The first scandal that reached right inside Pope Benedict XVI’s household involved a Nigerian. Between April 14, 2008 and July 20, 2010, Thomas Chinedu Ehiem, a 39-year-old Vatican chorister was caught by police wiretap negotiating to bring male prostitutes for Angel Balducci, a Gentleman of His Holiness. The Vatican fired Mr. Ehiem. It was supposed to be the worst of Pope Benedict’s Vatican scandal until January of this year when what is now known as VatiLeaks broke.
In January, Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi broadcast letters from Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano. In the letters, he begged the pope not to transfer him for exposing corruption within the Vatican that cost the Holy See millions of dollars in inflated contracts and kickbacks. Despite his plea, Monsignor Vigano was transferred out of Vatican City and made the Pope’s ambassador to the United States.
In months that followed, more documents leaked to Italian journalists. The documents showed power struggles within the Vatican over how the papacy would comply with international norms to fight money laundering. The desire to show greater financial transparency brought out the worst in top ranking church officials. It came to a head when the Vatican fired Ettore Gotti Tedeshi, the head of the Vatican Bank.
Since then, embarrassing memos, cables and letters have been published. One of them said that Pope Benedict XVI would die this year. Others showed the pope as weak and incapable of controlling the people around him. Conniving Cardinals were shown to be undermining each other as they angled for power and money. Checks from influential personalities seeking favors from the pope were also exposed.
Last week, Gianluigi Nuzzi published, Your Holiness: The Secret papers of Benedict XVI, a book based on the documents he gathered from a group of informants he called Maria. The informants, Mr. Nuzzi said, were motivated by “courage, as well as the unbearable complicity with people that are committing the most serious crimes.” Some of the contents of the book included personal letters to the pope and some from the pope and his personal secretary.
The Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested on May 23, after confidential documents and photocopying machine were found in his Vatican apartment. Many church observers believe that the butler was not acting alone. Meanwhile, he has pledged to cooperate with the investigation raising the chances that a high ranking church leader may be implicated in the leaks.
Corruption in the Catholic Church is not a new phenomenon. But nothing like this has happened in decades. Vatican officials say that the scandal is a source of distraught for the 85-year-old pontiff. The pope is especially concerned that a man who used to be the first to see him each morning and the last to say goodnight to him, is in jail for his involvement in the leaks. What is clear with the leaks is that someone within the Pope’s inner circle was trying to undermine the Pope Benedict’s second-in-command, Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Vatican’s undersecretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Becciu recently tried to recast the scandal. “I consider the publication of stolen letters to be an unprecedentedly grave immoral act,” he told a Vatican newspaper. “It’s not just that the pope’s papers were stolen, but that people who turned to him as the vicar of Christ have had their consciences violated.”
Becciu said that what the leaker of the information did pain to pope. And that the pope considers such behavior “unjustifiable under any pretext.” He said, “When a Catholic speaks to the Roman pontiff, it’s a duty to open yourself up as if you were before God, also because you feel complete guarantees of confidentiality.”
This development has rattled the Vatican, known for its secrecy. As the investigation continues, the search for the yet to be identified cardinal behind the leaks is still underway.
Meanwhile, last week, the long running saga of the former Nigeria’s oil minister, Dan Etete, and his Malabu Oil block OPL 245 finally came to a head. Nigerians were once again bewildered by the revelation of an elaborate scam in which President Jonathan paid out $1.1 billion to a convicted money launderer, Dan Etete and his fraudulent Malabu oil. From this slush fund, hundreds of million of dollars went to the president’s business associate, his cronies, and ministers.
In April of 2011, under pressure from President Jonathan, the Nigerian subsidiaries of Agip Oil and Shell Oil paid the Federal Government $1.1 billion to settle the OPL 245 case. On August 16, 2011, while you were sleeping, President Jonathan ordered his junior minister Yerima Ngama and Attorney General Mohammed Adoke to transfer the $1.1 billion dollars to Mr. Etete. Out of this money, $523 million dollars went to Abubakar Aliyu, a businessman introduced to President Jonathan by the convicted former Governor of Bayelsa state, Diepreiye Alamiesegha.
Mr. Aliyu, alleged to be a front for President Jonathan, was the same man who bought NITEL property in Abuja for less than N1billion naira and sold it for over N20 billion to the Central Bank of Nigeria in a deal that saw the palms of several government officials greased.
Taken in isolation, scams like these are perplexing. But knowing that it is happening in a country that is consistently finding it hard to meet its responsibilities to her 150 million poor citizens is more disheartening. To complicate matters, we found out last week that Nigeria loses over $9 billion a year in oil theft perpetuated by business associates of top government officials. This is the same country that has again taken a hat in hand begging international banks for $7.9 billion dollars in developmental loans.
To a majority of Catholics, the pope is infallible. To a majority of independent-minded democrats, the president is not – especially this president – Goodluck Jonathan.
On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI, mired in a huge scandal called VatiLeaks, addressed a march to St. Peter’s Square. The marchers were demanding information on Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican messenger who disappeared in 1983.
On Tuesday, President Goodluck Jonathan, mired in a huge N155 billion naira scandal addressed Nigerians on Democracy Day. In his speech, he shied away from posthumously declaring M. K. O. Abiola, the winner of the 1993 election, a president-elect. Instead, he renamed the University of Lagos, Moshood Abiola University.
In days and weeks to come, the toughest question for the Vatican is what did Pope’s butler know and how did he know it? And for Aso Rock, the toughest question of all is what did President Jonathan know and how much did he get from the $1.1 billion dollars deal?
For an answer, we probably have to wait for President Goodluck Jonathan’s butler to connect with our own Gianluigi Nuzzi. Perhaps, that is when our own Nuzzi will write, Fresh Air: The Secret Papers of Pope Goodluck Jonathan XVI.