God’s Bankers – Interview with Author Gerald Posner, Part One

God’s Bankers – Interview with Author Gerald Posner, Part One March 24, 2015

Editor’s Note: Enjoy this former Catholic’s heartfelt and stinging review of a non-practicing Catholic’s investigation of the inner working of the Vatican bank.

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Posner-Dale StineBy Catherine Dunphy In 2007, the Vatican opened its secret archives to publish for the first time the sordid details of “Processus Contra Templarios.” That’s Latin for “Process against the Templars.” It took a 700-year wait to discover the details of the court proceedings and charges against the Knights Templars in the 14th Century.  This is a good example of how the Vatican moves at its own pace.  According to Gerald Posner, author of the book God’s Bankers, A History of Money and Power at the Vatican Bank, that pace is glacial.

I was delighted when Gerald agreed to speak with me about his New York Times bestseller. Knowing that we were both cradle Catholics, I felt sure we would have a lot to talk about, and I was right. Not only do we share a Catholic esthetic, but like me, his understanding of issues of social justice were keenly honed by his Catholic Jesuit education. As you might expect, our interview was more like an excited conversation between colleagues. Due to the high energy of our banter, I found I had enough material for two blog posts. This first post includes a brief review of the book, as well as commentary from Posner on the challenges he faced in extracting information from the Vatican. The second post is a continuation of our discussion, as well as a call to Catholics to consider the ramifications of the facts in Posner’s book.

Generally, I enjoy reading books about church history, so God’s Bankers was not a hard sell.  Right out of the gate this book fascinated and intrigued me. The opening scene, is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel. “Enjoy” is not an apt descriptor of its effect on me. This is the first time that an account of church history has seemed unfiltered – reduced to its blemished and often ugly truth. Utilizing his skills in investigative journalism, Posner thoroughly details and lays out the facts for readers. It is an uncomfortable read that includes murder, money laundering, corruption and genocide. With each chapter, it becomes clearer that the Vatican has failed in its moral and ethical obligations and done everything it can to absolve itself from responsibility.

Vatican Posner also carefully references how the more recent history of the Vatican Bank is steeped in self-interest and corruption. In our interview he said:

“Francis is working to reform the Bank. Though I am giving the Vatican and Francis credit for these reforms, in one way they didn’t really have a choice. What has changed for them is this:  in 1999 Italy decided it was going to go with the Euro and retire the Lira. This put the Vatican in a bind as it relied on the Lira as its currency. The Lira was one of the reasons why it was so easy for money laundering to occur at the Vatican Bank. So when Italy made this decision, the Vatican had a hard choice to make: should they issue their own currency or would they go the way of Italy and use the Euro? They decided to go with the Euro. What they did not fully realize at the time was that by going with the common currency, they had to agree to international regulatory rules and obligations.”

The tangled tapestry that Posner unravels between the Vatican and its bank is a twisted tale – but God’s Bankers is a must read! The facts as outlined in this book are simply not something that the church can ignore. Yet it probably will. As Posner put it in the interview:

“The good news for the Vatican is that because this is a book, it won’t be covered as if it were a documentary or something like that.”

Aside from the question of faith, he says that for the average Catholic who reads the book —

“There will be a tendency not to want to give money, as it seems like funds are being squandered on a group of people who are not necessarily doing the right thing.”

Posner is committed to transparency and feels that he is in a unique position because of the intense research he has done, to “bring the historical record forward” and clearly communicate the facts related to the complicated and ethically questionable position of the Church during the Second World War.

Posner has an idea beyond the book that he hopes could influence Francis to increase transparency and open the Vatican Archives. He calls it his “long shot” – an online petition he started: http://www.freethefiles.com. He is hoping to garner 1,000 signatures to present to Pope Francis when he comes to the US in September. I am thinking he will definitely get more than 1,000 signatures, but my question is — Will that move the Pope to do something that he or the Vatican is not ready to do? Unfortunately, I think Posner’s probably got as good a chance as a snowball in hell on that one.

Check back later this week for part two of my interview with Gerald Posner. In it, we delve further into the broader implications of Vatican bank’s illicit movements. I also have a couple of questions for practicing Catholics to grapple with.

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catherinedunphy2 - Version 2Bio: Catherine Dunphy – A humanist, atheist and former Roman Catholic chaplain, Catherine is a member of the Clergy Project and former Executive Director, she has written a book about the founding of the Project and her experience of losing her faith as religious leader. It is scheduled for release in July 2015.

 

 

Posner photo credit Dale Stine

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/94509941@N00/2157853849″>IMG_2702</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I wanted this blog/article to actually say more. The part about the Euro v. Lira was interesting but I don’t felt like anything else was said of note. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    • powellpower

      I think the idea is to tease you and make you buy the book

      • Linda_LaScola

        the idea is that there was too much for one blog post. Stay tuned. You won’t be disappointed.

      • cadunphy280

        Powellpower,
        the book is a little daunting with over 700 pages, so much to long to summarize sufficiently in a blog post, or 20! The Vatican and its bank have done a lot in the past 100 years, so if you’re interested in all the lurid details then yes, you should buy the book. At some point I hope people will come to understand that both the corruption at Vatican Bank and the world wide sex abuse scandal are intrinsically linked, and point to a systemic culture of entitlement with the Church. It is an oligarchy after all.

        • powellpower

          Not sure why you’re telling me this. I was already sold and was thinking of buying the book off amazon.

          • cadunphy280

            glad to hear it,

    • cadunphy280

      Hi John; Im glad you like the post. Given the scale of the information and the complexity of the book it was really hard to cover off all the shocking details in God’s Bankers in a blog post. The second post will have more detail, but yes if you want all the gory details you should read the book.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Is it news that the institution (vs laity) of the Roman Catholic Church is irredeemably corrupt? The RCC lost all moral credibility when (to give but one notorious example), the Vatican negotiated a concordat with Hitler in 1933 that mandated the following oath for new bishops — “Before God and on the Holy Gospels I swear and promise, as becomes a bishop, loyalty to the German Reich . . . I swear and promise to honour the legally constituted government and to cause the clergy of my diocese to honour it. With dutiful concern for the welfare and the interests of the German state, in the performance of the ecclesiastical office entrusted to me, I will endeavour to prevent everything injurious which might threaten it.”

    [ Here’s a link to the full text of the agreement — http://www.concordatwatch.eu/kb-1211.834 ]

    • cadunphy280

      Interesting, in Posner’s book he explains how the Vatican had worked with all the fascist parties in Europe during this time.

    • Self defense, no? They did not want Germans and Italians goosestepping through the halls of the Vatican, picking up whatever looked interesting. I’m not sure how refusing to negotiate with them would have helped anyone.

      • ObscurelyAgnostic

        I guess that was my point — the RCC preaches a gospel of self-giving, but then they went into a self-defending crouch that sacrificed lives …

        • How did it sacrifice lives?

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            Because the RCC wasn’t willing to stick its institutional neck for those who would be slaughtered by the Third Reich?

          • From a practical standpoint I doubt the Church could have done much about it. However I admit that can be debated. If the Vatican made enough noise they might have forced action of some sort. Would Mussolini have been willing to step on the Church’s toes, he was not implanted as firmly as Hitler and might have had trouble with his own military had he attempted to do so. No doubt the Church had holdings in Gemany that Hitler could nationalize. I see your point.

          • cadunphy280

            The church may have failed in efforts to stand up to fascism, but if they had only tried then the moral discussion would be completely different.

          • It can easy to be brave sitting in one’s chair at home. I’m not saying you or others would not be more brave, but violent dictators have a way of bringing about caution in people.

  • Mary Johnson

    Fascinating! Can’t wait to read this one. When I was a nun living in Rome I was often sent to deposit cash in the Vatican Bank. Walking into that walled, airless structure always felt a bit creepy. I’m so pleased that investigative journalists like Posner are bringing to light what the Vatican has tried to keep in the dark for so long. Thanks, Catherine, for this interview.

    • cadunphy280

      Mary I knew you would have a fascinating first person perspective on the Vatican Bank. I can almost visualize you walking in!

  • carolyntclark

    I’m not shocked by the money, but happily surprised that we’re finding out so much of the scheming.
    I do think Francis would like to get things on an ethical tract…but the Curia ???
    I hope he has a reliable food taster !