‘God’s Banker’ Archbishop Paul Marcinkus

“Bernie did you see those Swiss guards when you checked into the Vatican? And you know my secretary Mauvi don’t you? Well, Mauvi and those Swiss guards get paid. Don’t bring me deals that don’t bring me income.” The only thing the Bishop didn’t say was ‘Are you fucking stupid or what?’

This was my second visit to the Vatican to promote a deal to Archbishop Paul Marcinkus. I knew that the Bishop was big time but later found out how big. The Bishop was all over the newspapers. And not in a good way.

But I didn’t read newspapers in those days.Would have cut into my drinking time. The choice between reading newspapers or booze inhalation was a no-brainer.

The Bishop was a priest from Cicero, Illinois. Very personable, had huge hands, smoked like a chimney (Pall Mall, unfiltered or a pipe) and who was as competent to run the Vatican Bank as I would have been.Which was not at all. The Bishop didn’t have the necessary paranoia. I am paranoid but not very fucking smart.

In the beginning the Bishop and I had one thing in common…smoking in size. The Bishop was 6'4" and a good looking guy. It was hard for me to think him abstinent. Lloyd Hand, former ‘greeter’ for Pres. Lyndon Johnson and DC lobbyist, had introduced me and a colleague to the Bishop and I had stayed in touch with the Bishop. Fed my misplaced fucking ego to say that the Archbishop who ran the Vatican Bank and I were friends.

And so down the tubes went a proposal that I made to Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the President of the Vatican Bank and Governor of Vatican City. I had developed a personal relationship with the Bishop over a 10 year time span and he had agreed to see me regarding an oil and gas royalty deal.

The deal was dependent on successful wildcat drilling to generate income. Turned out that the guy in charge of the drilling couldn’t find his ass with either hand much less oil or gas with drilling equipment. He didn’t find even a fucking mouthful of oil or gas.

But the Bishop proved that he did have some common sense (aka street smarts) and he turned down the deal which turned out to be a bad bet on a bad concept. But I stayed in touch with the Bishop.

At one point, after the Bishop was back in the States, the Knights of Columbus had been looking for him and they called me, a Jew from the Bronx, to find out where the Bishop was.

The Bishop was a terrific guy. He loved playing golf and I would send him, from time to time, golf books and boxes of golf balls. He would “try” to convert me. He never gave up though I told him that I was born a Jew and would die a Jew. He spent his last days in Sun City preaching in nearby communities.

He was “for decades, one of the highest ranking American prelates to the Vatican serving Popes John XXX III, Paul VI and John Paul II.” But at the end of the day, he was in many ways a simple learned priest, from Cicero, Illinois without a financial background.

The Bishop also lacked the deep seated cynical trait that is so crucial to being a successful money manager. Sadly, he became embroiled in two scandals where one principal, a banker named Calvi, was found hanging beneath a bridge in London. Calvi had been a friend of the Bishop and was convicted of fraud.

That association cost the Vatican Bank over $200 million. Previously, the Bishop was involved with a shadowy character named Sidona, with Mafia connections, who died in prison in Milan after drinking a cup of coffee laced with poison. That friendship cost the Vatican tens of millions or so it is said.

At one point the Italian government indicted the Bishop but he confined himself to Vatican City for a few years until the indictment was dropped.

The Bishop was, for me, a marvelous man who added significantly to the richness of my life and I cried when I learned of his death from Mauvi, his secretary.

It was rumored that he was “banging” Mauvi who was not my cup of tea. She was, for me, a lovely woman with the sex appeal of a sore ass. And no, in the twenty five years of knowing the Bishop I never did a deal with him as being his friend became the paramount feature of my relationship with the Bishop, may he rest in peace.