Last will & testament of God's banker

November 12, 2008 9:00:08 PM PST
Archbishop Paul Marcinkus ran the Vatican bank. When the Cicero native died, he left behind a mysterious financial scandal. But he also left a will that the I-Team has obtained.

Paul Marcinkus was the highest ranking American churchman ever in Rome.

For nearly two decades, Marcinkus was the pope's C.F.O. with control of the Vatican's vast wealth.

But that was also Marcinkus' undoing. He provoked a billion-dollar scandal that he never explained, which sent the I-Team looking for answers in the last will and testament of God's banker.

At the Vatican, Paul Marcinkus loomed large in the 1970s and '80s. He was called "The Gorilla," because of his 6' 4" frame and brawny build.

But even Marcinkus' heavyweight stature never overshadowed his indictment by Italian authorities for a billion-dollar bank fraud; allegations that he helped launder at least $9 million for the mafia; his escaping prosecution only by way of diplomatic immunity; and nagging questions about the murders of two of his closest banking associates - one found hanging from a bridge in London, the other killed with cup of cyanide-laced coffee.

"It was a scandal, his life was a scandal," said Irene Marcinkus, sister-in-law.

For decades, Marcinkus' sister-in-law and other family members have been haunted by the allegation that the family's archbishop was God's banker to the public but the mafia's private banker.

Irene Marcinkus is one of six relatives who received modest gifts in the archbishop's will, but declined to discuss him, the will or his life.

The I-Team obtained the last will and testament of God's banker, Paul Marcinkus, at the Maricopa County courthouse in Arizona, not far from the golf course home where Marcinkus lived out his years and died nearly three years ago.

The cause of death has never been made public but Marcinkus chain-smoked cigarettes and a pipe at the same time and had recently undergone cancer surgery.

The house where his body was found was Marcinkus' most expensive possession at $275,000.

According to official estate records, Marcinkus was worth nearly a $500,000 at the time of his death, including almost $200,000 in a personal checking account and about $3,000 in a stock account. He owned a 1992 Chevy and a golf cart, used in the Sun City Retirement Community where he celebrated mass every Saturday afternoon with Deacon Irving Dennis.

"He never really talked about 'what I did in Rome, or what happened in Rome, or what I was in Rome,'" said Deacon Dennis, St. Clement of Rome Church.

Marcinkus began as a papal bodyguard in 1970 and saved the lives of two popes when assasins tried to attack them.

But if the Cicero native had wrested control of a Vatican fortune in his own life, he did not leave a trace of it in death.

Most of Marcinkus' money - almost $400,000 - went to the church. Thirty-eight thousand dollars went to Marcinkus' boyhood parish in Cicero.

Francis Cardinal George signed personally for $105,000 intended for the Chicago archdiocese.

On Tuesday night at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting, the cardinal declined to answer questions from an I-Team producer, even though he presided at Marcinkus' funeral. A church spokesman says that was normal and that Cardinal George did not personally receive any money from the estate.

Marcinkus bequeathed $172,000 to the Chicago priests' retirement fund. Seventy-six thousand went to the Bishop's Conference of Lithuania, where Marcinkius' parents were born. Sixty-thousand dollars was split by several relatives.

"Even though he was a big high-powered person in Rome, when he came here he was just one of us," said Deacon Dennis.

Chicago priest John Kuzinskas, executor of the will, bought Marcinkus' Arizona home after he died for $275,000. He now lives there part time.

Kuzinskas would not speak with the I-Team about that house deal or the estate. They're among the many questions that remain buried with God's banker.

The Vatican never took legal responsibility but did acknowledge "moral involvement" in the financial fiasco, paying victims $241 million.

Marcinkus as God's banker was known for one-liners. Most famous was that, "you can't run a church on Hail Marys."

But perhaps he left a better epitaph. At the height of the Vatican scandal, Marcinkus said, "I may be a lousy banker, but at least I'm not in jail."


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