafod. the Catholic relief fund is standing by, waiting for contingency plans from the Indian branch of Caritas. Cafod said that 5,000 people are living in camps, and 60,000 in emergency accommodation, and on a human. level, the situation was desperate.

POPE John Paul countered the critics of his expensive new swimming pool at Castelgandolfo with the remark: "It is much cheaper than another conclave." That suggests that he has been thinking about the state of Vatican finances and that they are not healthy. The deficit for 1978 — the year of two conclaves — is alleged to be £6.5 million.

'then along comes L 'Espresso, an Italian weekly magazine that sometimes gets things right, which claims that the Pope has ordered that the annual budget should be published before the end of the year. So far, this has been a taboo topic. and Roman sources maintained a tight-lipped silence about it. As L'Espresso remarked, to publish a budget is so revolutionary that only a foreign Pope could bring it off."

Quite apart from being revolutionary, it would also be an extremely difficult exercise to conduct properly. The Vatican finances were so organised that one could not see the rabbit for the movement of the hat.

There are so many overlapping and parallel bodies involved, so many invisible intermediaries, so many currencies to convert (one has to learn to think in billions of lire) that previous students of Vatican finances have produced the most widely varying estimates.

There are other difficulties. Just what counts as assets? The riches of the Vatican museums are literally incalculable. Add the special museum of modern art set up in 1973; over 500 works were donated by leading artists. But these are non-realisable assets and do not help to pay the bills. Again, there are about 1,400 religious orders who have their generals in Rome and many of them also have houses of formation there. This property does not belong to the Vatican, strictly speaking. But the people of Rome Lend not to make such fine distinctions. An awful lot of Rome is owned by the 'Church'. And meanwhile there are shantytowns on the outskirts of the city. The bus from the airport avoids them.

The foundations of the modern wealth of the Vatican came from the Lateran Treaty signed with Mussolini in 1929. In compensation for the loss of the papal states, the Italian government offered the sum of 750 million lire. The Special Office for the Administration of the Property of the Holy See was set up to deal with these funds. It prospered.

In 1942, Pius XII invented another body, the Institute for the Works of Religion. It is in effect a bank in which religious orders and those working in the Vatican may invest. With good management and lay advice it too prospered.

After the 1965 Council, the situation began to change. First the bureaucracy of the Church began to expand. The new curia' Justice and Peace and the Secretariats for Christian Unity, Non-Christian Religions and Non-Believers — demanded a much greater cash-flow.

Though its members were modestly paid, they went in for a great deal of costly intercontinental travel, while the members of the 'old curia' stayed at home. Collegiality had to be paid for. lithe axe is now to fall, it will most likely fall on globetrotting curialists. Cardinal Pignedoli will have few postcards to send from distant places.

Moreover. the idea of the Church as 'the Church of the poor' seemed to make the involvement of the Holy See in international finance anomalous if not scandalous, This was not always seen by those who had to administer these funds. In 1975 Cardinal Vagnozzi explained:

"When the Pope says that we are a poor Church and need money, that means that we managers have to get a better yield from our investments.

It seemed a rather odd conclusion. In Popoloam, Progress io Paul VI was critical of "unrestrained liberalism" so much so that the Wall Siredt Journal dismissed the encyclical as "souped'up Marxism", But at the same time his financial experts were playing the market hnd profiting from "unrestrained liberalism."

From 1967 there was a change of investment policy. The Special Administration and the Institute for the Works of Religion began to move their assets away from Italy and to invest in multinational and American companies (General Motors, Shell, Gulf Oil, I BM) This move was not unaccompanied by a desire to escape some of the consequences of Italian taxation. It also had something to do with the fact that Mgr Paul Marcinkus, the cigar

chomping, gulf-loving prelate from Chicago, was president of the Institute for the Works of Religion. Ile still is.

The shift of Vatican investment out of Italy sometimes had unfortunate social consequences. The withdrawal of the Vatican stake in the pasta company, Pantadella, led to redundancies and sackings.

Even more distressing is that Michele Sidona, who vanished in mid-August while awaiting trial in New York, was one of the principal advisers to the Vatican in the early 1970s. He is alleged to have lost the Vatican SIO million and is wanted by police in several countries.

According to a recent book by Charles Levinson, "Vodka-Cola", Sidona has been accused of having links with the Mafia as well as with Soviet-owned banks in which the French and Italian communist parties had also invested.

"It is indeed possible," writes tongue-in-cheek Levinson, "that Sidona accomplished the ultimate -ecumenical miracle: the Vatican's share in Generale lmmobiliare — an important construction company — was later bought by Fiat and by a mysterious consortium. And it soon transpired that a third share in this consortium was owned by someone connected with the Italian Communist Party."

The links are, as can he seen, a little tenuous. The publication of a Vatican budget will not answer these mysteries. But it can be said that from 1970 a secret budget has been drawn up annually, and that from 1975 onwards a deficit has been recorded. And that is, well, semi-official.




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