Vatican’s Marcinkus can’t rest in peace

June 26, 2008

vaticancity.jpgUnless you’re a pope or a saint, it’s hard in Vatican City to make headlines years after your death. But not when you’re Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the late former Vatican bank head whose name alone elicits controversy.

Marcinkus, whose tenure at the Vatican’s Institute for Religious Works was marred by financial scandal, was accused this week of ordering the killing of a 15-year-old girl in 1983.

Marcinkus died in 2006 and could not defend himself from the accusations, brought by a girlfriend of a slain mobster and given ample coverage in Italian newspapers — despite big questions about her credibility (See here and here).

So, the Vatican stepped up to defend him. In an unusually speedy reply by Holy See standards, it issued a harsh condemnation of the “defamatory and groundless¬† accusations.”

It said the Italian media had stooped to sensationlism, abandoning professional ethics in the pursuit of an eye-grabbing headline. The slain mobster’s girlfriend had accused Marcinkus of hiring a hitman to kidnap and kill Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee.

Prosecutors are believed to be treating her comments with great caution, as some were contradictory. A judge familiar with the mob gang in question chalked up the accusations to “pure fantasy.”

It is not the first time that Orlandi’s disappearance has been linked to the Vatican. Investigators even probed at one point if there was a link to the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in 1981 by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca.

But it was a new blow to the memory of Marcinkus, an American who gained notoriety for the 1982 crash of Roberto Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano but denied that he or the IOR were responsible for its downfall.

Calvi, known as “God’s Banker” for his close ties to the Vatican, was found hanging from a bridge in London in 1982 with bricks and cash in his pocket after the Ambrosiano collapsed. He was first ruled to have committed suicide but an Italian court found last year that he had probably been murdered by the Mafia for losing money he was supposed to launder.

Marcinkus may not have been surprised that his name would still draw unwelcome attention. He retired to the United States in 1990 after leaving the Vatican, admitting he would likely be remebered as a villain. He was 84 when he died.

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