[We tend to view History as a linear line of events, one leading inexorably to the next but History like the present, is composed of a myriad of interlocking discreet moments. These first few entries of the Invisible Histories will examine those historical forces which have currently manifested in the form of a Catholic Pope crusading through the America’s against the Animist and Pentecostal religious faiths which have emerged here. Also cocaine, there will be lots of cocaine. No names have been changed to protect the innocent because from a historical perspective no one is innocent.]
This will be complicated.
First we have to go all the way back to the Second World War and to Italy because that’s when the Vatican created its slush fund. I am not really sure how else to describe ‘the Institute for the Works of Religion’, definitely not the word ‘bank’ however. In the recent sort of confusing and not often talked about Vatican banking scandal, ‘banking’ gets mentioned a lot and rightly so since it involves a lot of banks but the actual arm of the Vatican which has been caught in this dirty business is not in fact the Vatican’s bank. That by necessity falls under Papal mandate and is the Roman Curio known as ‘the Patrimony of the Apostolic See’ which manages the Vatican’s International property and currency holdings. Bored yet? It gets weirder.
The Institute for the Works of Religion is not a bank, it is bank-like, bank-ish, it possesses an air of bankishness (that should be a word). It is listed under charitable organizations in the Vatican’s own list of official offices. It has a banking swift code however, IOPRVAVX which is used for secure bank to bank monetary transfers. As it does not fall under the Roman Curio none of its assets are directly owned by the Papacy so they cannot be tracked by its official business, the location of its offices within the Holy See mean it has no secular oversight either. So that’s the first player, a quasi-bank without even God to keep an eye on it.
Next we have a shadowy Masonic society known as Propaganda Due (sometimes Propaganda Two) or P2. Gordon over on Runesoup has touched a bit on this happy collection of fellows. The P2 exerted enormous influence over Italian and Argentine politics from at least the early 1960’s up until ostensibly the present day. After the war the P2 was headed by one Licio Gelli, a former liaison officer between Mussolini and Hitler’s Reich, whose contacts included Hermann Goring. The Goring connection is of note and we will return to it once the story really gets rolling. After the war the P2 (and Gelli in particular) was funded by the allies to carry out counter-intelligence and black flag operations in Italy to keep the population from swinging back towards socialism. That’s the next player, one of Mussolini’s black-shirts who had escaped imprisonment for war crimes by becoming an intelligence operative for the Allies and his secret society.
There is arguably a third player on the Italian stage; ‘the Ndrangheta’ are a Sicilian crime organization as old as the Cosa Nostra which became enormously powerful in the decades following the war. Now it gets hard to tell where Gelli’s influence stops and that of the Ndrangheta begins because we’re talking about shadowy criminal and occult societies whose memberships were largely comprised of dudes on the wrong end of WWII. The Ndrangheta, like other Italian crime organizations were structured around family, either by blood or marriage but at some point after the war their upper most echelon took to calling themselves Los Santos and some new occult initiation was instituted. This change allowed high ranking officials and civil servants to be brought into the organization who were not blood related. I have been able to find no record of what the ‘occult initiations’ of the Ndrangheta entail or whether they were synonymous with the Masonic Rites of the P2 but it is a matter of record that a significant portion of their number were members of Gelli’s Lodge. Perhaps more telling however is how the Ndrangheta would come to be defined by their relationship to the next character in our story.
A very long time ago, after the water rose up to feet of the Andes the Great God and Goddess Pachacamac and Pachamama created the little gods known as the Mama’s to make the plants grow. In point of fact they made all of the things, from Mama to Huaca, the first places of the People. They say that for every sort of plant there is a Mama, and that every Mama is the spirit of some remarkable woman brought back out of the waters and that was how the Great God and Goddess made the forests so lush and beautiful. Time and circumstance can make great things out of what once was little and that is true of the beautiful seductress whom Pachacamac and Pachamama set to mind an unassuming shrub with big green leaves and little berries and flowers. She is perhaps the most important player in our drama as unlikely as that might seem, this little god from the Andes named Coca-Mama. We will return to the Andes and Coca-Mama as our focus in the next part of this series, for now an introduction.
Ok, so it’s the middle of the war, Italy has yet to fall to the Allies. Mussolini is getting his ass beaten in Northern Africa but that has mostly involved losing ground he took in the early days of the conflict and we wants some easy victories to inspire his forces. The Nazi’s on the other hand are still going strong and handily winning battle after battle on the Eastern European front. Mussolini assuming the Eastern front is all but won sends several battalions to assist the Axis advance. Licio Gelli was already a veteran Black-Shirt when WWII broke out, he had fought earlier on behalf of Franco and his Nationalists in Spain and had volunteered the moment Mussolini declared allegiance to the Nazi’s and war on Britain and France. He had joined Franco’s Army at the age of 17 with his brother who died in that conflict. Perhaps because of his previous fighting experience Licio was marked for training as a para-trooper and subsequently injured and so it was that Licio, invalided out of active combat duty, travelled to Yugoslavia to serve as attaché to one of Mussolini’s intelligence officers. Not just anywhere in Yugoslavia though, he was sent to the little port town of Cattaro.
That’s the most common version of the story anyway. Mussolini sent a very well-armed contingent of soldiers to the other end of the Mediterranean where they would be useless to his failing defense of North Africa as well as for the defense of the Italian Peninsula for some easy victories. To really get a sense of the scope of this pivotal and invisible moment in history we will have to stand back a little from Licio’s personal narrative, as fascinating as it is. In all honesty, it will get hard after Cattaro to say anything about Licio with absolute certainty but I am getting ahead of myself. We were talking about Mussolini and his decision to occupy a little port town in Yugoslavia and we can’t talk about that unless we talk a little about the Pope.
In 1870 Italy told the Pope to go fuck right off. The Vatican had ruled over Italy through the vehicle of the Papal States since roughly the 6th century and the rampant nationalism of Europe in the 1800’s inspired the Italians to establish some form of common rule. Pope Leo, an oaf who is entirely inconsequential to our story with the minor exception of this digression, survives this loss of secular and economic power with the help of Ernesto Pacelli. In particular, Ernesto covertly monetized the Vatican’s foreign and domestic holdings under his newly established Banco di Roma after the collapse of the Banco Romano (the bank of the Papal States) and kept the Vatican financially solvent over its next 60 odd years. He also arranged for members of his family to occupy a goodly number of positions within the Roman Curio.
Flash forward those 60 odd years and we have Mussolini’s Italy and 1929. Pope Pius XI and Mussolini reached an agreement that brought an end to the then long running legal and temporal ambiguity the Vatican had been stuck in since Leo had struck a militant stance with the Nationalists more than half a century earlier. The Lateran Treaty, as this agreement is known, established the Vatican’s autonomy as a City-State within the national boundaries of Italy and perhaps more than any other action cemented Mussolini as the leader of the Italian populace. That treaty was written and negotiated by one Francesco Pacelli (Ernesto’s cousin), who secured for the Vatican nearly 100 million lire in reparations for the loss of the Papal States as one of its terms. That desperately needed cash infusion was to be managed by Francesco’s brother Eugenia Pacelli, who succeeded Pius XI as Pope upon his death in 1939.
That hundred million meant that the Vatican could pay its bills without selling off its physical assets, something it was on the verge of having to do. Eugenia and a banker named Bernardino Nogara then liquidated any physical holdings the Pacelli’s had held in limbo since the fall of the Papal States, or gold and lots of it. The other thing that happened in 1929 for those of you who are not up on their history (which is everyone,) was the stock market crash that ended the Roaring 20’s and ushered in the much less fun Great Depression. Eugenia and Bernardino took advantage of the crash in two ways. First, for the very, very wealthy looking for something stable to put their fortunes in they opened up those vast and largely unknown gold reserves. Second, they took all that cash money and sunk it into anything and everything. With Bernardino as his proxy Eugenia took a controlling interest in every aspect of Italian commerce and industry, from what was to become one of the world’s largest insurance companies, to international construction and engineering firms and Italy’s leading manufacturer of birth control.
So it was that a year before World War II was to erupt onto the international stage, Licio was fighting for his life in a ditch somewhere in Spain next to his fallen brother while Eugenia, decked in silk robes sewn with gold thread was being feted in celebration of his establishment of the Vatican as the world’s foremost war profiteer.
From 1929 onward the Vatican kept Mussolini flush with a tremendous amount of capital, in the form of overt loans which are still a matter of public record. Eugenia and Bernardino also set up innumerable shell corporations and through them invested in the war machine on both sides of the emerging conflict. By 1939 when war finally broke out the Vatican was earning over a hundred million in profit a year. Now it is also a matter of public record that Mussolini didn’t want war in 1939 and he expressly told Hitler so. While Mussolini had successfully brought the political and military spheres of Italy under his control, he had yet to restructure the economic sector and did not share Hitler’s certainty that the invasion of Poland would not be met with reprisals from the rest of Europe. Mussolini knew that should his tentative grasp on North Africa fail the Allies could easily attack Southern Europe and more specifically the Italian Peninsula and he did not feel certain of his ability to prevent it.
We return now to Cattaro, the little port town in Yugoslavia. Before Cattaro had belonged to Yugoslavia properly, which it didn’t until roughly WWI it was known as Montenegro. An extension of the Venetian Republic and the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishopric and for a brief time after WWI it was governed by the Hapsburg Dynasty, close allies of Pius XII. So while it is possible that Mussolini was not aware that Cattaro had the entirety of Yugoslavia’s gold reserves secreted away in it, Pope Pius the XII (Eugenia Pacelli) most certainly did. History will remember these two men on different pages, if possible in entirely different books but you and I will not be so naïve as to fall for that bit of misdirection. In 1942 these two men were in the same boat together and that boat was sinking. The war unfolded exactly as Mussolini had feared it would and Italy was losing control of North Africa, inevitably Italy’s invasion would follow the loss. Tactically, Mussolini did everything right and seized control of more or less the whole of Northern Africa including several traditionally French and English strongholds. Mussolini had the additional advantage of being well regarded by the Muslim populations there, often being referred to as the ‘Sword of Islam’. The problem, as he feared it would be, was keeping his forces supplied. Germany ignored his requests for assistance until the English and French had retaken most of what they had lost.
According to Russian and British wartime intelligence, Licio Gelli was sent to Cattaro as an SIM asset (Italian Secret Intelligence basically) to secure the Yugoslavian gold reserves and bring them back to Rome. They also claim that Licio’s handler Piero Parini, was tasked by Mussolini to secretly use the gold to negotiate terms, if possible with the British or Russians. Given the final trajectory of the war it seems pretty unlikely Mussolini got terms he could deal with and the Yugoslavian gold reserves probably ended up where so much ‘liberated’ wealth did in the final years of the war (see: The Institute for the Works of Religion vs. Alperin). So there was no way out for Mussolini but for Licio Gelli that enormous pile of gold was just the beginning. We can’t rightly say he was turned because then we would have to speculate as to whether he went to the Russians or the British and depending on the circumstances it can look like he went over to either. Italy fell to the Allies in 1943 and Licio returned to Italy to serve under Goring in Hitler’s impromptu occupation of northern Italy. (Goring was himself infamous for pilfering everything he could get his hands on in the final years of the war.) Between 1943 and 1944 Gelli was said to have brutally tortured Italian dissidents, tipped of rebels as to the routes of Nazi patrols and secreted information to the British wartime intelligence. He was rescued from a firing squad in 1944 by Communist rebels fighting the Nazi occupation and spared trial by the British and Americans (see: Puppetmasters). So seriously, my best guess is that Licio was working for Licio.
So there it is, the end of WWII. Licio is already so valuable to the post-war intelligence communities on both sides of what was to become the Iron Curtain that he ends up immune to prosecution and Pope Pius XII establishes the Institute for the Works of Religion as a functional slush fund/bank.
In part II, Coca-Mama Does the Vatican.
Latest posts by Ryan Valentine (see all)
- The Invisible Histories, Pt. I – Devil Thou Art Ambiguous - May 26, 2013