October 24, 2021 (Steven O’Reilly) – In Part 1 of this series we began to examine in greater detail whether there are grounds for suspicion that Benedict’s pontificate was potentially undermined in order to clear the way for Bergoglio’s election. We set out with the goal to address certain questions: (1) whether any in the St. Gallen mafia suggested to Benedict he should resign, and under what conditions; (2) whether there is any indication the Vatileaks scandal might have been a wider conspiracy intended to bring down Benedict, and if so; (3) who might be a leading suspect with the ability and means to have organized it, and did he have any known links to Bergoglio’s election; and (4) is there anything in Bergoglio’s past or suspicious behavior to suggest there might have been a plot, or had knowledge of it.
In Part I, we looked at the first two questions. In Part 2, we will look at questions 3 and 4. We left off with the question: was Benedict’s butler no more than a puppet whose strings were pulled by one or more Cardinals who were the real puppet masters behind the scandal (see here)? We will now examine this hypothetical question, offering a speculation as to which Cardinal would seemingly be the likely candidate to have been the potential “puppet master” who organized Vatileaks, having motive, means, and an interest in Cardinal Bergoglio’s election.
Puppet master Hypothesis: Cardinal Sodano?
So, if we entertain the hypothesis, once entertained by Italian media, that one or more cardinals were behind Vatileaks, which cardinal is it who would have both the motive, and connections to pull it off? Under this hypothesis, the first and best possibility to come to mind would be none other than Cardinal Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State from 1991 to 2006. Certainly, an unflattering picture of Sodano has been painted by various sources. Jason Berry of National Catholic Reporter described Sodano as “the great protector of Maciel (Legionaries of Christ) and other notorious predators” and a man who “practiced Machiavellian politics on a breathtaking scale” (see here). Furthermore, Robert Micken observed of Sodano (emphasis added):
“For some three decades he was the man in the Vatican no one dared to cross. Even the popes he served were careful to gain his consent because of the loyalty he commanded from many key people at all levels of the Roman Curia.”
Berry’s article is a must read. In it, he recalls “Sodano used his authority to protect the guilty, block reformers, and assist schemers trying to cash in on American dioceses selling church property, in part to satisfy legal claims in the abuse cases.” Sodano’s nephew was an unindicted co-conspirator in apparent related scheme involving a $365,000 wire transfer. The nephew’s business partner according to Berry’s article, went to federal prison for money-laundering. Cardinal Sodano, per Berry’s and NCR’s reporting, received “lavish financial gifts” from the Legion of Christ, gifts which one priest, according to Berry, described as “an elegant way of giving a bribe.” Berry’s article also goes on to cite other financial gifts to Sodano, including a Washington Post article which reported Sodano had also received a total of $19,000 from ex-Cardinal McCarrick between 2002 and 2016 (NB: the same Washington Post article, entitled Ousted cardinal McCarrick gave more than $600,000 to fellow clerics, including two popes, records show which details, as this headline states, how McCarrick gave over $600K to Catholic prelates).
Further, Archbishop Viganò in this Testimony discusses how Cardinal Sodano helped cover up the case of Fr. Maciel of the Legion of Christ, as well as how McCarrick’s appointment as Archbishop of Washington D.C., as well as a cover-up of his indescretions up to that time, were likely the work of Cardinal Sodano (see here).
Having briefly sampled the sort of man various sources describe Cardinal Sodano to be, let us consider whether there are motives that might have led him to organize the Vatileaks scandal under the hypothesis above. As to motive, let us first recall the Vatileaks scandal hurt both Benedict and Bertone. With regard to Pope Benedict XVI, it turns out that Sodano came in second behind Benedict in votes in the 2005 conclave. Further, it was Benedict who soon removed Sodano as Secretary of State in favor of Cardinal Bertone. With regard to Bertone, Sodano had vigorously opposed his appointment. Benedict ignored Sodano’s advice on his selection. Robert Mickens wrote (emphasis added):
But the Bavarian pope rejected Sodano’s counsel and insisted on naming Bertone. By doing so he lost the vital support of most of the Vatican diplomats in the Roman Curia, yanked on the command of Angelo Sodano who fed the narrative that the pope had marginalized them by choosing the non-diplomat Bertone.
Just 14 months after becoming Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI had made a major tactical blunder. From that point onwards his pontificate lurched from one major crisis to another, both inside the Vatican and on the world stage. After nearly eight agonizing years, he and his tiny circle of trusted aides were largely isolated. In the face of all this, the aging theologian-pope resigned.
Benedict had, in effect, made an enemy of Sodano who then fed the “narrative” to the Vatican diplomats in the curia that they had been “marginalized” by the Benedict’s appointment of Cardinal Bertone. One can certainly imagine how this might have impacted the views of some these curial officials toward both Benedict and Bertone. Considering Sodano “commanded the loyalty” of many in the Vatican curia at “all levels,” is it conceivable this might provide him the potential manpower inside the Vatican to execute the Vatileaks scandal?
A Sodano-Bergoglio Connection?
The original hypothesis of this ‘theory of the case’ was to consider the possibility of a plot to bring about Benedict’s resignation in hopes of electing Cardinal Bergoglio as his successor. We have suggested who a plausible ‘puppet master‘ behind the execution of this plot might have been: Cardinal Sodano. While he would certainly have been able to pull strings and had the contacts to execute the Vatileaks scandal, did Sodano have any connection to Cardinal Bergoglio’s candidacy in the 2013 conclave?
The answer is “yes.” Cardinal Sodano, although ineligible to vote in the conclave due to his age, did in fact campaign for Cardinal Bergoglio’s election. For example, according to Robert Mickens (emphasis added):
But Sodano (and his forces) survived and at the Conclave of 2013, because of being dean of the College of the Cardinals, his duties included moderating the pre-Conclave discussions and presiding at the pre-Conclave Mass. It is widely conceded that once the voting got underway he had convinced a number of other cardinals to cast their ballots for Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ, the man who is now Pope Francis. It is not clear if Sodano delivered the determining votes for the Argentine pope’s election, but those tallies were essential nonetheless. And Francis was and remains well aware of that.
(Source: Twilight time for the Vatican’s ‘Godfather’)
So, it is certainly appears a plausible hypothesis has been formulated. Cardinal Sodano is someone who is noted as being capable of “Machiavellian plots,” and is one who has apparently been involved in his share of controversies and scandals. On paper at least, he had both the motive and means to execute the Vatileaks scandal. Cardinal Sodano even favored and campaigned for the election of Cardinal Bergoglio just prior to the 2013 conclave.
Bergoglio’s actions and behavior worthy of some suspicion?
We now arrive at the last question we set out to address: is there anything in Bergoglio’s past or has there been any suspicious behavior to suggest there might have been a plot, or that he had knowledge of it.
It is an interesting question. One could well imagine, to carry out such a plot, money would have be required to finance the operation, reward co-conspirators, etc. On the question of financial matters, while more investigation and inquiry is required here, there is clear evidence that money flowed from Argentina to the Vatican, and under questionable circumstances. Henry Sire, in his book The Dictator Pope, writes (emphasis added):
“As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio was ex officio chancellor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, which had a rich endowment of $200 million. For no clear reason, a large part of this money was transferred to the Vatican Bank. The transaction recalls a scandal years previously when Bergoglio had been auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires and the archdiocese repudiated a debt of ten million dollars, on the grounds that the check issued by the archiepiscopal Curia had not been correctly signed. Austen Ivereigh gives a whitewashing account of this incident, presenting Bergoglio as the reformer who cleaned up the mess, but the truth is that, as Cardinal Quarracino’s right-hand man at the time, he must have had inside knowledge of how the check was issued, and the facts were never satisfactorily explained.”
(Source: Henry Sire, The Dictator Pope, p. 41)
Henry Sire went on to discuss the transfer of the University of Argentina funds in greater detail in an article printed in OnePeterFive website. Mr. Sire, writes (emphasis added):
Between 2005 and 2011, some 40 million dollars were transferred from the Catholic University of Argentina to the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (the Vatican Bank), in a transaction that was supposed to be a deposit but which the IOR has hitherto treated as a donation. (Just this year, the reports are that this misappropriation has begun to be remedied, but only partially.) Pablo Garrido was responsible for this transfer, against the protests of members of the university who pointed out that the university, as an educational foundation, could not make a donation to a foreign bank. Together with the case of the Sociedad Militar Seguro de Vida, this is one of the obscure financial episodes in Archbishop Bergoglio’s administration that deserve to be studied in depth by a qualified researcher.
(Source: Henry Sire, Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires: Some More Unanswered Questions, OnePeterFive, September 11, 2018)
As Mr. Sire’s research suggests, the transfer of $40 million dollars of funds to IOR (the Vatican bank) and which was converted from a deposit to a donation is quite strange. The suggestion seems to be that the funds were used to gain influence for Bergoglio in Rome. The dates of the transfer begin at a time (2005) when Cardinal Sodano was still Secretary of State, and end when Archbishop Becciu, now embroiled in a Vatican trial involving financial corruption, was Substitute for General Affairs at the Vatican beginning in 2011 (NB: The office of Substitute is third highest ranking post in the Holy See). It would interesting to inquire of Archbishop Becciu if he has any knowledge of these “donations” and the use to which they were put.
Apparently, Becciu was in office at the time the money arrived from Argentina in 2011. Furthermore, Becciu was in the Vatican when the Vatileaks scandal broke. As an interesting side note, Becciu was consecrated a bishop by Cardinal Sodano in 2001 (see here). Becciu’s presence in the Vatican during these key dates calls to mind his current trial in the Vatican involving a shady London real estate deal. While his guilt or innocence has yet to be adjudicated, there is something quite odd about the Becciu affair involving the London deal. It was only when the transaction became public and after international authorities began to act upon it that Pope Francis moved to punish Becciu. The appearance is that the hand of Francis was forced by others. Only then did Francis remove Becciu from any office he held in the Church, taking away most if not all the benefits, privileges and duties of being a Cardinal – leaving Becciu a Cardinal in name only.
So, it would seem, Pope Francis at least was quite convinced of Becciu’s guilt in 2020, and had cause to be quite angry with him. One would think. Yet, something odd happened with an impending trial approaching. On Holy Thursday of 2021, a day in which popes traditionally conduct various public religious services, Pope Francis instead chose to spend the evening at Cardinal Becciu’s private apartment (see Pope Francis celebrates Holy Thursday Mass with Cardinal Becciu). Very strange.
However, consider this meeting Holy Thursday meeting in light of what we have already outlined in this two part article. According to Forbes, five years before — i.e., circa 2016 — Francis had been given a dossier accusing Becciu of financial corruption, involving “incontrovertible” proof of wrongdoing (see Catholic World Report, Pope Francis and the Cardinal Becciu affair). Further, by 2021, Francis had been aware of the accusations against Becciu involving the London real estate deal for about a year, and had already taken action against Becciu. Yet, with the impending trial date approaching, Francis met privately with Becciu at Becciu’s apartment, on Holy Thursday of all evenings!
If one were to imagine an American president meeting privately with a prominent, criminally accused member of his Administration, it would certainly give the appearance of some sort of collusion, e.g., perhaps the President meeting to convince the accused not to implicate the President in some criminal act the accused might have knowledge of. That Francis did not act on “incontrovertible” proof against Becciu five years ago certainly gives rise to a reasonable inference that Becciu might know something which Francis does not want divulged.
Does Francis fear Becciu might reveal something to insure an innocent verdict? If so, what might that something be? This brings us back to the dossier Francis ignored five years before, the one which apparently contained “incontrovertible” proof against Becciu. Why would Francis not have acted when he had “incontrovertible” proof of wrong doing? Might Becciu have something he hold over the pope’s head? Thus, might we infer – in our hypothesis – that what Francis fears is not so much a revelation of a crime committed during his pontificate but — perhaps — one that brought it about? In other words, evidence linking Francis to the Vatileaks scandal directly?
Summary: A theory of the case
It is established that Cardinal Martini suggested a tacit agreement with Ratzinger during the 2005 conclave. Martini said he would throw his support to Ratzinger provided that if Ratzinger failed to reform the curia, that he would resign the papacy. Seven years later, the Vatileaks scandal erupted. While Benedict’s butler confessed to the crime with seemingly sincere but naive motives, it is clear many others were involved in the conspiracy.
There have been suggestions in the Italian press that one or more cardinals were ultimately behind the scandal. Cardinal Sodano would be a natural suspect to consider in this hypothetical scenario. He had both the motives, means, and desire to see Bergoglio elected pope. While still in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was involved in some financial transactions, involving tens of millions of dollars, that certainly raise questions as Henry Sire’s research makes clear. In one instance, some $40 million was transferred to the Vatican bank, first as deposits, and then, inexplicably, converted into “donations.” Someone who might have knowledge of these transfers is Cardinal Becciu, who is the subject of an unrelated corruption investigation and trial at the Vatican.
Per Forbes, Francis had knowledge five years ago of potential corruption involving Becciu, apparently involving “incontrovertible” proof. Yet, oddly, Francis took no action. Furthermore, Francis clearly believed Becciu guilty of certain crimes involving the London real estate deal, because he stripped Becciu of his offices, and his privileges as Cardinal. Yet, despite all of this, Pope Francis met privately with Becciu at Becciu’s private apartment on Holy Thursday of 2021. Certainly, this strange meeting gives rise to the appearance of some sort of collusion to limit disclosures that might arise in the course of the impending corruption trial. Given Francis was reportedly made aware five years ago of various accusations against Becciu involving “incontrovertible evidence,” it appears the disclosure Francis fears most are those involving the past. Does Becciu know something that prevented Francis from acting on this evidence five years ago? Might these disclosures relate to the Vatileaks scandal, and the origin of his papacy?
Of course, all the above is a hypothesis. Perhaps evidence might yet appear to substantiate it. Yet, there seems smoke enough for a commission of cardinals either now, if possible, or in the future to seek interviews with some of the parties still living. One of the first places to start is to seek the records involving the movement of funds from University of Argentina to IOR, as well as the records as to how these funds were used, and to whom they were dispersed. For one, I would really like to know what Pope Francis and Cardinal Becciu discussed on Holy Thursday of 2021.
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is author of Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms. (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com or StevenOReilly@ProtonMail.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on GETTR, Parler, or Gab: @StevenOReilly).