- Associated Press - Sunday, June 20, 2010

VATICAN CITY | The Vatican pledged Sunday that Naples’ cardinal would cooperate with an investigation by Italian prosecutors into a sprawling scandal for alleged corruption while he led the Holy See office bankrolling missionary work abroad.

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe’s real estate transactions and other dealings while he headed the Vatican’s Propaganda Fide office are being scrutinized by prosecutors in the widening “Great Works” scandal.

Investigators have been untangling an alleged web of kickbacks and favors, including purported sexual ones, involving businessmen, church hierarchy and public officials. Among those being investigated is a top aide to Premier Silvio Berlusconi - disaster chief Guido Bertolaso.

Prosecutors aim to determine whether corruption influenced the awarding of billions of euros worth of contracts for such large projects as preparing 2000 Holy Year events in Rome and rebuilding the quake-shattered town of L’Aquila.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said “collaboration is in the interest of everyone to fully clear up” the allegations against Cardinal Sepe, “who already has said he will fully cooperate.”

Father Lombardi added that, while Cardinal Sepe has “the right to be respected and esteemed,” the Vatican wants the “situation to be cleared up fully and rapidly, so that shadows on him and on church institutions can be eliminated.”

In an unrelated scandal, the Vatican has been rocked by accusations it helped foster a culture of cover-up and secrecy in decades of handling pedophile priests in parishes, seminaries and other church institutions around the world.

In Naples’ cathedral, faithful crowded around Cardinal Sepe in a show of solidarity after Sunday Mass. He told journalists he would “speak soon” to investigators and was “absolutely” tranquil about the probe. “Truth always triumphs, no?” the cardinal said.

Italian prosecutors by law cannot reveal details of investigations before any indictments are brought.

Mr. Bertolaso, who heads the Civil Protection agency, said after his recent interrogation by the prosecutors that he was allowed to live rent-free in a palazzo owned by Propaganda Fide and located on one of Rome’s priciest streets, Via Giulia.

News reports have said others investigated in the scandal told magistrates that the rent was paid by Diego Anemone, a builder at the heart of the alleged kickback ring.

Italian newspapers have reported that also under investigation are several remodeling contracts for Propaganda Fide properties given to figures in the probe during Cardinal Sepe’s tenure at the well-financed Vatican missionary office.

Also under investigation is Pietro Lunardi, who allegedly purchased a Propaganda Fide palazzo for a fraction of its real worth in Rome in 2004 while he was the minister of infrastructure.

Mr. Berlusconi’s industry minister, Claudio Scajola, has been forced by the probe to quit. Mr. Scajola purchased an apartment with a view of the Colosseum with the alleged help of 900,000 euro from an associate of Mr. Anemone.

Cardinal Sepe won favor with John Paul II when he oversaw the smooth running of the 2000 Holy Year, which drew millions of pilgrims to Rome amid a flurry of construction in the capital.

John Paul had barely shut the Holy Door at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica when he bestowed the red cardinal’s hat in early 2001 on the then 57-year-old Sepe, a native of the Naples area, in what was seen as a reward.

Cardinal Sepe was appointed to lead Propaganda Fide, which, with its deep coffers and choice real estate, has traditionally been one of the curia’s more politically influential offices in Italy.

In 2006, a year after Benedict XVI became pontiff, he transferred Cardinal Sepe from the Propaganda Fide post to Naples. That move raised eyebrows because it is uncommon for senior Vatican officials to be transferred to dioceses.

Among those arrested in the current scandal have been Mr. Anemone and a former government official for public works, and Angelo Balducci, who was quietly dropped from the ranks of those who serve as honorary ushers at Vatican ceremonies.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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