The announcement this week in the Vatican's daily information bulletin was short and perfunctory: Pope John Paul II had appointed Msgr. Luigi Barbarito, former papal representative to Australia, as the apostolic nuncio, or Vatican ambassador, to Britain.
Barbarito's appointment ended rumors that the post would go to the controversial American prelate, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, president of the Vatican Bank.
Reports here before Christmas that Marcinkus was being seriously considered for the London diplomatic post triggered outrage and protests in British church circles.
A spokesman for Cardinal Basil Hume, the archbishop of Westminster, termed the prospects "scarcely conceivable." British church sources here said that clarifications were asked of the Vatican and the protests of the British bishops was made "clear."
The Illinois-born Marcinkus has been linked to the 1982 fall of the Banco Ambrosiano, through which the Vatican Bank did a certain amount of banking. He also had ties to the Italian financier Michelle Sindona, whose international financial schemes got him convicted in the U.S. for bank fraud and who is currently being tried as an accessory to murder in Italy.
For more than two years, Marcinkus has been a virtual prisoner within the Vatican because of his refusal to testify to Italian investigators about the Vatican bank's links to the Abrosiano affair. His silence persists even though it has been independently established that millions of dollars of missing Ambrosiano funds were transferred to paper companies in Panama, several of which the Vatican has admitted owning.
The Vatican has been in a quandary about what to do with Marcinkus, apparently unwilling simply to remove him from the bank job lest that be construed as an admission by the Vatican of financial wrongdoing.
In addition, Marcinkus has close personal ties to the pope. Until the financial scandal, he served as both organizer and bodyguard on papal trips abroad. The burly archbishop is credited with saving the life of Pope Paul VI from a knife attack in Manila in 1970.
Dispatching Marcinkus to the London post, which carries with it the diplomatic immunity that would allow him to continue avoiding Italian bank investigators, offered the pontiff a beguiling resolution to the dilemma, church sources said.
But the British church thought otherwise. Although in theory local churches are not supposed to have a say in the nomination of papal nuncios, the overwhelming British opposition to a Marcinkus appointment is believed to have convinced the curia and the pope that a professional church diplomat such as Barbarito would be a sounder choice.