During World War II, the Vatican invested millions of dollars in major U.S. and British banks to help worn-out Churches and populations. M. McGoldrick of London’s Middlesex University reconstructs the events in her article “New Perspectives on Pius XII and Vatican Financial Transactions during the Second World War” printed in the latest issue of The Historical Journal a quarterly magazine published by Cambridge University.
The Holy See newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reported on the study in an article by Italian journalist Luca Possati.
At the centre of it all is the famous Bernardino
Nogara, a member of the Commercial Bank of Italy, whom Pope Ratti - of
whom he was a family friend – put in charge of Vatican finances. He was
responsible for the Vatican’s financial strategy which contributed to
the Allied victory against the Nazis under the leadership of the Roman
New British Secret Service documents held in
the British National Archive which date back to the period between 1941
and 1943 describe the activities of the Vatican’s main financial
institutions: the extraordinary section of the Administration of the
Property of the Holy See (ASSS) and the Institute for Works of Religion
“The letters reveal that aside from all the regular communication
between dioceses, nunciatures and Catholic institutions spread across
the world, considerable cash transferrals were also made to big U.S.
business banks,” L’Osservatore Romano reports.
The documents show that at the beginning of World
War II, the Vatican lost no time in transferring its bonds and gold
reserves from areas that were faced with the threat of Nazi occupation
to the United States. The U.S. became the financial base from where the
universal Church was sustained and administered, with another ten
million dollars being invested in the American economy.
From the very first years of his
mandate, Nogara was able to create a network of relations and contacts,
opening accounts with JP Morgan & Co., while the IOR used the
services of the National City Bank of New York. Meanwhile, in Britain,
the ASSS had an account with Morgan Grenfell, the sister bank of JP
Morgan and the IOR had links with Barclays.
These activities, McGoldrick
writes, are clear proof that the Vatican systematically sent its bonds
via Lisbon, even those which were registered in countries that had been
blocked by the Nazis, moving them to safe havens in the U.S. Then, once
authorisation had been given by the Department of the Treasury, these
could be freely placed on the American markets.
At the start of the war, the Holy See decided to
move enormous sums of money (bonds, gold reserves, revenue from
dioceses, donations etc.) from territories that were occupied by the
Nazis to the United States - with Washington’s approval.
But what triggered these cash movements? British records provide information on two crucial aspects, L’Osservatore Romano
reports: one is that the Vatican’s American accounts mainly contained
money from dioceses, contributions from faithful and religious
institutions across the world and the second is that it also contained
revenue from bonds and investments, though in lesser amounts accounting
for around 20% of the total.
A large portion of this money went to
Churches in difficulty and to missions, nunciatures, seminaries and
dioceses across all continents.
Europe had another
privileged channel for transferring money, the researcher writes. In
order to offer some relief to Churches that were persecuted during the
Nazi occupation, wherever Catholic schools, monasteries and churches had
been confiscated or closed down, youth organisations and Catholic
publications suspended and numerous priests and clerics arrested and put
in concentration camps, the IOR kept a separate account open in the
Chase National Bank in New York.
When the British government tried to close down
one of the accounts, the Vatican appealed directly to the U.S.
government and was successful. The documents from the National Archives
also reveal that money was sent to fund humanitarian activities to help
allied troops and populations devastated by the war. In 1944, for
example, Pius XII organised flour shipments to Rome, where he had
already ensured a hundred thousand hot meals were being served each day,
as well as importing various foodstuffs from Argentina and Spain to
Italy and Greece.
But this is not all.
As Nogara’s Washington
contacts confirm, as of 1939, the Vatican invested enormous sums of
money in US Treasury Bills, in important manufacturing and technological
companies, in companies such as Rolls Royce, the United Steel
Corporation, Dow Chemical, Westinghouse Electric, Union Carbide and
Patricia McGoldrick even speaks of a flow of money
from the Vatican, being used to fund the U.S. war industry which helped
in defeating the Nazis.