A controversy has emerged concerning Pope Francis’ appointment of Monsignor Battista Ricca as the overseer of the Vatican Bank and its history of scandal. The Italian magazine, L’Espresso, has printed an article which alleges that Ricca was involved in a somewhat well-known gay relationship while he was serving as acting papal nuncio to Uruguay from 1999 to 2000.
The story illustrates how the Vatican’s failure to deal with homosexuality in a healthy manner can allow for all sorts of not only personal, but institutional problems.
L’Espresso’s Vatican reporter Sandro Magister wrote [official English translation from the magazine's website]:
“Ricca arrived at this nunciature in 1999, when the mandate of the nuncio Francesco De Nittis was coming to an end. Previously he had served at the diplomatic missions of Congo, Algeria, Colombia, and finally Switzerland.
“Here, in Bern, he had met and become friends with a captain of the Swiss army, Patrick Haari. The two arrived in Uruguay together. And Ricca asked that his friend be given a role and a residence in the nunciature.
“The nuncio rejected the request. But a few months later he retired and Ricca, having become the chargé d’affaires ‘ad interim’ until the appointment of the new nuncio, assigned Haari a residence in the nunciature, with a regular position and salary.”
Magister’s account also details various other incident, such as discovering a firearm, condoms, and pornography in a suitcase Ricca owned, and, on one occasion, being beaten in an area known to be a meeting place for gay men.
Magister claims that these incidents are well known:
“In Uruguay, the facts reported above are known to dozens of persons: bishops, priests, sisters, laypeople. Without counting the civil authorities, from security forces to fire protection. Many of these persons have had direct experience of these facts, at various moments. “
Ricca eventually returned to the Vatican, where he served in various positions until recently being appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the Vatican Bank, known as the Institute for the Work of Religion (IOR).
According to The Tablet:
“Holy See spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi described the claims as ‘not trustworthy.’ “
London’s Guardian newspaper enumerates some of the important questions that surround this case:
“That points to the key questions in the affair: whether Pope Francis knew of the claims against Ricca before he handed him one of the most sensitive jobs in the Vatican. And if not, why not? After he was recalled to Rome, Ricca served in the Vatican’s secretariat of state before being given charge of first one, and eventually three, of the guest houses that the Holy See uses to accommodate church dignitaries on visits to Rome. . . .
“It would have been standard procedure for him to call in Ricca’s personal file before making the appointment and – whatever the truth or otherwise of the claims against him – it is inconceivable that he would have gone ahead had he known about them. It is hard to imagine a more dangerous official for the pope than one charged with shaking up the IOR, yet acutely vulnerable to blackmail.”
I don’t know what is true or not true in this story. While Magister’s account is certainly plausible, there is little corroborating evidence, not even testimony of witnesses, that would provide backing for the validity of his claims. His full article reads more like a list of charges, but with very little support for them–more like gossip than news.
The saddest part of this story is that so much intrigue, scandal, and gossip could be avoided if the Vatican would deal with sexuality in a more healthy manner. As long as homosexuality is considered something shameful, it will be easily used as a weapon of blackmail. As long as the Vatican continues to ignore that many gay men serve in the priesthood, this fiction will allow some priests to live lives that do not reflect their best interests.
Rather than being an opportunity to point fingers at the possible hypocrisy this story might illustrate, let’s hope that it becomes an opportunity for Pope Francis to recognize that unless he starts to deal with both homosexuality and the sexuality of priests, he will never be able to execute the reforms that he seems intent on instituting.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry