Priest takes his secrets – and Berlusconi's confessions – to the grave

Don Luigi Verze spared fraud probe over £1.2bn black hole in hospital's accounts

Milan

In March 2010, on his 90th birthday, the priest, tycoon and hospital director Don Luigi Verze announced, in the presence of his old friend Silvio Berlusconi, the launch of a new biomedical research programme that would see people live to the age of 120.

But Mr Verze himself will not be benefiting from the Quo Vadis project. The 91-year-old was struck down by a heart attack on Saturday, the eve of a year in which he would have had to explain how a €1.5bn (£1.2bn) black hole developed in the accounts of Milan's San Raffaele teaching hospital, the prestigious institution he had spent four decades building.

Italy's financial police continue to scour files and documents from the hospital over fraud allegations, an overseas slush funds and a suicide, while attempts to save the hospital and research centre continue.

Few doubt that many of Mr Verze's secrets – and those of the rich and powerful he knew intimately, such as Mr Berlusconi – will follow him to the grave. But it's not just details of the alleged corruption seeping out from the San Raffaele's accounts that continue to fascinate, but the personality of Mr Verze himself and what he represented.

Having built up the high-profile medical centre on land he bought in the 1970s (Mr Berlusconi was doing the same thing in this period and met Mr Verze this way) his prominent role in Milan society was assured. Like Mr Berlusconi, the would-be priest and philanthropist would be go on to face several charges of corruption in the courts, without being convicted.

As news of his death emerged at the weekend, Guido Podesta, the President of the Province of Milan, led the tributes. "I learned of Don Verze's death with the poignant pain felt by all who knew him and respected him," he said. "Even recently, despite the difficulties of his creation, the hospital San Raffaele, he won admiration and affection for his generous efforts to support medicine, research and excellence, which help ease suffering through science."

But it seems that the jet-setting priest was equally in love with luxury and power; how else, critics ask, do you explain his close friendships with Mr Berlusconi and disgraced former premier Bettino Craxi or his admiration for Muammar Gaddafi and Fidel Castro?

And in Italy, the Church is about power. The Holy See is based in Rome, but much of its money – and strength – is in Milan, Italy's financial capital.

One expression of this influence is the activity of Communion and Liberation, the ultra-conservative lay organisation that has consistently backed Mr Berlusconi and has key supporters in Italy's richest area, Milan/Lombardy, with the region's President, Roberto Formigoni, among them. Its political influence allows the pursuit of a right-wing social agenda on topics including stem-cell research and assisted dying.

Many think Mr Verze also illustrated the church's desire for power. "He was a symbol of the unacceptable face of the Catholic Church in Italy – grabbing power, influence and business at every opportunity," Professor James Walston, who teaches political science at the American University in Rome, said. "He might have liked to consider himself a philanthropist, but he wasn't. Philanthropists have large amounts of money – and give much of it away. Don Verze was no Bill Gates."

La Repubblica newspaper described him as a man caught between "faith and science; charity and megalomania". It all started to go seriously wrong for Mr Verze last February, when news broke of the gaping chasm in the San Raffaele's balance sheet. In June the Vatican stepped in with plans for a €250m rescue. A month later, Mr Verze's right-hand man at San Raffaele, Mario Cal, committed suicide as the scandal snowballed.

In an unrelated incident, a friend of Mr Berlusconi's on trial for allegedly recruiting prostitutes for the Prime Minister's "bunga bunga" parties, attempted to commit suicide in his cell, it was reported yesterday. Dario Mora was thwarted by prison guards as he tried to asphyxiate himself.

In November, finance police raided the offices at San Raffaele as part of magistrates' fraudulent bankruptcy probe, amid claims that senior managers had siphoned off huge sums to overseas slush funds. Next came reports of kickbacks for local politicians and suggestions that Mr Verze had been planning to buy a second private jet.

At Mr Verze's 90th birthday, Mr Berlusconi said of his old friend: "He gives me absolution without even hearing my sins because he already knows them. I hope Don Luigi rests in eternity because if there is a person that deserves it, he does."

Whether someone believes Mr Berlusconi's wish has been granted depends on a person's view of Mr Verze. Corriere della Sera said it was not clear whether he was a "Saint or Devil". But perhaps in Italy it's possible to be both.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
All British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game