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Obituary: Archbishop Paul Marcinkus

Archbishop Paul Marcinkus
Archbishop Paul Marcinkus: Controversial churchman
Archbishop Paul Marcinkus was a colourful Catholic priest, best known as the controversial governor of the Vatican Bank, who was indicted over his involvement with the collapse of the scandal-ridden Banco Ambrosiano.

Paul Marcinkus's catchphrase was disarmingly simple: "You can't run the Church on Hail Marys."

But the one-time papal bodyguard, and son of a Lithuanian window-cleaner, nearly brought the Vatican to its knees.

In 1982, he was indicted in Italy as an accessory in the $3.5bn collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, an Italian financial institution with ties to the Vatican Bank.

Marcinkus was, at one time, a director of the Bahamas-based Ambrosiano Overseas.

The bank was accused of laundering money for the Mafia and the illegal P2 masonic lodge.

But the Archbishop, who fiercely denied any wrongdoing, escaped arrest because Italian courts ruled that Vatican employees were immune from prosecution.

And the fallout from the Banco Ambrosiano scandal took a darker turn when two of its top executives, including its chairman, Roberto Calvi, were murdered.

Marcinkus with Pope Paul VI and Martin Luther King
Right-hand man: Marcinkus (l) with Pope Paul VI and Martin Luther King

Calvi, known as God's Banker because of his close ties to the Vatican, was found hanged beneath Blackfriars' Bridge in London. The murder bore the hallmarks of a ritual killing.

And his colleague, Michelle Sindona - one of Marcinkus' closest friends - died in prison after drinking a cup of coffee laced with cyanide.

While refusing to accept any responsibility for the bank's collapse, the Vatican acknowledged "moral involvement" and paid $241m to Ambrosiano's creditors.

Paul Casimir Marcinkus was born in Cicero, Illinois, in January 1922. Ordained a priest in 1947, he became an Archbishop and a member of the Curia, the Vatican's civil service, in 1968.

Two years later, the 6'4" tall priest foiled an assassination attempt on Pope Paul VI, throwing himself at a Bolivian artist who tried to stab the Pope at Manila airport in the Philippines.

His actions earned the feisty Marcinkus the nickname 'Gorilla' in the Italian media.

Bodyguard

In 1971, he was appointed governor of the Vatican Bank, becoming the most powerful and influential American ever to work in the Vatican.

David Yallop's 1984 book, In God's Name, attempted to implicate Marcinkus in an alleged plot to murder Paul VI's successor, John Paul I, who died just 33 days after his election in 1978.

But this view was challenged by another British author, John Cornwell, whose work, A Thief in the Night, concluded that John Paul I died of natural causes.

"A lot of times I've said I'd like to strangle a guy, but that's when you've lost patience with him or something like that, a figure of speech," Marcinkus told one interviewer.

Archbishop Marcinkus with Pope John Paul II
Archbishop Marcinkus with Pope John Paul II
"I've been accused of murdering a pope and then getting involved in Ambrosiano, both of these things are completely unfounded.

"If I have any inner strength, if I believe in myself, I say to myself: 'This might be God's way of ensuring that I get my toe in the door of paradise.' If I get my toe in, He can't slam the door."

Marcinkus was also involved in the controversy over the alleged laundering of millions of dollars of Nazi gold after World War II.

A report by the US State Department implicated the Vatican Bank in the money-laundering scheme.

But, because of his diplomatic immunity, investigators were unable to question Archbishop Marcinkus about any role played by the bank.

After retiring from the bank in 1989, Archbishop Marcinkus - who was never made a Cardinal - spent his latter years back in the United States, in a house by a golf course in Sun City, Arizona.



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