10 Secrets of the Vatican Exposed

Vatican City may have fewer than 1,000 citizens and spans only 110 acres, but it also has a multimillion-dollar budget and an unbelievably complex history. Understanding how it all works requires parsing through centuries of religious texts. Is the Vatican confusing and mysterious? Is the pope Catholic? A look behind the scenes: 1. Regular Exorcise! Baudelaire once said that “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” But in modern-day Vatican City, the devil is considered alive and well. The late Pope John Paul II personally performed three exorcisms during his reign, and Pope Benedict XVI expanded the ranks of Catholic-sponsored exorcists throughout the world. In fact, Father Gabriele Amorth, the Church’s chief exorcist, claims to expel more than 300 demons a year from the confines of his Vatican office, and there are some 350 exorcists operating on behalf of the Catholic Church in Italy alone. Amorth also teaches bishops how to tell the difference between satanic possession and psychiatric illness, noting that those who suffer from the former seem to be particularly repulsed by the sight of holy water and the cross. 2. Where thieves go to prey With 1.5 crimes per citizen, Vatican City has the highest crime rate in the world. It’s not that the cardinals are donning masks and repeatedly robbing the bank, it’s just that the massive crowds of tourists make Vatican City a pickpocket’s paradise. The situation is complicated by the fact that the Vatican has no working prison and only one judge. So most criminals are simply marched across the border into Italy, as part of a pact between the two countries. (The Vatican’s legal code is based on Italy’s, with some modifications regarding abortion and divorce.) Crimes that the Vatican sees fit to try itself — mainly shoplifting in its duty-free stores — are usually punished by temporarily revoking the troublemaker’s access to those areas. But not every crime involves theft. In 2007, the Vatican issued its first drug conviction after an employee was found with a few ounces of cocaine in his desk. 3. The worst confessions Some sins are simply too much for a local bishop to forgive. While priests can absolve a sin as serious as murder (according to the Church), there are five specific sins that require absolution from the Apostolic Penitentiary. This secretive tribunal has met off and on for the past 830 years, but in January 2009, for the first time ever, its members held a press conference to discuss their work. Three of the five sins they contemplate can only be committed by the clergy. If you’re a priest who breaks the seal of confession, a priest who offers confession to his own sexual partners, or a man who has directly participated in an abortion and wants to become a priest, then your case must go before the tribunal to receive absolution. The other two sins can be committed by anyone. The first, desecrating the Eucharist, is particularly bad […]

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