We were in Rome in a 17th century villa outside the walls of Vatican City . It was the spring of 1985. We sat on a third floor veranda blooming with Bougainvillea, droning with honeybees. The handsome lean man under house arrest whose family “owned half of Sicily” turned to me and said, “There is a car outside. We can go and see the Father now.”
“The Father,” he replied, “Seriously, he knows of our meeting. He is ready to speak with you”. He was referring to the Pope. The man’s girlfriend, lean and tan in white tight jeans and white sandals, was arranging dessert in the kitchen. We had just started our coffees after luncheon salads.
I was in Rome to work on In God’s Name , a movie adaptation of the explosive best seller by investigative journalist, David Yallop. The book was a look at the murder of Pope John I that occurred, the book posited, when Pope John came too close to the fire in delving into the hidden corruption of the Roman Curia and the Vatican Bank.
“The truth is not that book,” the man who owned Sicily said. Like his girlfriend, he, too, wore white jeans. His sandals, however, were crocodile. “The truth is that the Vatican has been infiltrated by the KGB for the last 50 years. These agents are no longer priests or bishops. They have matured. These spies are now cardinals and archbishops.”
“Why would the KGB infiltrate the Vatican ?” I asked.
“Because they want to discredit the church.”
“For what purpose?”
“To discourage the faith. To make humankind turn their eyes from God , so that the world becomes weak, so that Russia can dominate.”
“This is what the Holy Father will tell me?”
“Yes, he will,” he said, his pace quickening, “but the Curia, they will tell you, too. They have certain secrets to share with you. They will tell you your book is only a mask to the true horror. You may think what I say is outlandish but the Curia and the Father – they will not lie.”
As it turns out I was sitting next to one of the major dons of the world. Next to me was a man I had known since I was a pup at Paramount. He was a kind old man from the day I first met him. His name was Luigi Luraschi. Luigi was head of the Paramount Foreign Office. He had been with the company for 40 years. I politely refused a meeting with the Pontiff. I could not go to the Vatican on behalf of Paramount to see the Pope. I was not briefed for such a meeting nor did I have corporate approval to represent the company with the Vatican.
Within two weeks the man from Sicily was shot through the head in the very home in Rome where he was under house arrest.
Subsequently, I learned that Luigi Luraschi, the executive from the foreign office, was not only a Paramount executive for fifty years but he was doubling as a CIA Agent. I was always impressed how quickly I moved trough customs when I was with Luigi. Later, I understood why. When I returned to LA, I discovered I was being followed. My condo was bugged, later ransacked. I did not understand how the CIA, the Vatican and the Mafia were connected. I would later learn that Paramount had leased the 5555 Melrose property on which it was built from the Vatican. Note: eventually, Paramount would buy the property outright. I also discovered that the CIA had a close relationship with the Vatican since the CIA’s inception in the 1940s. The CIA founder,Bill Donovan paid the Vatican a cool $25 million a year for the privilege of shared information. I am not a proponent of conspiracy theories, people are not that bright or prescient. But there is a hidden interconnectivity between things. Nothing moves that connection better than money — wherever it comes from.
Soon after my return from Rome, my phone in the administration building at Paramount blinked red. It did not ring. It only blinked. I picked up the phone.
“Yes. Who is this?”
“This is Martin Davis.”
Martin was the new Chairman of Gulf and Western, the parent company to Paramount. I had never met him. By reputation, he was a hated man. He despised the movie business almost as much as people despised him. Fortune magazine called Martin Davis “the legendary bad guy of Gulf and Western”
“That project about the Vatican?”
“But sir? I can not kill it. This is an important work, quite possibly –“
“Kill it today. Shoot it. Knife it. Then give it back to Yallop (the writer). Remove it from the red book (The production status report). Get with legal today. Get with story today. Destroy all files after you have signed the rights back. Never talk to the press. Never mention In God’s Name again.”
He hung up the phone. I did as he asked. Paramount had developed an ethos rather like The Godfather, one of its most successful and important legacies at the time. I was once told by a senior executive in Godfather-like whispers, “David, I love you like a son, so please forgive what I am going to do to you.” The next day, he did some very , very bad things to me. Paramount’s ethos had imitated its artful product. Paramount had Anthony Pellicano , a corrupt fixer, on the dole. He was a prep school kid who talked like Michael Corleone. Pellicano is now serving 15 years in jail for illegal wiretapping.
I was raised in a small Catholic church, Saint Mary’s, in a little town in Ohio. My Catholic grandmother and her sister both lived to be over one hundred. They attributed their longevity to prayers to the good Lord in the morning and a glass of sherry at night. The nuns who taught me were kind. The priests were smart and friendly. In my youth, I was a cute kid . I was an altar boy for 10 years . No priest every put a hand on me. I know good Catholics all over the world who strive toward perfection in themselves and their lives.
There is a side of the church that has grown cold and dark and protective of the riches it has. I have been down the dark corridors of my own greed and ambition — I know what can happen when we covet unreasonably.
Pope Francis is striving nobly to take on the Curia. In typical humble fashion, Pope Francis went to have a meeting with the Curia this Lenten season and he rode a bus. The PBS Frontline expose on the Vatican is startling in its explicitness, and I would urge anyone interested to view it. It is profound . It is the reason I write this blog today.
Frontline’s intelligent and balanced journalism can not mask the inherent tawdriness and the corruption of lust, greed, and domination that is the hidden hand of the Roman Curia – the governing force of the Vatican. For his efforts in 1982, Pope John Paul I was murdered, according to the theories exposed In God’s Name. Pope Francis , who I believe to be perhaps, not only a good man, but a great man, is now taking on the Roman Curia , the evil heart of the Catholic Church’s infrastructure. This is a daunting task against a nest of vipers. Pope Francis can not do this alone. As his chief aid in the Frontline special says, “but the Spirit can”. Indeed, perhaps it is only faith that can break such corrupt connectivity.
We who believe in the miracle of answered prayers must pray for Pope Francis. We don’t need to pray for the fiction of Rosemary’s Baby, another successful Paramount movie, like The Godfather. We need to pray in the reality of a good man going against evil incarnate: the Roman Curia, the inner sanctum of a church that claims 1.2 billion faithful members.
You can view the the PBS special, Secrets of the Vatican, here online.