Vatican Bag Man

monied cross afire

Radix Malorium ex Cupiditas

The path leading to the plush apartment overlooking Central Park had begun fifty years earlier at the seminary of the Apostolic Order of the Venerable Saint. Actius of Jerusalem when he had awakened in the middle of the night with the hand of Monsignor Paolo DaLuca wrapped around his erection bringing him to a quick release. The experience shocked the fifteen year old. The Monsignor had quietly vanished from Philip’s bedside without a word. The Monsignor! The Monsignor had done this…this… this thing. Owing to the brief pleasure he had felt, a tremendous guilt fell upon the boy. The Monsignor, that sweet man, so understanding, so wise, loved by all the boys, how could this be? Immediately after next morning’s matins he entered the confessional eager to expiate and do whatever penance was necessary.

“Forgive me, Father. It has been three days since my last confession. Father, I am guilty of the sin of self-abuse, but, but see, it wasn’t just me doin’ the self part of the self-abuse.”

“I think I understand. So who was the other person, my son?”

“I, I don’t want to… uh I don’t know, Father, see it was dark.”

“Are you certain you don’t know, boy?”

“Yes Father.”

“Go, my son, you are absolved of this thing. I would caution you to keep this to yourself and the confessional. Ten Hail Mary’s and two Stations of the Cross, go with God. “

Philip was certain that his confessor had been Monsignor Paolo.

He was to learn that other boys had had similar experiences. Not only the Monsignor but Father Seamus Murphy too sometimes prowled the dorm. The boys jokingly referred to these visits as “Irish Lullabies” or “Roman Wanks.” No one, it seemed, took the incidents seriously. The much loved Monsignor’s elevated position as the Rector and Father Murphy’s popularity as instructor and coach somehow allowed their aberrations to be dismissed as simple peccadillos. Didn’t this happen all the time at boy’s schools, military schools, and seminaries? Wasn’t this the subject of dozens of jokes? No big deal. So well loved was the kindly Monsignor that any accusatory stance would have called down the wrath and condemnation of the entire seminary. Hence the Monsignor’s subsequent “Roman Wanks” were endured by Philip with a sense of detachment, guilt, and perhaps a rationale of obligation.

The Apostolic Order of the Venerable Saint Actius of Jerusalem, a small, secret Roman Catholic order, had survived in various forms since the Twelfth Century when established by a papal bull issued by Pope Urban II to arm knights of the order to hunt down and slay infidels preying upon Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. At times the Order had been forced underground and in the Eighteenth Century fought skirmishes against the Jesuits in South America. It was rumored that when the Jesuits were stripped of many of their prosperous reductions in South America much of their enormous wealth was shifted to the Saint Actius Order. Like the rival Jesuit order, a military tradition had become strongly infused in the order’s doctrine and rules. Seminary boys learnt a strict code of loyalty to protect the secrecy of the order and became toughened by the rigors at St. Actius and taught to follow orders without question, to serve with complete loyalty to the Order. Informing is the act of a coward as is surrender to a foe. Orders dating from the Sixteenth Century charter named St. Actius Order “Protectors of Holy Church’s secrets.” To Saint Actius priests, church secrets were treasures to be protected. Saint Actius had long been the only Roman Catholic Seminary which taught martial arts, fencing, horsemanship and the mountain sports of skiing and repelling. While a few Saint Actius boys became missionary priests in third world settings the brightest and best were placed in sensitive church positions requiring unusual degrees of trust. The Jesuits, who have long attempted to defame the Order, have with speculative rumors implied their employment as Vatican assassins. It is true that sensitive investigatory and enforcement positions within church hierarchy are traditionally awarded to the Saint Actius Order. But the Jesuits’ accusation of assassins is widely dismissed as nothing more than Jesuit calumny. This small rigid militant sect with its traditions dating back to the Crusades in essence is Holy Mother Church’s Nobel Defender, Cognito sit virtus, et fortitúdo conservator its motto. Information is knowledge, strength its protector.

Months after the masturbation incidents and shortly before completion of his studies he was summoned one spring afternoon from his trigonometry class to the Monsignor’s office. There the kindly Monsignor explained to Philip that his comportment both religious and academic at St. Actius were remarkably good. “Exceptional” was his word.

“My son, you have shown to us many fine qualities: qualities that build good priests, qualities that Holy Mother Church appreciates. You are serious, you are hard working, you are very intelligent and Philip Stahl, you are loyal. For this I have recommended that your education be continued at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There we know you will do your best. And should all go as we expect, you will follow your Bachelor’s degree with a graduate degree at the Wharton School. What do you think, young man?”

“I am honored, Monsignor. Thank you. I will do my best.”

“I know that you will. And please know this. I take a personal interest in your career. Soon I will be leaving our beloved seminary. I’m being posted to the Vatican. You will, I pray, stay in contact. I would appreciate a letter each month. Please do not discuss these matters with anyone else. Go now, my son, I pray for you.”

Monsignor never again approached Philip sexually, nor were the late night visits or confessions ever alluded to in speech or actions.

The year he earned his Bachelor’s in European Languages, Monsignor Paolo Da Luca attended Father Philip Stahl’s ordination as priest in Pittsburgh and presented the newly ordained priest with a Volkswagen Beetle. Two years later following successful completion of his doctorate in Finance he was invited to Rome for the ordination and investiture of Bishop Paolo Da Luca, to be the new Papal Nuncio in Berne. As Bishop, Paolo DaLuca became the Order’s Adjutant, the number two official of the Order of St. Actius. Only the Grand Marshall, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was higher in the Order of Saint Actius. Father Stahl’s appointment as Bishop Da Luca’s Personal Secretary placed the priest on the fast track for advancement.

Switzerland was magnificent, cleaner, better dressed, and more civilized than anyplace he’d known in America. Superficially the Swiss were stuffy and dogmatic, but beyond business dealings Philip found them generally well educated, cultured and once invited into their homes, warm, hospitable, and engaging conversationalists. As Bishop Da Luca’s Personal Secretary he interfaced with bankers and financiers. The Vatican’s holdings entrusted to Swiss banking houses and securities firms were managed from the Papal Nuncio’s office. The Vatican Bank also bestowed upon Philip the lofty title of Managing Director of Investments, Switzerland. He managed several large funds that invested commercial client’s money in securities and real estate which yielded tidy profits for the Vatican Bank and large profits for the commercial enterprises which were able to escape taxes by funneling money to Switzerland via the Vatican Bank. For two years Philip developed reports and analyses, conducted audits, arranged international transfers and currency trades. The Vatican Bank directors were impressed with the young man’s talent. Whether his trading skills were exceptionally good or whether he was lucky, his management of securities was sound and yielded the Vatican’s clients a steady seventeen percent increase per annum from the securities managed by Fr. Philip Stahl. Gradually he had gained an excellent understanding of the monetary and financial complexities that were the Swiss banking system. Under Bishop Da Luca’s tutelage he developed excellent working relations with high level banking and government functionaries. Each week usually featured a €200 executive lunch for his prime working contacts at a fine restaurant or hotel. Philip’s card file listed information he collected on well placed contacts as well as wives’ and children’s birthdays to be remembered with cards and small gifts. Roman Catholic family members of influential contacts were given access to the Bishop’s office and the favor of the Bishop’s personal presiding at weddings, baptisms, and christenings. Often the Bishop requested Philip’s accompaniment at diplomatic receptions. In time Philip was provided his own office in Geneva, the banking hub with his own aide, a Fr. Carlos Sandoval, another priest of the St. Actius Order. Under Philip he would manage the Geneva office with two Swiss clerks and a receptionist. Carlos Sandoval, a tall lean Catalonian, never smiled, seldom spoke, and disdained company, preferring to work alone. He held a doctorate in international finance from the Sorbonne. His diversions were riding and fencing which he practiced weekly at the exclusive Club Hippique Brittagne. However unsettling his demeanor, Sandoval, like Philip, was a skilled trader.

To ease the task of shuttling between Geneva and Berne the bishop presented Philip with a Mercedes Benz 200E. While the Bishop’s working budget and personal finances were protected even from Philip, clearly the Nuncio was funded generously. But this was only to be expected as the Vatican through its Office of the Nuncio in Switzerland directed the movement of over two billion Euros each year. Philip’s own salary had risen to upper class Euro standards. The Apostolic Order of the Venerable Saint Actius of Jerusalem doctrine included no rules regarding poverty.

Within four years Father Philip Stahl, well received by the international community, was afforded an unusual degree of respect for an American. Fluent in German, French and Italian, well groomed in Euro diplomatic etiquette by his bishop he was a rising star to be sure. Before opening the office in Geneva, Bishop DaLuca had sent him to London with an open bank draft on Barclay’s.

“Philip, go to Bond Street. Invest in a dozen suits. Here’s the name of your tailor. Listen to him. This maestro, he makes clothes for princes. Include some light weight suits, maybe wool blends, just a few, the others pure wool. Also two or three great coats and two tuxedos, yes? Good. Then you return you will drive down to Rome for shoes and a little vacation, yes? Business in Geneva is so much better you should be in the mufti, yes? Especially among the Geneva Calvinisti. Il non piace il nostro abito clericale. Heh, heh. Now your duties will involve much travel, my son. When you come back you take care of turning over the office in Geneva to Fr. Sandoval, afterwards you go to Moscow for a week.”

The July trip to Moscow in 1992 was exciting. The Soviet Union, only recently officially dissolved, was in a frenzy of transition. Huge amounts of wealth were being moved. Philip had been instructed to stay not at the Moscow Nuncio’s Residence, but at the small but well appointed Hotel Pyotr Beketov in the Petrovka District. At the hotel he was met by two well dressed English speaking apparatchik who examined his diplomatic passport, left for an hour, then returned.

“Let us show you our beautiful Moscow, Reverend Doctor Stahl.”

A car and driver waited, and for the rest of the afternoon he was hosted to a visit to the Red Square, the Kremlin, the huge department store Gum and finally a dinner washed down by too much vodka and toasts to prosperity and friendship. The next afternoon his hosts presented him with a locked suitcase.

“We have arranged your tickets. Your plane leaves for Geneva at 2200 hours this evening. We will drive you to the airport. With your diplomatic credentials you will have no problems.”

“Gentlemen, I will need to see the contents of the suit case.”

“We were told the suitcase will remain sealed.”

“We’ve established our trust. Now it’s up to you. Open the case or here it stays in Russia.”

The men begged a brief absence, left then returned half an hour later.

Setting the suitcase on the bed, the key was produced and handed to Philip who opened it to find bundles of $100 bills and £100 notes. The men inventoried the $790,000 and £128,000. On the hotel stationary, Philip wrote a simple receipt then locked the large leather case. Unknown to him, this transaction had been a carefully orchestrated test, a test that he had passed with distinction.

Over the next three months, Philip flew to Moscow five times receiving an additional fourteen million dollars in dollars, pounds, and euros of bona fide oligarch funds. Under his Bishop’s instructions these monies were deposited to numbered Vatican accounts among four Swiss banking houses where Philip was warmly received in the counting rooms leading to the vaults with coffee, biscotti, and chocolates. To him these funds were church assets and as a priest of the Apostolic Order of the Venerable St. Actius of Jerusalem he knew better than to inquire.

Similar courier missions followed with visits to certain parliamentarians in South Africa, Venezuelan generals, and Mexican industrialists, always returning with bags stuffed with cash. As more of his time became consumed by these trips he relegated all finance duties in Geneva to his aid, the stoic, expressionless Fr. Sandoval.

In the fall of 1999 Fr. Philip Stahl was summoned to the Vatican. Bishop DaLuca feigned ignorance of the reasons for the summons but insisted on accompanying Philip.
“If there should be some problem, I am certain it is a small one. Whatever, I stand with you, my son.” The summons had placed his nerves on edge although he could think of nothing incriminating. A summons nearly always meant some sort of judiciary hearing, malfeasance, heresy, or some scandal of morality. In the far reaches of his mind he worried that somehow the Curia had discovered the Bishop’s previous dalliances and would press Philip for a confession and an accusation. He was resolved not to inform, to stand loyal to his order. On the third floor of the Vatican Administrative office he waited in a leather armchair with his Bishop by his side. Stone faced Cardinal Angelo Vincenza entered the office, introduced himself and conducted the pair to a private papal prayer chamber. Minutes later the Cardinal returned with his Holiness Pope John Paul II who took a seat before the two who knelt to kiss the ring of The Holy See. The old Pope chuckled then addressing the Bishop in Italian offered his greetings, his congratulations, and blessing. Turning to Father Stahl, Pope John Paul II speaking in English smiled at Philip.

“So this is our faithful servant Father Philip Stahl. My son, we take notice of your superb service. We greatly appreciate the wisdom of your recommendations in Switzerland, which have gained so much for God’s work. We know that you have transported very large sums of money, and that always there is danger when big money she moves. Never has there been a question concerning the great sums you have delivered. Never have you complained of or questioned your duties and we well know you have always observed silence about your duties.” The pope made a little gesture to Cardinal Vincenza who approached, knelt and handed to the Pope a small velvet case. “My son and good servant Father Philip Stahl, I commend you with the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great first class. You are now a Knight of Holy Church. One day perhaps you will become a beloved Nuncio like your Bishop who will become very soon our next Archbishop. Go with God, my son.” At that the Cardinal opened the door of the tiny chapel and escorted His Holiness upstairs for his afternoon Kirshwasser and siesta.

Later at a table in the Hassler Hotel’s Restaurant, the pair enjoyed a five star lunch of breaded scallops stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, celery leaves and black truffle… The window table provided a magnificent view overlooking the Vatican. During the lunch they had examined the engraved citation on parchment and beautiful gold medal Pope John Paul had bestowed on Philip.

“Archbishop! Allow me to congratulate you. This is wonderful. Such good fortune comes to Your Grace.”

“Thank you, Philip my son, my dear son. And it is your good fortune as well. I have already received approval from Cardinal Ratzinger for you to continue as my Secretary. Philip, I am happy to tell you we will be returning to America!”

“America! Home! What good news. And to which diocese, Your Grace?”

“I will not be administering a diocese. Yes this is unusual for an Archbishop; however I shall serve His Holiness as Special Nuncio at Large. This will be equal to an Ambassador Without Portfolio. Our offices will be in New York; I will report not to the Papal Ambassador in Washington, but directly to Cardinal Ratzinger. Did you know that he was Monsignor at our seminary in Padua while I was there as a boy? We are good friends since many years.”

The waiter served a desert of Torcolato wine and rhubarb compôte, banana fritters and amaretto ice cream. The Archbishop lifted his wine glass, “To America!”

Philip marveled at the changes which had occurred at home. Everything seemed bigger, richer, and busier than he had remembered. Colors were brighter, clothes more stylish, and television advertisements raucous and ridiculous. The sizes and numbers of automobiles were staggering, every person, it seemed, carried a cell phone and lap top computer. Law enforcement seemed to be everywhere, on highways, buildings, and airports. English was spoken faster than he remembered. American coffee, bread, and beer were wretched, but in New York good food and drink were simply a matter of finding the right neighborhood. His Mercedes he had sold to Fr. Sandoval. In New York an automobile was a liability. Any kind of car was easily rented with ease in America. His duties continued under his archbishop as the Vatican’s secret international courier. Three weeks of each month he travelled to Miami, Chicago, New Orleans or Las Vegas. Abroad, visits to Mexico, Panama, Rio and Buenos Aires became routine. In each city his contacts came to like the suave, personable, cosmopolitan priest. As in Switzerland, he quietly constructed dossiers, noting dates of meetings, amounts, as well as personal foibles of his contacts and birthdays and special occasions and sometimes providing small favors. Back in New York dossiers were updated and copied to CDs for storage. When a governor of Sonora’s daughter was to be married to a wealthy Texas oil man, Philip arranged for Archbishop DaLuca to perform the ceremony at a large ranch in the Big Bend country with the American Vice President and the Governor of Florida in attendance.

Travelling nearly all of the time was wearing, and late in 2004 Philip was stricken with hepatitis in Panama. The Papal Ambassador in Washington arranged for his transport by private jet to Catholic Medical Center in New York. He was six weeks recovering during which time Fr. Sandoval assumed his secret courier duties. During this recovery time he was able to consolidate and chart several years of files for his personal analysis. . His privately collected data revealed a staggering $1,253, 600,000 in collections of hard, cold, cash. “Who,” he questioned “deals a billion and a quarter in cash?” His PhD in finance wasn’t necessary to realize only drug lords, Mafiosa, Russian oligarchs, and dictators relied so heavily on the liquidity of cash. This obvious conclusion impuned the Vatican and himself. “The Vatican’s Bag Man, that’s what I am, the collection agent for money, money which must be dirty and in sore need of laundering.” Guilt, confusion, and a sense of shame weighed heavily.

Released from hospital the Archbishop instructed him to rest for as long as he wished before resuming duties. Fr. Sandoval would continue to assume his courier duties. Philip flew to Palm Springs where bought a Nissan Murano, then drove leisurely northward through the Sierras through Oregon, Washington, and into British Colombia where he took a cabin at Tsuniah Lake out of range of email and telephones. There he fished in the morning and in the evenings worked on writing several lengthy essays on the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. While his articles named no one, the information clearly pointed to specific Church Offices and Vatican officials. One article alleged that the Vatican maintained direct business links with two notorious dictators. Another descried the lack of financial support for the Third World, particularly Haiti, all of Central America and sub Saharan Africa while the Vatican Bank and the IOR accrued billions in assets. Before returning to New York he submitted one article to The Sunday Times of Dublin, and two others to Irish Readers’ Magazine, each penned under the name Fiona O’Reilly. Acceptance and publication afforded Father Philip Stahl the satisfaction of having reacted decently as a human and as a Christian, if not loyally to Mother Church. Vindication eased remorse.

Duties upon return to work included delivering payments in cash to three dioceses. To Boston $4,500,000 in $100 bills, and similarly $2,000,000 each to Chicago and Atlanta dioceses. These cash transfers were to effect secret and quiet out of court settlements to victims of sexual abuse by priests. Again the stigma of Bag Man and money launderer troubled Philip. And now persistent rumors were whispered that orders from Cardinal Ratzinger insisted on secrecy and the tacit protection of pedophiles and rapists. Surely the Archbishop realized the ignominy of this, but how could he, Philip, go to the Archbishop to complain. Had not he and who knows how many other boys at St. Actius been abused by his mentor? He could talk to no one. Incredibly in 2005 with the death of John Paul II the College of Cardinals elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the Throne of Saint Peter as Pope Benedict XVI. Three weeks later Archbishop Paolo DaLuca was elevated to Cardinal.

Now Philip was penning an article each week hurling scathing indictments at Church policies toward abortion, toward divorce, and even toward masturbation and still from the accrual of the church’s vast wealth only a miserly trickle found its way to ease the miseries of Third World poverty. But he could not bring himself to directly accuse his beloved Archbishop, the man who had fostered Philip’s brilliant career. He pondered the relationship between Ratzinger and DaLuca. Was it not akin to his relationship with the Archbishop? Had Ratzinger abused DaLuca as a young boy in Padua then furthered DaLuca’s career? How many Vatican careers were based on fellatio and buggery? But loyalty to his mentor and to the Order of St. Actius still overruled his decisions. His anger was against Rome and he would press his attacks.

In 2008 he was summoned by the Curia. The message ordered him to board the next flight to Rome and then report immediately to Cardinal Bruno Conti, General Council and president of the Curia. Again Cardinal DaLuca feigned ignorance but again agreed to stand by Philip’s side were he in trouble. He was not in trouble. Before a hearing of the Curia he was politely questioned on accounting methods he had established relating to the management of Church funds he had handled. The questions pointed clearly to improprieties, probably theft of funds which had occurred during Philip’s recovery from hepatitis, Fr. Carlos Sandoval, the subject of the investigation. Didn’t the fool realize that the couriers were always watched and transactions triple-checked?

Later over a splendid supper of broiled langostinos, braised lamb chops, and chestnuts roasted with garlic, he asked DaLuca what punishment the Curia might levy, if indeed Sandoval had stolen.

“Ah, the amount in question is large, six figures I believe. To be sure the penalty will be severe, although I understand the money has been returned.”

“Transfer to a leprosarium or AIDS hospice perhaps?”

“My son, enough of that; call the boy over for some tiramisu and another bottle of this excellent Marsala.”

Oddly enough, Fr. Sandoval returned to Geneva to resume his regular duties. Two weeks later he was found dead, lying next to the riding club’s bridal trail, his neck broken. Indeed the penalty had been severe. Philip instantly realized the extent to which the hierarchy would push to protect itself. Murder, cruel murder.

Sandoval’s murder pushed him beyond the limits hitherto imposed by loyalty to the Order and to Archbishop Paolo DaLuca. Throwing caution to the wind, he penned painful articles citing twenty-nine verifiable instances of sexual abuse committed upon boys as young as nine years old by unrepentant sodomite priests then covered up by out of court settlements in the millions of dollars. The articles included names and addresses of the offending priests and bishops, dates of the offenses and amounts of the secret settlements. The last and most damaging of these articles he posted to the New York Times, still under the pen name Fiona O’Reilly. The contents of the articles, he realized, could with effort and the church’s resources be traced. Remembering the punishment exacted upon Sandoval, he realized that it could be simply a matter of time before his assassin would be launched. But he would be ready. He purchased a subcompact Glock 42 automatic pistol. The Geneva coroner’s inquest in the death of Sandoval raised suspicions; a criminal investigation was initiated. In Berne the Vatican’s traction slipped despite the vast financial holdings in Switzerland. The international press pursued this story like a pack of hounds. When the Sunday edition of the New York Times followed Philip’s sex abuse article with a twenty-four column op-ed questioning Vatican leadership and morality, European newspapers followed suit. The Guardian featured an insinuating photo of Pope Benedict smiling amid a group of Boy Scouts. A leading German weekly blatantly accused the Vatican of covering up acts pedophilia, and alluded to a ring of pederast bishops and a cardinal operating within Vatican City. His Holiness’s butler was arrested and charged with theft of documents he had sold to German journalists. During his interrogation he claimed that fourteen year old boys had been brought into the papal apartment for overnights. Pope Benedict’s sexuality had become the elephant in the Basilica. By 2012 the Vatican in turmoil, his resignation inevitable, he did, indeed, quit the Throne of St. Peter in 2013.

For the third time Philip was issued an immediate summons to Rome by the Curia, this time as the accused. The Curia had discovered years ago the true identity of Fiona O’Reilly. The articles identifying the details of names, dates, places, and amounts of out of court settlements of priestly abuses crossed the line. Hitherto, Philip’s proven honesty and diligence as the Vatican’s chief cash courier had persuaded the curia to turn a blind eye to his radical anti church essays. But real damage, costly damage had materialized from the fallout of the German press, then the British and American. The extremely lucrative money laundering machine which had been in place since the days of Pope John XXIII in the 1960’s had been torpedoed by the press. Further damage accrued as American cash cow donors withdrew pledges. How could millionaire widows be expected to remember Holy Mother Church if they believed millions bequeathed would be used to protect pedophiles and rapists? Ignoring the summons’ order of immediacy, late that night at the Cardinal’s residence on Lexington Avenue Philip explained to his old mentor the situation leading to the summons. Cardinal DaLuca had always stood by him. Despite DaLuca’s dalliances in seminary, Philip loved the old man and respected his wisdom and generosity. He was Philip’s surrogate father, his confessor, his North Star. Now only he could provide proper protection and guidance.

“Ah, it is clear you are so much disturbed. When you are a little more calm we discuss this, no? No matter what, Philip, you know I will help you, my son.” He led Philip into the apartment’s study and before closing the door called for his man to bring a tray with cognac. Philip withdrew the message summoning him and passed it to DaLuca. “Yes Philip, this one is quite serious. Explain to me, please, la vostra difesa, how you see this problem.”

For the next half hour he explained his objections to the Vatican’s intransigence with regard to divorce, abortion, the equality of women and minorities as the Archbishop Paolo DaLuca patiently listened.

“You are quiet right, you know. And, Philip, you are not alone in wanting to promote these changes. The problem has been, however, complicated by these…these…these scandals, these sex scandals.”

“I know this, Your Eminence. Let me tell you what has pushed me beyond limits. Do you know what has so offended me, so angered me, so driven me to such extreme measures? Do you know? I will tell you, sir, in plain language: the murder, yes murder of Carlos. There was no tree within four hundred yards. The Swiss police have detected powerful sedatives in his blood. They have absolute proof that he was drugged. He did not fall. He was pushed from his horse and an assassin snapped his neck. There is a witness, a groundskeeper. He was murdered. Murdered by orders from Rome, and I would bet money that the murder was of the Order of Saint Actius. How can I stand by silent, head bowed, and condone such travesty, such sin, such filth emanating from the very highest levels? I cannot. And, to be sure I am at great risk. If they believed Sandoval warranted death…they, they may have already launched an assassin and no doubt from our Order, Your Eminence. Who do you think they will send? Who? I am worried sick.”

“I know you are concerned, as am I. Please know, Philip, I have made inquiries. We will know very soon the name of their agent. Again, you are right. I am with you, do you know that? Yes, you have always been to me my son. Now together we will expand the exposure you have begun. The majority of cardinals will support us, Philip. They hate Benedict and they hate that nasty coven of deviants there in the Vatican. They will support us, Philip. Pope Francis is with us. And when we have destroyed this wickedness I will become the next Pope. You will very soon be elevated to cardinal and the church can at last reform, modernize, and return to pure religion. Yes, my son, you are right, and know that I am with you. I will lead you, and we will lead Holy Mother Church into the twenty first century. God bless you, Philip, you truly walk with God.”

Philip sighed with an enormous sense of relief. He had always realized the goodness of Paolo DaLuca. With this powerful Cardinal the greatest reform since Ecumenical Council II would be launched.

Cardinal DaLuca poured another cognac and raised his glass toasting “Par Dieu.”

The poison acted within minutes. Father Philip Stahl slumped from the leather wingback chair, collapsing dead at the feet of the old man he’d loved.

Tears rolled down the Cardinal’s cheeks. “Ah, my beautiful boy. Please forgive me, my son.”

(c) Gary Ives
Published 25 May 2014 at Fiction On the Web

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