When Pope Benedict in 2013 took the almost unprecedented action of stepping down from the papacy (given that all or most popes throughout history have served till death), rumors swirled that it was due to extreme irregularities and corruption within the Vatican's notoriously opaque finances. Ostensibly his stepping aside which paved the way for Pope Francis was due to declining health in old age, but speculation has persisted since that it was actually his inability to clean up the mess, or the fact that he was at the helm as scandals persisted.
Since then, further scandals and irregularities at the Vatican Bank have continued to emerge, with the latest in the past weeks being the "disappearance" of a whopping $1.8 billion. Mysterious transfers which eventually totaled to that amount were flagged coming into Australia over the past six years.
The Roman Catholic Church is now denying that it knows anything about it: "The Vatican and the Australian Catholic Church have both denied knowledge of transfers worth US$1.8 billion which Australia’s financial watchdog says have been sent from Rome to Australia in the past seven years," writes Reuters.
Even more bizarre is that a senior Vatican official who works on the city-states finances told Reuters under anonymity, "That amount of money and that number of transfers did not leave the Vatican City." Somewhat dubiously (given the vast financial empire the Vatican oversees globally, including posh London real estate as but one example) the same church official stated:
"It’s not our money because we don’t have that kind of money," he said. "I am absolutely stunned."
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane on behalf of the Australian church also denied any awareness of the transactions: "I can assure you that no diocese or other Church entity saw any of the money," he said. Currently both the Australian Catholic Church and the Vatican are essentially denying so much as having knowledge of the large, consistent transactions that have occurred since 2014.
The latest financial row has shaken the Vatican to the core as it's worth 1.8 billion dollars.— WION (@WIONews) January 4, 2021
Allegedly, the amount was transferred from the Vatican to Australia in the last seven years. https://t.co/c2T9hafIB9
Here's what's known of the transactions which were flagged by the official Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC):
The figures were made public in December by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) in response to a parliamentary question by Australian Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, and first reported by the newspaper The Australian.
They involved about 47,000 separate transfers, according to AUSTRAC.
And further: "AUSTRAC said the transfers ranged from yearly totals of A$71.6 million (US$55.2 million) in 2014 to A$581.3 million (US$448.0) million in 2017."
So clearly, somebody high up in the Vatican could not have missed such large volumes of transactions at these levels, but again the official statements given to Reuters are adamant in saying things like the following:
The official in Rome said the Vatican had around 100 legal entities, including hospitals and the like, "but they don’t have that kind of money".
What's more: "The Vatican official said APSA had sent less than 800,000 euros (US$980,000) to Australia since 2014, mostly for payment of salaries and expenses for the Vatican embassy, as well as pensions and travel costs."
It appears that the problems and scandals that the prior Pope Benedict seemed to have washed his hands of by stepping down in 2013 are not only persisting but once again threaten to unleash a storm of public controversy on Francis' papacy as well.