There’s a hidden confidential document in the Vatican that re-writes – at least in part – the narrative that has been causing upheaval in the Holy See over the past year and a half and explains what could have caused the sudden cooling in the relationship between Pope Francis and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The distancing culminated with the dismissal of the cardinal commission of the IOR last September (it’s the first time that the head of the Apostolic Palace is not present in the controlling body of God’s bank) and, more recently, with the definitive transfer of the treasure supervised by the Secretariat of State to the safes of the Apsa, the body that administers the goods of the small theocratic state.

It’s true that the marginalization of the former key ministry of the Vatican and of the role of Parolin stems from the economic reform wanted by the pontiff, based on the centralization of Vatican investments in the authority presided by Nunzio Galantino. But it is certainly also the consequence of the criminal investigations involving the Secretariat of State, the former substitute Angelo Becciu, a number of employees and businessmen like Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione. The investigations focused on the scandal of the London property in Sloane Avenue, purchased with 200 million which also came from Peter’s Pence and which caused a hole of «more than 100 million» (this latest estimate hypothesized by the promoters of justice) in Vatican coffers, and enriched criminal speculators and monsignors they may have corrupted.


The Vatican had clarified, in its charges, that the investigation began on 2 July 2019 following a report by the IOR Director General Gianfranco Mammì. A lay manager close to Francis became suspicious following a sudden request that was received by the substitute Peña Parra one month earlier. With a letter to the President of the institute Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, the Vatican’s interior minister requested a loan from the bank of 150 million euro, for unclear «institutional reasons». The very anomalous request – the prosecutors wrote – led to the Mammi’s report (of course, with the pope’s agreement) and to the discovery of the entire London scandal and its characters.

One and a half years after the first discovery, the document helps to add an important piece in the reconstruction of the events because it shows that even Parolin was well aware of the London operation, seeing that on 4 March 2019, with a letter marked «confidential-urgent» addressed to de Franssu, he personally requested for the first time the million euro loan, that was to be used to extinguish a loan considered too expensive and which the Secreteriat of State had taken out with Cheney Capital after purchasing all the shares of the controlled property from Mincione four months earlier. «Most illustrious Sir», Parolin wrote on headed paper and registering the letter «(...) considering that over time some valid investments were made in foreign countries, but not of easy liquidity and with profits in the medium term, a new loan is required that will allow to safeguard the investment while at the same time respect confidentiality. Market trends during these weeks advise against using existing liquidity for operations to cover the investments and instead to obtain additional liquidity.  For this reason, a loan of 150 million is being requested from the bank, to be released in a short time. The loan can envisage a two-year expiry date and the institute will collect a yearly commission in line with those of the international market for loans of that length of time with an AAA rating, granted by sovereign state authorities. I would be grateful for a positive response to this request which responds to the higher needs of the Holy See».

The document is astonishing. Not only because Parolin describes the investment wanted by Becciu as «valid» and to be «safeguarded», as well as the need to safeguard its «confidentiality», but also because the date of the letter and other previously unknown contacts between the compliance department of the IOR show that Mammì, his managers and those of the  FIA worked on the matter for months, before the Director General  (in agreement with the pope) decided to blow everything up and present a formal criminal report.


Parolin is the Vatican’s Prime Minister, and initially de Franssu and Mammì snapped to attention. Authoritative sources of the Apostolic Palace say that after the prelate’s letter the heads of the IOR immediately informed the Financial Information Authority, the anti-money laundering body which has powers of vigilance over the bank (but not, by statute, over the Secretariat of State) for it to check on the operation’s feasibility.

For months the FIA, headed at the time by René Brülhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, both fired after the scandal erupted with very arguable charges, worked in close contact with Peña Parra e Mammì, indicating (three letters were personally signed by Brülhart) that the loan was formally feasible because at the time the IOR had sufficient liquidity, but requesting an adequate verification with respect to anti-money laundering norms. In April 2019 all the characters involved are aware of Sloane Avenue and that the money requested is required to extinguish the Cheyney loan which is too expensive. Even the pope is obviously informed.

Everything appears to be going smoothly. Until May, when while the technical offices of the IOR are working on the repayment plan to be signed by Parolin and the substitute, Mammì demanded that Peña Parra send the IOR another letter in which the loan request is signed by directly by him. Mammì’s theory was that the substitute for General Affairs has operational mandates and therefore Parolin’s letter was insufficient. This was the genesis of the epistle, («signed for ratione officii», the prosecutors say) that Pena Parra sent to Franssu on 4 June, to be followed by a third one on 19 June, in which the substitute clearly specified black on white the matter of the loan for the IOR. At this point the relations between Peña Parra and Mammì begin to fray. In any case, the negotiation on the 150 million euro loan continues and on 27 June a report signed by the compliance experts of the IOR gives the green light to «an operation that appears financially motivated».

On June 29 the heads of the bank go to the Apostolic Palace with details of the loan’s repayment plan, which appears one step from being approved. But instead that meeting would be the last one: two days later Mammì suddenly changes his mind and reports the whole affair to the promoters of Justice. The main reason: «the lack of clarity» of Peña’s letter, which does «not specify the beneficiary of the amounts».

Why was Parolin’s letter never mentioned in the reconstructions and documents of the promoters of justice?  Certainly with regard to the charges considered against Mincione, Torzi, the banker Enrico Crasso and the drafter Fabrizio Tirabassi the matter is not significant. But the document is embarrassing, because it better clarifies the genesis of the investigation, the fact that the right-hand man of the pope considered Becciu’s investments «valid» (those same investments that Parolin defined «lacking clarity» six months later). It also permits highlighting how behind the scandal there is a power struggle among men belonging to Francis’ inner circle. In the meantime while awaiting new developments in the criminal investigation, the Apsa headed by Galantino and secretary Fabio Gasperini last September responded in substance on exactly what Parolin’s plans were nearly two years earlier: open new loans for around 150 million euro with foreign banks, extinguish the Cheyney financing and protect the London investment on Sloane Avenue. «Parolin was right, he was unjustly humiliated», they say on the third Loggia. But in the Vatican, after the financial chaos, it’s the lay members who are calling the shots: like it or not the pope no longer trusts the Curia (mainly the Italians).

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