venerdì 12 luglio 2019

Financial Times
(Hannah Roberts) Massimo Palombella resigns as Vatican investigates claims of fraud and embezzlement. With its roots in the sixth century when Pope Gregory the Great established a school of boy choristers, the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel Choir is considered the world’s oldest choral ensemble. But now the pope’s personal choir has been thrown off key by a financial scandal. Monsignor Massimo Palombella, the choir’s director, has resigned amid an investigation by Vatican prosecutors into alleged money laundering, fraud and embezzlement in connection with the choir’s funds. The episode will be a blow for Pope Francis, who has made cleaning up Vatican finances a priority of his papacy.
“In recent days, Monsignor Palombella has finished his service as maestro director of the papal choir. Pope Francis accepted his wish to leave his position,” the Vatican said this week.
Last September, the Vatican acknowledged that it was conducting an investigation into “some economic-administrative aspects . . . of the choral ensemble”.
The existence of the inquiry was made public in response to media reports last year that Mgr Palombella and Michelangelo Nardella, the choir’s administrative director, were suspected of siphoning revenue from concert tours into an Italian bank account. The money was allegedly used for personal expenses, La Stampa’s “Vatican Insider” website, said.
Mgr Palombella did not respond to requests for comment sent via his lawyer Lucia Teresa Musso. He has previously denied wrongdoing, saying that he did not have any administrative responsibilities.
Mr Nardella’s lawyer Laura Sgro said her client denied any wrongdoing and had not been at work for a year and a half because of an unrelated matter.
The choir performs regularly in the Sistine Chapel, surrounded by Michelangelo’s masterpieces, and at the pope’s personal functions. As part of the apostolic household, it considers itself part of the pope’s family.
In its heyday in the 16th century the all-male group attracted the best singers in Europe. Historically, the singers had to be ordained, or unmarried and Italian, to join.
However, by the time Mgr Palombella took over in 2010, the ensemble had come to be nicknamed the Sistine Screamers. It was better known for volume rather than melody, and he is credited with turning it around.
A perfectionist by his own admission, Mgr Palombella increased rehearsals from three hours a week to three hours a day. He added international tours and CD sales to the choir’s undertakings.
The ensemble’s younger members are known as the “white voices” because of the purity of their singing. Around 700 boys from the primary schools and parishes of Rome try out for, at most, a dozen places in the choir every year.
Controversy struck in May last year, when the choir’s participation at the annual gala of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art sparked complaints from some of the singers’ parents. They objected to the “irreverent” costumes of some of the celebrity guests.
The next month, the choir’s much-hyped tour of several US cities, scheduled for July, was abruptly cancelled, as was a CD recording. The allegations of financial impropriety were made public shortly afterwards.
The pope in effect replaced Mr Nardella in January, bringing the choir under the auspices of another department. He appointed an Italian archbishop to oversee its finances.
The Vatican’s secretive culture and opaque finances have frequently led to accusations of financial impropriety. Cardinal George Pell, the man appointed by Pope Francis to bring an end to the financial scandals, was jailed this year after being convicted of sexual abuse. He is currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal.