A harsh lesson in liberty from the Vatican bank scandal

Ettore Gotti Tedeschi pushed for transparency at the Vatican bank. His efforts show why the separation of church and state is essential to liberty.  Photo: Associated Press

FLORIDA, May 25, 2012 — In March, the U.S. State Department placed the Vatican on its list of countries where money laundering is a dire concern.

Now, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, the chairman of the Vatican bank, which in 2010 had roughly $33 million of its assets frozen by Italian authorities due to suspected laundering, has been unanimously ousted by its board of directors.

Under Tedeschi’s leadership, which began in 2009, the bank, formally referred to as the Institute for Works of Religion, adopted new policies geared toward ethical business practices. His term has also seen a serious effort to comply with international financial standards, something that entailed groundbreaking regulations.

These reforms have been anything but popular in the Vatican, however. A few months ago, Italian media outlets reported that there was serious conflict within the Vatican’s upper echelon regarding how much transparency is really needed. These reports were supported by sensitive letters revealing attempts to minimize the amount of data released about bank practices before the reforms could be implemented.

Tedeschi told the Reuters news agency that it was his honesty which caused him to be fired, and that he had “paid for [his] transparency.”

Of course, the Vatican had a decidedly different perspective. It issued a statement that accused Tedeschi of not sufficiently tending to the “various fundamentally important functions of his office” and announced a fresh search for someone capable of “re-establish(ing) full and effective relations between the Institute and the financial community, based on mutual respect of internationally accepted banking standards.”

Sounds like exactly what Tedeschi was trying to do. Could it be that the anti-reformist faction of the Vatican business sector has won this round?

Could it be any more obvious?

This is a truly unfortunate story; the kind where the good guy — the fellow with all the odds stacked against him — is quashed by a powerful, and possibly criminal, establishment. Needless to say, his successor will most definitely not continue in his noble cause, not if he wants to keep his job, anyhow.

Despite this, it stands as a lesson in what happens when church and state are mixed into a sour batter of theocracy. After all, if individuals believe that they are operating with the power and guidance of the divine, then what do the laws of mere mortals matter? 

Not too much, apparently. 

At the end of the day, events like the ongoing money laundering scandal at the Vatican, and the subsequent silencing of those trying to rectify that, are exactly what we get.

We as Americans are provided with another reason to value our country: the separation of church and state. Thank the Founding Fathers for that. 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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