I DON’T want to say that the Vatican has been caught up in a sting, but the latest businessman to be identified by the Financial Times proposing a dodgy deal to the Vatican bank is called Antonio Mosquito. Mr Mosquito was a friend of Cardinal Giovanni Becciu, who had served as ambassador to Angola for eight years in the early part of this century, before being promoted to the Secretariat of State in Rome, where he reported directly to the Pope. In that position, he authorised the $200-million investment in a London luxury property dealt with in this column last week (18 October).
Angola is among the most corrupt countries in the world, as the FT helpfully reminds its readers, ranking 165 out of 180 in Transparency International’s ratings; it is also, relatedly, the second biggest supplier of crude oil in Africa. In the second of last week’s remarkable scoops, the FT explained how Mr Mosquito proposed that the Vatican invest $200 million from its Swiss bank accounts in Falcon Oil, a company that he owns.
The Vatican spokesman “did not directly respond to questions about why a $200m loan to an Angolan oil platform was considered a suitable possible investment for the Secretariat, which is the custodian of hundreds of millions of dollars of charity money donated to the Catholic Church by the faithful”.
The final twist in the story is that the company that the Vatican hired to look over the offer and generally perform due diligence took a year to decide that it was a bad idea, before coming up with a better one: that the money be invested instead in this great property deal that it had lined up in Sloane Street in London. That was the beginning of the scandal that the FT had broken at the beginning of the week.
If only I knew the former treasurer of an oil company who could explain how this kind of thing can happen — especially if such a man had, in later life, developed an interest in church governance, and even a friendship with Pope Francis. This really is a story that is crying out for all the things that only the Archbishop of Canterbury could say to illuminate it, and which, because of that, he never will be able to.
AN ENTIRELY different intersection of money and power comes with the rapper Kanye West, who has a considerable fortune and a tendency to confuse himself with Jesus. Tortoise Media carried a really interesting dive into his religiosity by Xavier Greenwood. “Kanye was always religious, according to his late mother, Donda. ‘From the time Kanye was a small child, he believed in Jesus,’ she wrote in her biography of her son. But the church they attended didn’t preach asceticism. ‘We’d go every Sunday to Christ Universal Temple in Chicago,’ Donda wrote. ‘I liked the church because the minister preached prosperity.’ In the video for Kanye’s 2004 breakout hit ‘Jesus Walks’ he pleads for guidance while wearing a $190,000 diamond cross.
“When not a supplicant, he has presented himself as a religious figure, regularly making connections in his lyrics between himself and Jesus. In the 2013 song “I am a God”, Jesus is the ‘most high’, but Kanye is a ‘close high’.”
The fans, presumably, get a contact high. For he has now started a series of performances called Sunday Service: “Every week, celebrities, pop stars and choir members are invited to various locations across the USA for a gospel-themed, music-led, and prayer-infused gathering. Snippets of the services are beamed worldwide by Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian West. The guest list is as tightly controlled as it would be for St George’s chapel in Windsor Castle, though with a rather different elite: these people are all famous on YouTube and Instagram.
“In July, Kanye filed to trademark the term ‘Sunday Service’ to use on a range of merchandise: bottoms, dresses, footwear, headwear, jackets, loungewear, scarves, shirts, socks, and tops.”
You can already buy “Holy Spirit” jumpers for $225 and a pair of “Jesus Walks” socks for only $50. Some of his “Sunday Service” events are actually held at the American headquarters of Adidas. Later in the article, we learn that Hillsong last year made $70 million in revenue, and has its own clothing range. How long can it be before Reform starts franchising its cardigans and tweed jackets, or Holy Trinity, Brompton, its polo necks and strings of pearls?
KIM KARDASHIAN WEST has 147 million followers on Instagram, a figure to bear in mind when the Church of England boasts that five million people used its prayer apps last year. You have to admire whoever came up with the digital spin on the fairly disastrous 2018 attendance figures, released last week: they got the Telegraph onside, at least, but the Mail’s lead was brutal: “A typical Anglican congregation numbered just 27 worshippers last year, figures revealed yesterday.
“They showed that over a decade congregations fell by 15 per cent, church marriages by a third, and that fewer than one in ten babies were baptised.”
The other papers simply ignored the story. It’s no longer news.