The Pope's dollars against Hitler

2013-01-30 L’Osservatore Romano

An unknown history obliges us to chart new appraisals.  A story of espionage, secret contacts, very sensitive documents – which remained buried for 70 years and only now are emerging from archives with momentum.  At the centre of the story is Bernardino Nogara, a member of the board of directors of the Banca Commerciale Italiana and a friend of the Ratti family, who in 1929 was appointed the financial advisor to the Holy See.  He, led by meetings with the Curia, would Pope Pius XIIbe the protagonist of the Vatican's financial strategy which was fundamentally important to the Allies' victory over the Nazis and Fascists in World War II.  This strategy concerns millions of dollars invested in the largest banks of the US and Great Britain, by which persecuted Churches and exhausted peoples were given aid.

Patricia M. McGoldrick of London's Middlesex University has reconstructed this history in the article New Perspectives on Pius XII and Vatican Financial Transactions during the Second World War, published in the December issue of Cambridge University's quarterly review, “The Historical Journal” (55, 2012, pp. 1029-1048).  The text is based on the discovery of documents in the British Secret Service, which are dated 1941-1943.  They are preserved in the British National Archives and they concern the activities of the Vatican's primary financial institutions, the Special Administration of the Holy See (A.S.S.S.) and  the Institute for Works of Religion (I.O.R.).  The papers reveal, beyond the regular communication with dioceses, nunciatures and global Catholic institutions, that there were also extensive money transfers to the big business banks of the USA.  “We learn from these accounts that at the onset of the Second World War the Vatican rapidly moved its securities and gold reserves from areas under threat of Nazi occupation to the United States, made the United States the financial hub from which it funded and administered its global church, and had, at any one time, over $10,000,000 invested in the US economy” (pp. 1043-1044).  In other words, the Holy See used financial means to combat the Nazi folly and to alleviate Europe's wounds – and it did so very effectively.

Luca M. Possati