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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - Page updated at 06:00 a.m.

Vatican official warns pope of corruption

By NICOLE WINFIELD
Associated Press

An Italian news program has obtained letters from a top Vatican official to the pope in which he begs not to be transferred after exposing corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts that cost the Holy See millions of euros (dollars).

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano was removed in October as the No. 2 administrator of the Vatican city-state and was named the pope's ambassador to Washington. While the job is highly prestigious, the posting took Vigano far from headquarters and out of the running for the Vatican's top administrative job, which carries with it the rank of cardinal.

The investigative news program "The Untouchables" on the private La7 network broadcast a series of letters Vigano sent Pope Benedict XVI and the secretary of state last year in which he claimed to have exposed corruption and abuse of office in the running of the Vatican's administration.

Vigano said he corrected them during his two years as secretary-general of the Vatican city-state, the Vatican department that is responsible for everything from maintaining the pope's gardens to running the Vatican Museums.

But in the process of cutting costs, Vigano made enemies who he blamed for launching a smear campaign in the Italian media in 2011 calling for his removal that, he claimed, sealed his fate.

"Blessed Father, my transfer in this moment would provoke confusion and discouragement for those who thought it was possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and abuse of office" that for a long time have been rooted in the Vatican administration, Vigano wrote Benedict on March 27, 2011.

Seven months later he was named ambassador to Washington after the sudden death of the previous envoy following complications from surgery.

Vigano claimed that when he came into office in 2009 he discovered a small coterie of businesses held the vast majority of Vatican contracts and charged the Holy See twice the going rate for services, according to the letters shown on the La7 report.

The Vatican's larger-than-life-sized nativity scene, for example, cost the Holy See euro550,000 in 2009. Vigano said he trimmed the cost for the 2010 edition to euro300,000.

He denounced the workings of an unofficial group of Italian bankers appointed after the global financial crisis to try to shore up the Vatican's finances, charging that their management of two investment funds "resulted more in their own interests than ours."

In one Dec. 9 transaction they lost the Vatican $2.5 million, the letter on La7 said.

An email seeking comment from Vigano at the Vatican's embassy in Washington was not returned Wednesday. The Vatican spokesman said he had no immediate comment on the report.

Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the recently retired head of the Vatican's finance department, was asked by the show's host if Vigano's claims of corruption were well-founded.

"From what I know, I don't think there was actual corruption," De Paolis said. But he suggested that there may well have been "instances of a lack of correctness" that can happen anywhere.

Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, insisted on the show that Vigano's transfer to Washington wasn't a punishment for exposing wrongdoing or stepping on too many toes. He noted that Vigano had been in the Vatican's diplomatic service for years and said he was being promoted to the Holy See's most important overseas post.

"He wasn't sent away. He was made the pope's representative in Washington!" Vian said.

The show was hosted by Gianlugi Nuzzi, author of Vatican SpA, a 2009 book outlining the shady dealings of the Vatican bank that was based on a trove of leaked Vatican documents.

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