I’m back from my hols and – as promised – I did not succumb to the flattering blandishments of Karen Pierce, UN Officer, but rather immersed myself in history and gelato in Naples and then on the island of Ischia. You might reasonably be expecting me to write a blog post about the mafia, but instead my attention has been caught by the financial skulduggery in another bastion of Italian crime: the choir of the Sistine Chapel. A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that the choir’s proper name is the Coro della Cappella Musicale Pontificia, and that it is one of the oldest choirs in the world, having been warbling in a properly organised fashion since 1471. It is composed (you see what I did there?) of twenty men (tenors and basses) and thirty boys (sopranos and altos). But all is not well among the misericords.
On Wednesday the Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that Vatican magistrates were investigating the choir’s manager Michelangelo Nardella (a layman) and its director Monsignor Massimo Palombella (a priest) on suspicion of embezzlement, fraud and money laundering. On the same day the Vatican press office issued confirmation that “several months ago, Pope Francis authorised an investigation into the economic-administrative aspects of the Choir; the investigation is still in progress”. According to the newspaper report, profits from concerts were allegedly transferred to an Italian bank account – accessible only to Nardella and Palombella – and used for personal expenses. In May 2018 the choir performed at the gala opening of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York called “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, but in July its planned summer 2018 tour of the US was cancelled without official explanation. Will Nardella and Palombella sing like canaries and confess to feathering their own nests? Or will this be the swan song for the choir? (Sorry. I’ll do better next time.)