Gerald Posner: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris


Gerald_Posner_author.tiffJohn Martin of ABC News says “Gerald Posner is one of the most resourceful investigators I have encountered in thirty years of journalism.” The Los Angeles Times dubs him “a classic-style investigative journalist.”

Posner is the author of twelve books, including New York Times bestsellers, and one a finalist for the Pulitzer in history. At 23 he was one of the youngest attorneys ever hired by the Wall Street law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. A Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude graduate of UC Berkeley (1975), he was an Honors Graduate of Hastings Law School (1978), where he served as the Associate Executive Editor for the Law Review.

Of counsel to the law firm he founded, Posner and Ferrara, he is now a full-time journalist and author. He has also written widely on investigative issues for many national magazines, and contributes regularly to NBC, the History Channel, and CNN. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, author, Trisha Posner, who works with him on all his projects. His latest book, God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican, was published by Simon & Schuster (February 2015)

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Gerald.

*     *     *

Morris: When and why did you decide to write God’s Bankers?

Posner: God’s Bankers stretches back to my Mengele research. When I visited Buenos Aires in 1984 I obtained access to the Argentine Federal Police file on Mengele. In the police station where I reviewed that file, I came across some documents indicating that some wanted Nazis arrived in postwar Argentina with the help of a bishop and a priest in Rome. I kept that as the germ of a story idea. It took more than 20 years before I had enough information to submit a detailed proposal to a publisher.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Posner: A number of times I said “Wow.” Once was while getting my hands on the archival government and private company records that established how the Vatican had covertly conducted business with the Third Reich and Italy’s Fascists during World War II and then covered up their involvement when the war was over.

Another time was the extent to which the Vatican Bank had been used in the last half of the twentieth century as an offshore bank by everyone from the CIA looking to fund anti-Communist movements to money laundering mobsters to Italy’s aristocrats and political leaders.

Finally, I was startled at the confluence of crises — financial scandal, internecine internal power struggle, and the power wielded possibly by a ‘gay lobby’ composed of senior clerics — that made Pope Benedict throw up his hands in surrender and resign the Papacy in 2013.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Posner: When I pitched this book to Simon & Schuster in 2005, I expected to concentrate on the Vatican’s finances from World War II through the 1980s. It was only when I got into the reporting that I kept not only rolling back the start of the story, but also realized it was necessary to bring it up to current times. I was fortunate to have a publisher who supported my expanding vision of what ultimately became a 200-year history of ‘follow the money’ in the Vatican.

Morris: Why was the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR) or Vatican Bank established by Pope Pius XII in 1942?

Posner: Primarily so that the Vatican could continue to do business with impunity with German and Italian companies blacklisted by the U.S. and Great Britain.

Morris: In your opinion, prior to 1942 and prior to Pope Francis, which of the popes did the most to prevent or eliminate corruption
within the Vatican community? Please explain.

Posner: Martin Luther would say there had been none. And he might well be right in the sense that even those who tried to discourage personal corruption inside the papal court, did little to vet or prevent the institutional corruption that became an integral element of the church’s history. Of course, for nearly 1900 years, Popes were not only the head of the world’s largest religion, but also Kings of a 15,000 mile empire – The Papal States – that cut across central and northern Italy. As secular and totally autocratic rulers – with a papal court of hangers-on that rivaled that of the French and British kings – it is little wonder that corruption flourished. It had become a way of life.

Morris: In your opinion, of all the popes throughout history, which seems to have been the most corrupt? Please explain.

Posner: There is real competition for this title. (There is also intense competition for the ‘most wicked’ title as murders and rapes are the partial legacy of some early Popes). My pick for the most corrupt is Alexander VI, popularized recently when Jeremy Irons portrayed him in SHO’s The Borgias. He literally bought the papacy by bribing the electing cardinals. Alexander made little pretense at having anything to do with religion. He married, had children both in and out of marriage, and used the Vatican as a backdrop for lavish entertainment that almost always devolved into orgies. For Alexander, the Papacy was all about increasing the wealth and power of his well-to-do merchant family and his financial benefactors. Before he was poisoned after 11-years as Pope, he used the Papal Army to imprison many of his family’s business competitors and then confiscated their lands and wealth.

Morris: Based on your rigorous and extensive research, what seems to have been the Vatican’s relationship with organized crime over the years?

Posner: There are two ways there are links between the Vatican and the traditional organized crime families mostly based in Italy’s south. In earlier times, Italian families were large, often having six or more children. It was a sign of prestige to have a son who became a priest, especially if he made his way upward within the Vatican’s hierarchy. That cleric’s other brothers might go into banking, law, industry, and in some cases, the siblings to a priest were part of a mob family. In Italy, the family relationship often trumped common sense. Those family connections gave some mobsters early access to power in local Italians parishes and at times inside the Vatican itself.

The second way the mob formed a loose relationship with the church was through the Vatican Bank. Once that was created in 1942, it was not long before mobsters realized they only needed a friendly priest inside the Vatican who was willing to open an account for them. With that account, the mob could safely launder millions in cash since once deposited at the Vatican Bank, total secrecy kept the accounts off the radar of prosecutors, tax enforcers and drug investigators.

*     *     *

Please click here to read the complete Part 2.

To read Part 1, please click here.

Gerald cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Twitter link

Facerbook link

Google+ link

LinkedIn link

YouTube video link

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