The mysterious suicide that has rocked the Vatican
By MICHEL DAY - THE INDEPENDENT
Added: Mon, 03 Oct 2011 10:55:44 UTC
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On a Monday morning in July, a gunshot rang out in the administration section of Milan's San Raffaele hospital. Seconds later, a frightened secretary entered the office of the institution's vice-president, Mario Cal, and found him lying in a pool of blood. Mr Cal clung briefly to life, but the Smith and Wesson revolver had done its job. Before long he died on one of his hospital's own operating tables.
Mario Cal was said to have been deeply distressed by the San Raffaele hospital's perilous financial state
The suicide of the hospital administrator went largely unnoticed outside Italy. But for the powers that be at the Vatican, it was more dreadful news. The global scandal over clerical paedophilia may be the story that dominates the headlines, but as the Vatican attempts to repair its stained reputation and mend diplomatic fences after spats with Beijing and Dublin, the death of Mario Cal was an ugly reminder of problems much nearer home.
Three hundred miles north of the capital, in Italy's second city, the battle is on to prevent a third body blow to the Vatican. This time cardinals are having to deal not with a moral abyss but a financial chasm – a shortfall of €1.5bn on the balance sheet of Milan's San Raffaele teaching hospital, an institute with links to the Vatican whose founder, Don Luigi Verzè, is a priest and a good friend of the city's most famous son, Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
The San Raffaele is highly regarded for the quality of its medical care and its research. But as Mr Cal's death made clear, it is in a crisis.
Thanks to bad investments and profligate expenses unrelated to medical care that would make a tycoon blush – including personal aircraft, hotels in Sardinia, and mango plantations in South America – the hospital is on the verge of collapse, something that was said to have been distressing Mr Cal greatly, and would have proved a huge embarrassment to the Vatican.
Underlining the gravity of the situation, Milan's chief prosecutor, Edmondo Bruti Liberati, announced on Friday that the organisation was under investigation for fraudulent bankruptcy.
In mid-September the Vatican proposed a €250m rescue package. But the proposals appear to have received a cool reception from the authorities. Now the Holy See has until 10 October to come with a better plan, or the institution is almost certain to be declared bankrupt at a hearing two days later.
Meanwhile, questions are being asked about the suicide and the nature of the institution in which it took place. How was the hospital able to build up such colossal debts? Who placed Mr Cal's gun in a bag away from the body before the police arrived? And why did a hospital administrator in one of Western Europe's safest major cities feel the need to keep a pistol in his desk?
Ongoing judicial investigations into the death and the hospital's disastrous finances may provide answers to these questions. Some observers are forthright with their suspicions, however, Vatican expert Paolo Flores D'Arcais, editor of the cultural magazine MicoMega, told The Independent: "I suspect we are talking about illegality and I hope that sooner or later that prosecutors will investigate it." Backing for his views emerged on Friday with news that Mr Liberati's "preliminary analysis" of files and paperwork in the office and at the private residence of Mr Cal has revealed "evidence of criminality" in the hospital's accounts. But the determination shown by the Vatican to save San Raffaele is also making waves.
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