A new scandal for the church

Cardinal sins: Kickbacks for cheap real estate?


On June 11, before about 15,000 priests gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI apologized for the clergy sex abuse scandal.

On June 28, the Church issued another mea culpa of sorts on a different matter—corruption charges. The Vatican admitted to potential “errors” in the handling of real estate, following accusations that a top cardinal has been implicated in a public works scandal. And it’s got one expert wondering if a “diplomatic tussle” could result over the powers of church and state.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the archbishop of Naples, accepted kickbacks during his time as head of Propaganda Fide, which handles Vatican real estate holdings. It’s alleged that from 2001 to 2006, Sepe sold property below market price to a government minister, who approved funds to restore Church buildings in return.
Contracts being investigated in the wide-ranging probe are worth several billion euros.

The Church has long had concerns about interference from secular authorities, notes Robert Ventresca, a history professor at the University of Western Ontario’s King’s University College who specializes in the Church. He points to Belgium, where a recent police raid on the Church in connection with the abuse scandal was denounced as “deplorable” by the Pope. “These are separate issues,” Ventresca notes, “but they’re related insofar as you see a certain response.” He believes the Vatican is “growing more combative in terms of pushing against civil authorities.” Still, the acknowledgement of possible error around real estate deals could be a sign of a lesson learned in the abuse scandal—the importance of public response.

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