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Issue Date:  March 3, 2006

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Paul Marcinkus
Controversial head of Vatican banks dies


Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, often regarded as the most powerful American in the Vatican during his 18 years as president of the Vatican bank, died Feb. 20 at his home in Sun City, Ariz. He was 84 years old.

Information about arrangements for a memorial service in the Phoenix diocese and for funeral services, expected to take place in the Chicago archdiocese where he grew up, was not immediately available.

The U.S.-born archbishop spent 38 years in Vatican service before his retirement in 1990. He headed the Vatican bank from 1971 to 1989 and was head of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State from 1981 to 1990. Under his watch, the bank was involved -- unwittingly, he and the Vatican always maintained -- in a major 1980s Italian banking scandal.

In 1987 he was forced to move into the Vatican after a squad of Italian police tried to serve an arrest warrant at his Rome residence, on charges of complicity in the $1.2 billion fraudulent bankruptcy of Italy’s largest independent bank, Banco Ambrosiano, in 1982. In 1988 Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled the warrant was invalid because of the Vatican’s status as an independent state, and the charges were dropped.

In 1984, the Vatican paid about $240 million to Banco Ambrosiano’s former creditors in what it called a goodwill gesture. Thirty-three Italian financiers were convicted in 1992 in connection with the Banco Ambrosiano affair.

Marcinkus also served as advance man for the global travels of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II from 1964 to 1982 and paid special attention to security arrangements at all papal visit sites.

A burly 6 foot 3 inches, he positioned himself near the pope as a personal bodyguard during such trips. In Manila, Philippines, in 1970 he helped save Pope Paul VI’s life when Marcinkus personally wrestled to the ground a knife-wielding Bolivian artist who attacked the pope.

Following his 1990 retirement and return to the United States, Marcinkus moved to Sun City, a retirement community near Phoenix. Phoenix diocesan spokeswoman Mary Jo West said the retired archbishop helped out at St. Clement of Rome Parish in Sun City, celebrating Mass there every Wednesday and Saturday and making the rounds to bring Communion to the homebound and Catholics in hospitals and nursing homes.

Of Lithuanian heritage, the archbishop celebrated Mass a couple of times a month at the Lithuanian Catholic Mission in Sun City, and he helped out around the diocese with confirmation celebrations, she said.

Some information included in this story came from NCR archives.

National Catholic Reporter, March 3, 2006

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