by John Thavis
ARCHBISHOP Paul Marcinkus said in an interview this week that he left the Vatican with no bitterness, although he sometimes felt he had been treated like "a pariah, a leper" after his controversial tenure as the Pope's banker.
"Looking back, I would say I'm the beneficiary of all my years here — even though you don't bat a thousand all the time," said the 68 year old Chicago-born archbishop, who retired after 38 years in the service of the Vatican on October 30.
','I'm no longer in a position here to really make any contributions — not because I can't, but because the situation has changed," he said.
Archbishop Marcinkus described himself as an accidental curial official, and an even more accidental banker. "I never wanted all this," he said, looking around his ornate apartment in the Vatican City governor's building. "1 came to Rome in 1950 to get a degree and go back to my diocese," he said.
Instead, he was drafted into the Vatican's diplomatic corps, the first of many curial positions. When Pope Paul VI named him as head of the Vatican bank in 1971 he "had no technical knowledge of banking," he said.
After Italy's Banco Ambrosiano went bankrupt with debts of $1.2 billion in 1982, the Vatican bank was found to have written letters reassuring the failed bank's creditors on a number of bad loans. The loans had been arranged by Ambrosiano president Roberto Calvi, whose body was later found hanging under London's Blackfriars Bridge.
Archbishop Marcinkus said he thought the episode will always mark him, but not the church. "There's no way in which I can get away from it. It's like the scarlet letter you carry around with you all the time," he remarked. But the affair had coloured his standing at the Vatican.
"The Pope was always loyal to me. I had his support. Others I think kept their distance. But then, if you're riding the crest sometimes it's nice to come down," Marcinkus said. His departure would free the Pope from an image problem. For people looking for a reason not to help the Vatican "I was a very good excuse," he added.
"I think the Calvi situation could have been handled differently, but I don't think it will make too much difference when people look back 2,000 years from now," the archbishop believed. And he insisted that neither he nor others at the Vatican bank were guilty of wrong doing in their dealings with Calvi. "Somebody once said if we could come back again, we'd make exactly the same mistakes but with a little more finesse," he said.
Marcinkus said most people had forgotten that he had depended on assistants who knew the technical aspects of banking while he tried to set general policy. And Italy's judicial system, which after five years annulled charges made against him and two other Vatican bank officials in the affair, reached "fair conclusions, but I think they should have come to them a lot sooner," he said.