U.S. Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, president of the Vatican Bank, and two other Vatican Bank directors have been cleared by a Milan judge of embezzlement charges in connection with a controversial loan agreement they made with an Italian company.
Judge Maurizio Grigio ruled June 8 that a financial operation between the Vatican Bank -- formally known as the Institute of Religious Works -- and Italy's Italmobiliare real estate company was suspect but not illegal.
The judge therefore rejected prosecution requests that Marcinkus and Vatican Bank directors Luigi Mennini and Pellegrino de Stroebel stand trial.
Archbishop Marcinkus and his colleagues loaned Italmobiliare 60 million lire (worth $70 million in 1972) under the agreement with the Italian company's directors. The loan was indexed to the Swiss franc to protect the bank against Italy's high rate of inflation.
Because of that indexing, Italmobiliare was forced to come up with 160 billion lire, more than three times the original amount, when it repaid the bank for the loan in 1979.
Milan judges launched an investigation into Italmobiliare five years ago and in February 1984 formally notified the three Vatican bank officials that they and six members of the Italian company's administration were under investigation.
On June 8, Judge Grigio ruled against the formal indictment of the three Vatican bankers, but ordered the six Italmobiliare officials to stand trial.
While clearing the archbishop, Mennini and Stroebel, Judge Grigio said, "There remain some perplexities regarding the advisability of linking the indexation of the loan to the Swiss franc."
The bank and Marcinkus found themselves involved in a far-reaching financial scandal when Italy's Banco Ambrosiano collapsed in 1982 with $1.287 billion in outstanding debts, two months after Ambrosiano President Roberto Calvi was found hanged under London's Blackfriars Bridge.
Through Archbishop Marcinkus, the Vatican Bank had provided Calvi with "letters of patronage." The bank was informally accused of being responsible for the Ambrosiano crash, the largest bank failure in Italian history.
The Vatican denied any liability for the Ambrosiano's debts, but paid $240.9 million to its foreign creditors.