Cardinal Giuseppe Caprio

Intimate of Pope Paul VI who (briefly) ran the Vatican's finances
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The Independent Online

For one who rose so high in the Vatican curia, few had much to say about his achievements. Cardinal Giuseppe Caprio was present at Pope Paul VI's death in 1978, addressed the first of the two conclaves that year, narrowly avoided appearing on video as a witness for Michele Sindona at the disgraced banker's trial in 1980 and was for the next decade in charge of Vatican finances.

Yet his reign as deputy head of the Secretariat of State - where he unwisely admitted he was overwhelmed by the many tasks imposed on him - was brief and his failure subsequently to dent the Vatican's mounting deficits led to his replacement in 1990 by the financially more astute Edmund Szoka.

The most exciting episode in Caprio's church career came in 1951 when, as secretary of the Vatican nunciature, he was caught up in the repression against the Catholic Church by China's new Communist authorities. He was held for three months in Nanchang before being expelled.

Born in 1914 into a Catholic family in a village just north of Naples, Caprio studied at the local seminary in the nearby town of Benevento and at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he was ordained priest in 1938. He joined the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1940, working in Rome until being assigned to the nunciature in China in 1947.

After his 1951 expulsion from China he worked as a Vatican diplomat in Belgium and South Vietnam before becoming internuncio in Taiwan in 1959. He was consecrated titular archbishop of Apollonia in Benevento's basilica in 1961. Six years later he was named Pro-Nuncio to Delhi.

It was in 1969 that Caprio's career in the Vatican curia took off with his appointment as Secretary of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which handles Vatican investments. In 1977 he was named deputy head of the Secretariat of State, regarded as the third most powerful Vatican position below the Pope.

Caprio's failure to make his mark led the newly elected Pope John Paul II to remove him in 1979 and send him back to head the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See. He was named a Cardinal in Pope John Paul's first consistory two months later. In 1981 he was transferred again to head the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, from which he retired in 1990.

In a 1987 interview with an Italian newspaper, Caprio rejected suggestions that the Vatican had enormous wealth, putting its assets at $560m. But, he added, more than half were unproductive and only produced expenditures. Although more open than his predecessors on the financial situation (under his watch the Vatican first published its annual accounts in 1988), he was not a great supporter of openness. "Those with goodwill will believe us anyway, while the malicious will not believe us even if we publish the figures," he declared.

He also insisted that Vatican staff were not rich: "Our life style is one of dignified poverty." He said he had no car (except for official travel) and could not afford domestic servants, though admitting he was lucky that he had two nuns to cook for him.

From 1988 to 1995 Caprio was Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a charitable body supporting Catholic pastoral and social work in the Holy Land. He was also a useful person to send to synods, as well as to accessions and funerals of state leaders.

Perhaps the cruellest assessment of Caprio came from an anonymous Rome-based priest who told the American priest and Vatican-watcher Andrew Greeley in 1978 that Caprio, one of two men who saw Pope Paul every day, was "a pleasant and well-meaning fellow, not terribly intelligent, and certainly not motivated to make any hard decisions".

Felix Corley