Few know or have heard of Licio Gelli, but for nearly three decades following the Second World War, he was one of the most powerful and influential men in the world. At one time he practically owned the Italian government as well as those in several Latin American countries. He was the head of a secret international terrorist organization known as 'Propaganda Due' or in short P2. He could make or break governments in Italy and most South American countries. When General Jose Peron returned to power in Argentina, he publicly expressed his gratitude by kneeling at the feet of Gelli. One of the more unconventional members of P2 was the former Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie - the 'butcher of Lyon' - whom Gelli had known through his services as a Nazi agent during the Second World War.
The Puppet-master's strings stretched deep into the Vatican. Several high officials of the Curia including Secretary of State Cardinal Jean Villot were later revealed as members of the dreaded P2. When Pope John Paul I died suddenly on 28-9
22 'Whodunnit', by Alma Guillermoprieto. New Yorker, September 25, 1995: pp. 44-54.
September 1978, Cardinal Villot took immediate steps to destroy a good deal of the evidence surrounding the circumstances of the pontiff's death. Only the night before, the Pope had informed Villot that he was being removed from office along with every other Vatican official who was a member of P2. So, the Vatican Secretary of State, next to the Pope the most powerful man in the Catholic hierarchy, was acting as a member of the terrorist organization P2 under the direction of the former Nazi officer Gelli. Not for nothing was Gelli known as the Puppet-master; he pulled his strings everywhere.
By any reckoning Licio Gelli, the Puppet-master, had a spectacular record. This man - a former Nazi Oberlieutenant, an ex-Fascist who had also spied for the Communists after the War, and had also strong links to the CIA - was a trusted advisor to the Vatican as a financial and political consultant. He more than gave advice; he manipulated stock and currency prices for the Vatican Bank to profit from, and blackmailed Italian officials and politicians to keep the Vatican free of taxes. Senator Fabrizzio Cicchitto stated in 1981: "If you wanted to make it to the top in Italy in the 1970s the best way was Gelli and P2.' (Yallop, p.120) Yallop has this to say about P2 and its grandmaster Gelli:
On March 17th (1981) police raided Gelli's palatial villa in Arezzo... In Gelli's safe they discovered a list of the 962 members of the P2. They also found dossiers and secret government reports.
The list of P2 members was a virtual Who's Who of Italy. The armed forces were heavily represented with over fifty generals and admirals. The Government of the day was also there with two Cabinet Ministers, as were industrialists, journalists,... 36 parliamentarians, pop stars, pundits and police officers. It was a State within a State. Many have said that Gelli was planning to take over Italy. They are wrong. He had taken over Italy. (Yallop, p. 286; original emphasis)
And a few more countries in Latin America in the bargain. One example should suffice to give an idea of how Gelli and the Vatican worked hand in glove. The office of Finance Police has the responsibility for monitoring all financial laws in Italy. Thus, the head of the Finance Police was in a position to cause problems for the Vatican. Ugo Poletti, Cardinal Vicar of Rome, suggested that having one of his own men could result in substantial savings for the Vatican. The Cardinal went on to suggest one General Giudice as the best man for the job from the Vatican point of view. This was arranged through Gelli who was a personal friend of Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. (Andreotti again!) And Andreotti was one of the most important Italian politicians after the War, having served several terms as prime minister. (Cardinal Poletti was another Church official that John Paul I had decided to remove from his position before his sudden death.)
Gelli's (and Calvi's) great influence extended far beyond the borders of Italy or even Europe. In 1977, with the connivance of Paul Marcinkus of the Vatican Bank, Calvi had opened a branch of the Banco Ambrosiano in Managua, Nicaragua. Its purpose was to help Marcinkus unload a large quantity of Banco Ambrosiano shares without drawing the attention of the Italian authorities. This was facilitated through Gelli's friendship with the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza who received several million dollars for the favour.
And yet, when Somoza was ousted by the revolutionary Sandanista government, Calvi's bank was left to operate unmolested for several months long after all other banks had been nationalised. This gave Calvi and Gelli enough time to shift their funds out of Nicaragua before the revolutionary government nationalised their now worthless bank. Gelli's far-sighted tactic of cultivating both sides had paid off. The man who had spied both for the Nazis and the Communists had put that experience to good use, and the Vatican had benefited handsomely through his sagacity.
Gelli was not without influence even in the United States. By 1974, his friend Sindona, finding himself in trouble with the Italian authorities had fled to the United States. In January 1975, the prosecutor's office in Milan applied to the US Embassy in Rome for The Shark's extradition. The Americans demanded a new set of extradition papers translated into English. On the face of it, it was an absurd request; the American Justice Department has many officers who know Italian to help in its investigation of the drug Mafia. The Milan prosecutor filed the extradition papers with the Italian Ministry of Justice in Rome with a request to forward an English translation to American authorities. The papers were returned by the Ministry of Justice claiming that they could not manage the translation. The American Embassy in Rome also claimed that it had no knowledge of any extradition request, even though it had earlier demanded the English translation! It was later revealed that some of the highest officials in the Ministry of Justice in Rome were members of Gelli's P2.
In signing an affidavit on behalf of his valued friend Sindona The Shark, Gelli once stated that he had been himself accused of being a 'CIA agent; the chief of the Argentine Death Squad; a representative of the Portuguese secret service; the coordinator of the Greek, Chilean and West German secret services; the chief of the international movement of underground Fascism, etc.' Interestingly, as David Yallop observes, his signed affidavit did not deny any of the charges. (pp. 147-8)
Many of the facts about Gelli, especially how the Puppet-master practically owned the Italian government were revealed by the investigative reporter Mino Pecorelli -himself a former member of the P2. But Pecorelli was a peculiar kind of journalist, he could be bought. He wrote for a news agency called L 'Osservatore Politico (OP) which specialised in political scandals. Gelli paid him a bribe, but Pecorelli wanted more money for his silence. Gelli refused. He had other plans for the tiresome journalist. Most unwisely, Pecorelli went on to reveal that Gelli, regarded a pillar of the right wing political and financial establishment, a man who had been invited to the presidential inauguration of Richard Nixon, had once spied for the Communists. It was also revealed that Gelli, while serving as a Gestapo officer in Yugoslavia during the War, had looted the art treasures of that country, the sales of which had provided him with the necessary capital for starting his business empire.
Pecorelli was playing with fire for Gelli was not a man to be trifled with. For the Puppet-master who could finance the Argentine government in the Falkland Islands war, who could arrange the assassinations of investigating magistrates Emilio Alessandrini, Giorgio Ambrosoli, Vittorio Occorsio and others who were becoming a nuisance to him, a man like Pecore iii was little more than a fly waiting to be swatted. And this is exactly what happened. On March 20, 1979, as Mino Pecorelli left his office and stepped into his car, someone fired two shots at point blank range killing him instantly. Recently, there have been some interesting developments in the Pecorelli murder case and its connection with the Mafia. In the so-called Trial of the Century (described earlier), Italian authorities have accused no less a person than the former prime minister and Gelli's protege, Giulio Andreotti, of having ordered the assassination of Pecorelli. The trial should reveal connections between the Mafia, P2 and the Vatican. Shortly before his death, Pecorelli had named Cardinal Jean Villot, the Vatican Secretary of State as a member of the P2.
It was not the only murder in which the ubiquitous Andreotti has been implicated. When the prosecutors indicted Sindona for the assassination of the fearless magistrate Ambrosoli (with the sinister Gelli in the background) they wrote: "Without Andreotti and the protection he gave to Sindona between 1974 and 1979, the
This brings up another interesting point. It was not just lay crooks and adventurers like Calvi, Gelli and Sindona who were involved in criminal activities on behalf of the Vatican; even members of the Church establishment were involved. As already seen, Archbishop Marcinkus has been up to his neck in corruption and bribery investigations. But probably the greatest public embarrassment to the Vatican was to come from the antics of Cardinal Cody of Chicago - the head of the wealthiest diocese in the world with an annual income in 1978 that exceeded 300 million dollars.
Cardinal John 'Buffalo Bill' Cody is the type of man that only America seems able to produce, just as only Italy could have produced Sindona The Shark and Puppet-master Gelli.24 Freewheeling and flamboyant, Cody had little respect for ordinary conventions or the law. Sworn to celibacy, he was never seen anywhere without a woman called Helen Wilson, who was married to another man. One of the Cardinal's innovations was to spy on the movements of priests and nuns and compile dossiers on them. He ran the Chicago diocese like a despot, controlling assets that in 1970 were worth more than a billion dollars. Within a decade of his assuming office, more than a third of the priests and nuns under him had left holy orders. There were so many complaints about his bizarre behavior and financial irregularities that Pope Paul VI decided that he had to be replaced. But Paul, a complex man with a tortured soul could never bring himself to act.
Recognizing his problems, in 1976 Cardinal Cody hired a public relations firm - at Church expense - to help spruce up his image for the media. There was also the problem of his 'cousin' Helen Wilson to whom Cody had channelled millions of dollars from the diocese. When questioned, he claimed that her lavish lifestyle was being supported by the money she had received from her late husband. An examination of the records showed however that the man had died virtually penniless leaving less than 150 dollars. Records also showed that Cody had falsified Helen's employment records to pay her a substantial salary and also a lump sum of 90,000 dollars to help her buy a luxurious house in Florida.
When Vatican officials, including Cardinal Baggio met Cody and demanded an explanation, they were treated with contempt. He unceremoniously threw the papal delegation out, telling them that the Vatican had more need of him and his money than he of the Vatican. Still Pope Paul refused to act. He wanted Cody out, but all the Pope was prepared to do was request him to give up his position voluntarily! Paul was out of his element, but he had to act. The' situation in Chicago just could not go on.
Fortunately Pope Paul was spared the anguish of having to make a decision. Within a week of Cardinal Baggio's return from his humiliation at Cody's hands, Paul was dead. And in Albino Luciani, the newly elected Pope John Paul I, Cody found that he would have to deal with a very different man. Unlike the tortured and indecisive Paul, a prisoner of the bureaucrats of the Curia, Luciani was an independent man who thought hard and acted swiftly. And he wanted not only Cody out, but also Marcinkus and Secretary of State Villot. Perhaps more importantly, he wanted to root out all traces of P2 from the Vatican. This was to be the most thorough housecleaning in modern history.
Though not apparent at the time, the election in August of 1978 of Albino Luciani
23 New Yorker, September 1995. p. 77.
24 William Cody (1846-1917) - presumably unrelated to the Cardinal - was a famous American buffalo hunter who killed thousands of buffaloes to help feed construction labourers building the railroads; in one year alone he killed more than 3,600 plains buffaloes! From 1883 onwards he ran a traveling circus called Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. As a result, anyone in America having Cody as his name is likely to acquire Buffalo Bill as a nickname.
as Pope John Paul I threatened to blow the whole game apart. The new Pope was probably not the flawless saint that David Yallop paints him to be, but he was an upright and determined man who wanted to change both the image and the workings of the Vatican. The threat for the entrenched establishment both inside and outside the Vatican was the exposure of all the skeletons in the Holy Closet and a thorough cleaning of the Augean stables. The Vatican had served as an extremely effective shield for the operations of men like Gelli, Sindona and Calvi, and their associates within the Vatican establishment. The new Pope posed a threat to this cozy relationship. The only way out seemed to be the elimination of the threat.
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