“He who enters the conclave as the Pope leaves it as a cardinal”, so the Vatican saying goes. Giovanni Angelo Becciu, a cardinal with access to the Holy See’s inner sanctum, who was even considered papabile – a popeable contender for the top job – must be turning those words over in his head now that his trial is underway for embezzlement, abuse of office, and inducing a witness to perjury. Cardinal Becciu has been stripped of his privileges – including his red biretta – but for now, he keeps his title. Where did it all go wrong?
The money, the power, and the secrecy of the Vatican operation have concocted some really delicious scandals since the early days of the Church. Pope Stephen VI, of the 9th Century, dug up his predecessor Pope Formosus and had his rotting corpse put on trial for blasphemy. Formosus’s lacklustre defence, as you may have guessed, led to a guilty verdict – his decaying blessing fingers were cut off, and his remains hurled into the Tiber. Pope John XII was accused of turning the Vatican into a brothel and was killed by one of the men he cuckolded, while Pope Benedict IX sold the papacy to another priest to pay off his election expenses. Pope Innocent VIII is said to have sustained himself on breast milk.
The Vatican, to judge by its more recent scandals, has not improved with age. Alois Hudal, a cardinal during the Second World War, helped some of the worst Nazi war criminals escape justice by spiriting them to South America and the Middle East. In 1982, Roberto Calvi, a top Italian banker who was closely associated with the Vatican, was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London, with the evidence pointing towards the frightening conclusion that he could not have done it himself. That’s to say nothing of the child sex abuse revelations, orgies in cardinal’s homes, blackmail, backstabbing, intriguing, and corruption to come out in the last few years.
Every new fiasco dollops a fresh load of petrol onto the pagan bonfire at which there worships the unholy trinity of QAnon nutters, loyalist paramilitaries, and worst of all, Dan Brown fans. Then again, once you’ve read about the 2017 case of the cardinal who siphoned $500,000 in donations to a children’s hospital – a children’s hospital! – so that he could renovate his flat, you’ll probably start spotting all types of connections between Opus Dei, Hillary Clinton, and the reptilians who live under Denver airport. If sunlight is meant to be the disinfectant, there are plenty of corners in Vatican City that need a thorough scrubbing.
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