July 29, 1997

US Vatican envoy says Nazi gold charges are weak

By Philip Pullella

ROME, July 29 (Reuter) - The U.S. envoy to the Vatican has told President Clinton he believes that accusations the Holy See stored money and gold for Croatian fascists after World War Two are weak and the Roman Catholic Church must be presumed innocent.

Ambassador Raymond Flynn wrote to Clinton in a letter dated July 24 that he had met Vatican officials and agreed with them that the case against the Holy See was thin.

Flynn's letter was made available to Reuters on Tuesday.

Clinton said last week that the U.S. Treasury Department was reviewing documents to determine the extent to which the Vatican may have held money taken from victims of the Nazis during the war.

The president's comments came after a U.S. cable television network reported the discovery of a 1946 Treasury Department document charging that the Vatican let Croatian fascists hide gold coins and cash worth about $130 million that had been taken from Serbs and Jews.

Flynn told Clinton in his letter: ``The case against the Vatican is therefore rather thin and, while sensational, does not warrant a rush to judgment.''

``Until and unless much stronger evidence emerges linking the Vatican to Nazi gold, we must presume the Vatican to be innocent and its reputation in this regard, untarnished,'' Flynn told Clinton.

Clinton told reporters at the White House on July 22 that the Treasury Department had assured him its historians were combing the records.

``We will reveal whatever information we have and let the facts take us where they lead us,'' Clinton said at the time.

The Vatican denied the report as having "no basis in reality.''

In his letter Flynn, a former mayor of Boston, told Clinton the United States should not be a "party to an unjustified attack on its (the Vatican's) reputation or good name.''

Flynn's letter, a point-by point defence of the Vatican, said:

`` -- Of the 15 million pages of documents in the National Archives related to Nazi gold, so far only one mentions the Vatican.

`` -- This single document's claims of Vatican involvement are vague, lacking details of when, where, how and who.

`` -- The (1946) letter's claims are based on an anonymous 'reliable source in Italy' and on 'rumour'.''

The report was based on a previously classified one-page document, dated October 1946.

In it, Pearson Bigelow, a treasury department civil servant, writes to the department's director of monetary research that pro-Nazi Croatian fascists removed about 350 million Swiss francs from Yugoslavia at the end of the war but the British managed to capture about 150 million.

Bigelow wrote that a reliable source in Italy told him that the Vatican held the rest and rumours were rife that a considerable amount of that was later taken through a Vatican pipeline to Spain and Argentina.

Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelic took refuge in those two countries after the war and was assassinated in Spain in 1957. But Bigelow said he thought the rumours were a smokescreen and that the funds remained at the Vatican.

Following the report, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) called on the Vatican to finally open its extensive World War Two archives and to set up an independent commission to investigate its role in the war.

``The archives have remained sealed by the Vatican despite repeated pleas by scholars that they be opened,'' WJC vice president Kalman Sultanik said last week.

``We believe this Pope, who has recognised Israel and condemned anti-Semitism will rise above petty bureaucrats who seek to obscure the truth,'' Sultanik said.