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OBITUARY: Archbishop Paul Marcinkus.

ARCHBISHOP Paul Marcinkus's pithy one-liners were much quoted, such as: "You can't run a church on Hail Marys."

But he was more famous still for being linked to two giant international banking scandals, tainted by Mafia involvement and the violent deaths of two participants. These situations put paid to his earlier hopes of becoming a cardinal.

Marcinkus's and the Vatican's role through a myriad of bogus companies, in the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano in 1982, amounted to the largest and most embarrassing scandal in the Roman Catholic Church's history. The Holy See lost $1.3bn in the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, Italy's largest private bank. Marcinkus's comment was: "All I can say is, it was a heck of a lot of money."

Marcinkus, who has died aged 84, in an Arizona retirement home, never discussed these disasters publicly or his indictment as an "accessory to fraudulent bankruptcy". Likewise, he kept silent about associations with dubious Italian financiers like the Mafia-linked Michele Sidona, who died from drinking poisoned coffee in a Milan prison.

The Archbishop was president of the Institute for Religious Works, 1971-1989 (the Vatican Bank). He was friends with Roberto Calvi, chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, nicknamed "God's Banker", who was later found hanged under Black-friars bridge, an act now regarded as murder. After the Holy See in 1984 paid out $250m in settlement to creditors, Marcinkus became a wanted man, trapped in the Vatican City, until an Italian court ruled that, as a Vatican employee, he was immune from prosecution.

A big, athletic man, standing 6ft 3ins, Marcinkus was dubbed "The Gorilla" and had great drive and personality. Born in Chicago, he was the son of a Lithuanian window-cleaner. During 40 years in Rome from 1950, he was also chief Papal bodyguard, credited with saving Pope Paul VI from a knife-wielding assassin.

Marcinkus's guilt in the Ambrosiano affair is unclear. He claimed he was duped by Calvi' others say he was at its centre. The truth probably lies between these extremes, but the secret has gone to the grave with him.

Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, Priest and Vatican banker'

born January 15, 1922, died February 20, 2006
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 24, 2006
Words:358
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