"Merchants in the Temple" by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi is an exposé of the entrenched, morally suspect and financially unscrupulous culture of the Vatican. It's well known that power corrupts, that human nature can be self-serving, and that Church bigwigs are no angels....for many years they protected pedophile priests (as seen in the movie "Spotlight"). Still, I was shocked by the revelations in this story.
If Nuzzi is right, Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2013 because he couldn't deal with the engrained, powerful, self-indulgent, sometimes criminal (money laundering) Cardinals that run the Vatican. Benedict's resignation led to the election of Pope Francis, who apparently has a stronger stomach than Benedict. Pope Francis is determined to clean house - which has proven to be extremely difficult.
The book gives a detailed picture of financial shenanigans perpetrated by Cardinals and Vatican employees. I got a feel for what was going on but - there are so many people involved (with very long titles and names) and so much economic hocus pocus - it's very hard to understand the exact details and how it all works.
As far as I can tell the financial schemes and malfeasance in the Vatican involves: using donation money meant for poor parishes to bail out Vatican overspending; hiding money from auditors; laundering Mafia money; underwriting lavish apartments and lifestyles for Cardinals and other employees (food, wine, clothing, interior decorating, prostitutes/lovers, etc.); paying blackmail to keep Cardinals' sexual peccadillos out of the public eye (sexual liasions are supposedly very common among the Catholic clergy); patronage and nepotism - hiring WAY too many employees and paying excessively high salaries; using overpriced outside printshops for Vatican publications, rather than the fully capable Vatican printers; hiring contractors without getting estimates, and allowing them to overspend....with no oversight; permitting pension funds to become nearly bankrupt; being financially ignorant and inept (Cardinals aren't usually economists or businessmen); and more.
According to Nuzzi, Pope Francis has brought in financial experts and auditors- both religious and lay people - to fix some of this mess. However, the Cardinals have no intention of giving up their power. They resist reform; refuse to cooperate; pretend to cooperate; wage secret - and not so secret - campaigns to discredit the reformers; perhaps commit murder (Pope John Paul I died 33 days after he was elected, allegedly just before he was going to remove some Cardinals from power); and more.
Thus, Pope Francis might have to wait until the ensconced Cardinals reach mandatory retirement age (80) or die, and replace them with people he trusts. However, the 'power corrupts' problem might begin a new cycle of bad behavior (just my opinion)......
When I finished the book I admired Pope Francis but had very little respect for the Vatican. The self-serving Cardinals mentioned in the book apparently forgot what priests are supposed to do - minister to the Catholic people. In fact, the Catholic flock seems to be the last thing on their minds.
Overall, this is an interesting book, a real eye-opener - though perhaps a bit too detailed and confusing (though I admire the enormous amount of research Nuzzi must have done). In any case, I hope Pople Francis succeeds in his mission to 'fix' the Vatican and wish him luck.
Rating: 3.5 stars