THE FORMER papal nuncio to Ireland archbishop Gaetano Alibrandi left Dublin and the Vatican’s diplomatic service in 1989 after it emerged there were large amounts of unaccounted for money in three Irish bank accounts belonging to him.
The money is believed to have originated in South America. He had been papal nuncio to Chile from 1961 and led the Chilean delegation to the second Vatican Council, which opened in October 1962.
Dr Alibrandi was papal nuncio to Ireland from 1969 and during his 20 years in the Republic he is believed to have been involved in the appointment of 26 Catholic bishops.
The disclosures about the circumstances of his departure from Ireland and the Vatican’s diplomatic service were disclosed in the Dr Garret FitzGerald Memorial Lecture at UCC last night by Seán Donlon, former secretary general at the department of foreign affairs.
Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday, Mr Donlon said: “It came to our [Department of Foreign Affairs] attention that a substantial amount in three bank accounts in Dublin [held by the archbishop] were way in excess of what was needed to run the nunciature. The source [of the money] appeared to be South America.”
He continued: “Because of its size, we thought it appropriate to ask if the funds belonged to the Holy See.” When contacted for an answer, Dr Alibrandi “quickly answered ‘no’ and that they belonged to ‘family’. When it was pointed out to him that the money was then liable under Irish taxation law to Dirt, he said he would retire shortly and the accounts would be closed”.
Shortly afterwards Dr Alibrandi returned to his native Sicily, where he died in 2003, at the age of 89. A former personal secretary to cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who became Pope Paul VI in 1963, Dr Alibrandi was a noted Provisional IRA sympathiser during his tenure in Ireland. He had “a very testy relationship with three taoisigh – Jack Lynch, Liam Cosgrave and Garret FitzGerald,” Mr Donlon recalled.
The archbishop put pressure on the government over the hunger strike by IRA chief-of-staff Seán Mac Stíofáin in 1972, during which the latter was visited at the Mater hospital in Dublin by Catholic archbishop of Dublin Dermot Ryan and his predecessor John Charles McQuaid.
Similar pressure was applied by Dr Alibrandi in 1977 when Martin Ferris and other republican prisoners went on hunger strike at Portlaoise prison.
Mr Donlon also recalled a terse meeting between Pope Paul VI and then minister for foreign affairs Garret FitzGerald in March 1977 over an appeal by the Irish government that the 1907 Ne Temere mixed marriage decree be relaxed for Ireland. This appeal was refused.