Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Death in the Village


Word flying around Rome is that Paul Casimir Marcinkus, the Chicago wind0w-cleaner's son who, over four decades in the Eternal City, became a favorite of two Popes, an archbishop, and one of the highest-ranking Americans in Vatican history before the sensational Vatican Bank scandals of the 1980s sent him into exile, died last evening in Arizona at the age of 84. He had made his home on a Sun City golf course for most of the last decade.

Events in the 1980s involving the Vatican Bank, known formally as the "Institute for the Works of Religion" (IOR), have continued to fascinate mystery-lovers and journalists. Long after his departure from the Vatican -- the archbishop was president of the IOR from 1971-81, then head of the Governatorato until 1990 -- questions swirled around Marcinkus concerning his knowledge of various deaths in connection with the bank's role in the crash of Milan's Banco Ambrosiano in 1982. Even as recently as last week, the story was receiving top-shelf coverage in the world press. Having famously referred to the Vatican's chattering classes as "the village of washerwomen," "Chink's" reluctance to speak remained inviolate thanks to his Vatican passport, which kept him from having to submit to questions.

For many years, Marcinkus was a fixture at the side of the late Popes Paul VI, who personally ordained him to the episcopacy in 1969, and John Paul II. His linebacker's build and lack of affinity for the episcopal purple led him to be known as the "papal bodyguard," particularly when the pontiffs were on the road.