Pope's Beatification of International Financier Draws Praise, Ire
|By Jonathan Laurence||
5 April 2001
While threatening to plunge the ailing pope into scandal, Rich's latest legal stroke sets him on course to canonization and ultimate sainthood, just weeks after Clinton's presidential pardon relieved him of travel restrictions to the USA. With this coup Mr. Rich adds citizenship in the Vatican and the Kingdom of God to his collection of Spanish, American and Israeli passports, further protecting him from new extradition proceedings.
In a related development, John Paul II has taken the unprecedented step of moving St. Marc's day up by ten days to April 15 this year, a Sunday traditionally reserved exclusively for Easter.
Like Clinton, John Paul
II made the eleventh-hour decision to beatify Rich in a flurry
of activity shortly before his expected departure from temporal
rule. "It was clearly done in such a way that [Rich] would
blend in with the 232 other Spaniards beatified that same day,"
said US Attorney Mary Jo White (R-Protestant).
A lengthy editorial in the Osservatore Romano penned by Wojtyla, 83, defended his decision, citing "substantial national security reasons," and noting that the Rich beatification withstood "review and advocacy" by the devil's own advocate. In a response faxed to news organizations, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Vatican spokesman, underscored Mr. Rich's "character assassination" at the hands of American punditry, and highlighted that Vatican statutes "do not specify which faith -- it depends on what your definition of the is."
A stunned Mayor Giuliani, who has been the Pope's ally in the New York Cultural Wars (1999-2000), but who as US Attorney in 1983 prosecuted Mr. Rich, found himself making an about-face. "Sure I'm disappointed," the outgoing mayor told NBC, "but I'm also sure His Holiness made the decision based on the merits of the case as he saw them." US Attorney White, who holds Giuliani's old job, was less forgiving. "I'd have liked to see [John Paul II] try this when [Cardinal John] O'Connor was still on the beat."
Like European politicians from Blair to Schroeder, Wojtyla has taken a page from Clinton's playbook - and even bested him at his own game. With his Spanish stratagem last Sunday John Paul II overtook Clinton's pardon pace in one fell swoop, bounding from an annual average of 45 to 56 beatifications against Clinton's meager 48 pardons per year.
But also similarly to Clinton, Wojtyla is dogged by concerns over the appearance of impropriety. Immediately issuing a papal encyclical Non Est Quid Pro Quo, the Holy Father sought to quell suspicions at their source.
Vatican logs made available to the press reveal no official visits by Rich. The only relevant annotation in a Vatican guestbook states that Mr. Rich was removed from the galleries in early 1982 after repeatedly asking a museum guard, "quanto costa" while gesturing to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. There were unconfirmed reports at the time that tourists heard Vatican guards humming Mary J Blige and Aretha Franklin songs authored by Mr. Rich's then wife near the brass portal of St.Peter's cathedral.
"I'll betcha a two-dollar
bill the 'multicolor Mossad' had a hand in this Rich thing,"
said a senior US official, using a derogatory term for the Pope's
security force. The Swiss Guard wear fanciful, clown-like outfits
yet are known to possess lethal crowd control skills.
One gift that Wojtyla did accept, however, may have played a major role in his decision to beatify Rich. The Pope fell into disfavor in late 2000 with Jewish groups when he unnaturally embraced a Christmas tree he received from Joerg Haider, governor of the Austrian province of Carinthia.
The Pope's beatification of Pius IX and Pius XII earlier that year did not further endear him to the European Jewish communities.
Upon notification of the Rich beatification, President George W. Bush announced, "That's just what I'm talking about." Returning from a hunting trip, President Bush tied the news to the theme of a press conference he held announcing the decommissioning of 7,000 acres of land as a federally protected wildlife zone. "This environmentalism doesn't stop at Alaska and Oregon, my friends, they want to beautify criminals with cuff links too," Bush told reporters, waving a black and silver paper clip for emphasis.
Speaking after Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft cited his own May 8, 1999 speech at Bob Jones University in which he had stated, "Tax collectors came, asking for that which belonged to the king, and Colonists frequently said, 'We have no king but Jesus.' It found its way into the fundamental documents of this great country." Ashcroft's spokeswoman declined to clarify whether the Justice Department head was asserting that Rich had accepted Jesus as king.
The Italian press has been critical of the Holy See and Signor Ricco, as Mr. Rich is known there. One Milan columnist viewed this event as further erosion of republican values. "Some seem to think that indulgences are still for sale. When there were Italian popes, those who didn't pay their tithes were tarred and feathered, or driven out of town on a rail. In this era of contagious Clintonmania, tax evaders get a first class ticket to heaven on Alitalia."
A former director of the US Holocaust Museum, Walter Reich, has expressed concern that the pardon followed immediately by the beatification would only "give aid and comfort to the worst varieties of anti-Semitism." Shortly after Reich's comments, Martin Auerbach, who worked on the US prosecution's case in the 1980s, called the Rich pardon "a deal with the devil."
In its coverage of the pardons the Financial Times reported that Mr. Clinton's lawyers "locked horns" with House investigators who have demanded records of donations to the former president's private foundation. Peter Spiegel, the journalist, later clarified at a press conference that details of his report, relayed by satellite phone, had been "lost in translation"; he had intended to write "high beams." An FT spokesman did not know whether Spiegel was familiar with Michelangelo's Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome.
Avner Azulai, the former Mossad agent who runs the Rich Foundation in Israel contended in a November interview that "there was a touch of anti-Semitism" in the US case against Rich. "Like Clinton, the Pope has shown himself to be a man we can do business with."
Mr. Rich is only the second Jew in modern times to be beatified, following the controversial beatification of convert Edith Stein, the Jewish-born nun who died of unnatural causes near Oswiecim, Poland in 1942. Unlike the reaction to Wojtyla's decision on the Stein dossier, American Jewish organizations were thrilled at the news of Rich's beatification. "The Pope is a saint," gushed Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, whose comments on the papacy are normally subdued.
"We figured if Pius XII was beatified it was only fair [to make amends] with the descendents of Abraham" said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican mouthpiece. "We consider [the Rich case] to be a symbolic gesture on behalf of this Papacy's ongoing efforts to reconcile with the Hebrews."
Harold Dougherty, an observer of Vatican diplomacy, remarked that "this may have been the Pope's way of expressing his sorrow for the war. "With his trip to Jerusalem last spring he wanted to do a Willy Brandt in Warsaw but wound up doing a Clinton in Africa."
During the Pope's state visit to Yad Vashem in March 2000 he announced his regret for the Church's "acts of hatred" but --like Clinton in Senegal, in 1998-- stopped short of a full apology for Vatican complicity in anti-Semitic crimes or the Holocaust. It is not known whether then Prime Minister Barak raised the issue of a Rich beatification during his Jerusalem audience with the Pope.
The Pope apparently notified Navarro-Valls of his decision to beatify Rich by e-mail on late Saturday night, using multi-lingual voice recognition software on his IBM ThinkPad132c. This is the second time in recent weeks that the industrial giant's technology has been implicated in the fate of European Jews. A spokesman for IBM Italia could not be reached for comment.
|Jonathan Laurence is a graduate student in the Boston area.||Copyright 2001, by Jonathan Laurence. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! This page is part of: The Truth As I See It. Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.|