From email@example.com Mon Nov 27 07:49:36 2000
Date: Sun, 26 Nov 2000 14:04:36 EST
Subject: AANEWS for Sunday, November 26, 2000
The Institute for Religious Works—the cover name for the Vatican bank—has asked a U.S. District Court in San Francisco to dismiss a lawsuit charging the Holy See with laundering gold expropriated from Holocaust and other victims during W.W.II.
A class action filed in November, 1999 accuses the Vatican of colluding with the Swiss National Bank and the Franciscan Order in concealing hundreds of millions of dollars in gold and assets stolen by the Croatian Nazi Ustashi (Ustasha) regime between 1941-1945. A San Francisco law firm headed by Jonathan Levy and Thomas Dewey Easton represents 28 plaintiffs in ALPERIN v. VATICAN BANK.
The suit deals with atrocities carried by the Nazi puppet government of Ante (Anton) Pavelic, head of the “Catholic State of Croatia.” The Pavelic regime was typical of political movements which had sprung up throughout Europe and supported “Clerical Fascism”—an amalgam of orthodox Catholic doctrine, Anti-Semitism and authoritarian politics. These groups enjoyed the assistance of both the Fascist government in Italy under Mussolini and Nazi Germany's “Ausland” department which assisted like-minded movements outside of Hitler's state. In Croatia, Pavelic's Roman Catholic terrorists received critical funding in 1939 from Mussolini, and with the help of Archbishop A. Stepanic helped establish the Croat Separatist Movement and eventually seized power.
Under the Ustashi, a virtual reign of terror descended upon Jews, Orthodox Serbs who refused to convert to Catholicism, and political dissidents. Pavelic's government operated death camps, and extorted a fortune in gold and other valuables, much from Jews who were shipped to work and extermination camps in Germany. The Ustashi had the support of the Catholic Church (Archbishop Stepanic was the group's official “chaplain” and gave his blessing to the Pavelic regime), and especially the Croatian Franciscans. The San Francisco lawsuit charges that the Catholic order “engaged in far ranging crimes including genocide, funding the reestablishment of the Croatian Nazi movement in South America in the 1950s, and setting up a false Marian religious shrine in Medjugorje, Bosnia in 1981 to bilk pilgrims of funds.” The money from this “miracles on demand” scam was then “combined with the remnants of the Croatian Nazi Treasury to fund a second round of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kreanjina in the 1990s.”
The latest battle in the lawsuit comes after several interesting developments…
On October 11, 2000, Levy and Easton announced that the plaintiffs were asking a Federal Magistrate to order the Institute for Religious Works (the Vatican Bank) to divulge information about itself “including its ownership.” At issue was who actually owned the bank. “There may be certain defenses available to the bank if it is owned by the Vatican City state but if it owned by an individual or individuals the situation is completely different.”
This past Friday, October 24, Reuters news service revealed that the Vatican was asking that the suit against IOR and the Franciscan Order be dismissed. The plaintiffs have been unable to successfully serve legal notice on the Swiss National Bank. In a 41-page filing, Vatican attorneys charged that the Holocaust-Ustashi victims “lack standing to bring a general challenge to the wartime political decisions of a foreign sovereign (state).”
Supporting the Vatican's filing is a “Verbal Note” from the Holy See's Secretary of State posted at http://www.vaticanbankclaims.com/vatsec.htm which acknowledges the San Francisco case and a similar suit in Los Angeles, and cites diplomatic immunity.
“Basing itself upon the diplomatic relations which exist between the United States of America and the Holy See, as well as the recognition which the Government of the United States has accorded to the sovereignty of the Holy See and of Vatican City State, the Secretariat of State requests the intervention of the Federal Government of the United States of America…”
The suit draws upon a treasure trove of historical documents, including declassified CIA files, a 1998 U.S. Department of State Report, and revelations made by researchers Mark Aarons and John Loftus in their book “Unholy Trinity.” These and other materials describe the role of the Vatican and the Franciscan group in providing passports via a “ratline” run by the Holy See for former fascist officials, including Adolph Eichmann, Gestapo official Klaus Barbie, and Ustashi dictator Pavelic. One 1946 U.S. Treasury document, for instance, indicates that the Vatican served as a repository for more than 200 million Swiss francs. Catholic officials linked to the “ratline” operation include Bishop Alois Mudal and Giovanni Montini (who became Pope Paul VI).
The Los Angeles suit, NAUMOVIC v. SWISS NATIONAL BANK, has sought restitution from Swiss banks on behalf of the survivors of over 12 million non-Jewish victims of the Nazis in Yugoslavia and Russia. There is also LEVY v. CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY which involves a Freedom of Information request for files regarding the activities of the Vatican spymaster, Fr. Krusnoslav Draganovic. Draganovic was part of a cadre of high Catholic officials who were indicted for war crimes, including Fr. Dragutin Kamber; Bishop Ivan Saric (”Hangman of the Serbs”); Bishop Gregory Rozman; and Franciscan Fr. Miroslam Filipovic-Majstorovic, a commandant of a Ustashi torture camp where hundreds of thousands of victims (Jewish and non-Jewish) were slaughtered with a degree of brutality that shocked even the Nazi SS.
Draganovic was a Franciscan and senior Ustashi official in charge of the forced “conversion” of Serb Orthodox believers to Catholicism. In 1943, he gained an appointment in Vatican City where he operated an Ustashi cell housed in a seminary of Croatian monks. He and another priest identified as Golik helped operate the Vatican “ratline” to obtain forged documents, including Red Cross passports, for a number of Croatian fascists. Draganovic came to be known as “The Golden Priest,” since he ended up with at least some of the gold smuggled out of Croatia when the Germans retreated. He was never charged for his crimes, and returned to Yugoslavia where he died in 1983.
The legacy of the “ratline” and other operations—many of which involved the Holy See—shaped the postwar era. Some Vatican-held gold made its way to Latin America where German and other Nazi expatriates found a warm welcome, and established economic combines and cultural/political groups. Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief of Lyons, used his influence to work with Bolivia drug lord Robert Suarez and pull off the notorious “Cocaine Coup” which placed the notorious Hugo Banzer Suarez in power in Bolivia. Another fascist operative who maintained close ties to the Vatican was the mysterious Liccio Gelli, a former Italian Black Shirt who after the war worked closely with the CIA in “Operation Gladio.” Gelli was in charge of a renegade Masonic Lodge, P-2 or Propaganda Due which in the late 1970s and early 80s was linked to an attempted fascist coup in Italy. He was a close friend of Argentine President Juan Peron, and backed the dictator's return to power in 1973; he also was part of an arms-for-machinery deal involving Libya, Italy and Argentina. Gelli was a central player in the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano and the mysterious 1982 death of banker Roberto Calvi; that story linked the Vatican Bank, then under the control of American monsignor Paul Marcinkus.
The bloody history of the Catholic State of Croatia is emerging as part of a larger tapestry involving the role played by the Vatican in World War II, particularly in respect to the Jews. Recent books have explored the role played by Archbishop Pacelli, the papal nuncio in Munich, Germany who later became Pope Pius XII. Not only was Pacelli an anti-Semite, but he may well have found an accommodation with Hitler preferable to the specter of what he described as “Bolshevik atheism.” Loftus and Aarons are among those who argue that Pacelli encourage the Church to invest large amounts of cash in the Germany economic recovery, and may have even personally handed Hitler a large amount of “church money.”
Other evidence points to an obscure group called the Intermarium, a Catholic laity organization that labored to establish “clerical fascist” regimes throughout Europe as a bulwark against the Soviets. Fr. Draganovic was allegedly linked to this group.
The role played by Pius XII—and the charge that he ignored the plight of European Jews—is still debated by historians. Recently rediscovered cables from 1942, such as one sent from the U.S. Envoy to the Holy See, Harold Tittmann to Washington, paint a mixed if not disturbing picture. Tittmann suggests that Vatican leadership “did not (repeat ‘not’) believe that the Allies were in a position to win the war in Europe.” This fueled Allied concerns that the Vatican would push for a “compromise” settlement, and that “the pope's peacemaking ambitions might be exploited for their own ends by the Axis powers.” Pius' obsessive fears with Communism may well have led him into refusing to unequivocally condemn the slaughter of the Jews.
The Vatican has steadfastly denied involvement in any this, including the acquisition of Ustashi gold and other pilfered assets. The Vatican Bank was “initialized” in 1929 Lateran Treaty or Concordant between the Holy See and the government of Benito Mussolini. This agreement established the Vatican as an independent city-state, declared Roman Catholicism as the “official” religion of the new Fascist order, and compensated the papacy for the earlier confiscation of papal lands. Along with an estimated $85 million contribution to establish the bank, the Mussolini government declared church properties outside of the Vatican City limits to be tax exempt; and all Vatican Bank investments were tax free as well, a practice which despite the efforts of subsequent Italian governments remains in force to this day. By the 1970s, the known holdings of the Vatican bank, and its investments in Italy, were of such enormous scale as to dissuade any talk of taxation. When faced with such a prospect, Fr. Marcinkus and other IOR officials merely threatened the possibility of selling off Vatican assets in Italy and moving the money off shore.
Earlier this month, a number of financial and political institutions including Italy's largest insurance firm, Assicurazioni Generali, agreed to a final settlement with some surviving Holocaust victims and their relatives. The $100 million compensation has drawn praise from quarters; but the lack of participation and reparations from the Vatican continues to attract criticism.
Another settlement, this one involving reparations for up to 12 million victims murdered by Nazis and their client regimes, including the Catholic Croatian State, has been criticized as too little, too late. Here, as well, the Vatican is not participating in the compensation program.
Perhaps most disturbing, though, are Vatican denials over the role played by its stable of anti-Semitic popes and clerical officials, and attempts to even glorify their lives. A decision to move forward on the beatification of Pope Pius IX drew worldwide criticism this past August. In a letter to Archbishop Jose Martins, the papal chairman of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations noted that Pius “perpetuated centuries-old Church contempt and hatred of Jews, referring to them as ‘dogs' and declaring that ‘of these dogs, there are too many of them present in Rome.’ “ There was also the move by Pope John Paul II during his October, 1998 visit to Croatia, to announce the beatification of Cardinal Stepanic, elevating him to the last step before a declaration of sainthood. CNN noted that the announcement, made at a rally with 400,000 followers at Croatia's main shrine to the Virgin Mary, saw the pontiff hail Stepanic “as a hero by Catholics for his resistance to communism and his refusal to separate the Croatian church from the Vatican.”
Stepanic's fascist-era activities with the Ustashi has been continually downplayed or ignored by the Holy See; instead, a process of historical revision has been underway, complete with the confabulation of a cultish tale about the Cardinal's cape, which allegedly found its way to the Vatican after being smuggled out of Yugoslavia in 1954 by an American Roman Catholic housewife. Stepanic was also hailed as a “Martyr of Atheistic Communism,’” and in 1998, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley declared May 8 as an official “Cardinal Stepanic Day.”
The San Francisco suit may unearth even more details about the political and financial intrigues of the Vatican in connection with World War II. It is quite possible, though, that diplomatic “sovereign immunity” could serve as a legal shield in the Holy See's continued efforts to conceal its historical involvement in the rise of clerical fascism, the Holocaust and the atrocities of that period.
(”Through the Looking Glass: Vatican Politics, the Calvi Murder and Beyond”)
(”House votes 416-1 to retain special Vatican status at U.N.,” 7/12/00)
(”As conference opens, Vatican accused of subverting progress for women's' rights,” 6/5/00)
(”Bush chases ‘Catholic vote,’ affirms support for special Vatican status at United Nations,” 5/29/00)
(Easton & Levy, details on San Francisco suit)