While browsing the Vatican libraries, Cal Donovan uncovers a 200-year-old secret that could bankrupt the Catholic Church. Unearthing evidence of a crippling 25-billion-euro loan, Cal must intercede with the Sassoon family to whom the sum is owed. But who can be trusted? If Cal isn’t careful, he’ll find more than his own life at danger . . .
A two-hundred-year-old secret, billions of euros and the Catholic Church: the new religious conspiracy thriller featuring Cal Donovan is here! Check out the intriguing book extract below.
Pascal Lauriat didn’t much look like a modern man. Perhaps it was his rather dainty, graying goatee and thin mustache and his insistence on always wearing all the entitled regalia of his position as cardinal secretary of state that made him look little different from all the old portraits of cardinals of past centuries that lined the Vatican walls. As soon as he returned to his office following his private meeting with Pope Celestine VI he summoned three of his colleagues for a debriefing. Cardinals Malucchi and Cassar arrived first followed several minutes later by Cardinal Leoncino, the influential Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, who entered and closed the heavy doors.
Mario Leoncino had patches of vitiligo on his face, and flushed as he was from his brisk walk across the Vatican grounds, the pale patches seemed whiter than usual.
‘Well?’ he demanded. ‘How did it go?’
‘He was quite animated,’ Lauriat said. The other men laughed at the way the Frenchman puckered his mouth, as if he’d just sucked on a very sour lemon. It wasn’t that Lauriat disliked the pope. On the contrary, on a personal level he had always found him charming and indeed quite disarming. They had been peers, of course, not so very long ago. Cardinal Aspromonte had been at the helm of the Secretariat of State when Lauriat was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. In those roles, the two men had gotten along famously, often sharing meals and Curia gossip. Lauriat had thought that he had known the man and had, in fact, voted for Aspromonte in each of the ballots at the conclave that elevated him to the throne of St. Peter. Beyond that he had lobbied for him. Aspromonte had, in turn, rewarded the French prelate with a promotion into his old job.
‘Worse than we feared?’ Cardinal Cassar asked. The unsmiling archbishop of Malta was fit and trim, a competent golfer who always seemed to be on the verge of locking his hands and simulating a swing.
‘I’d say so,’ Lauriat said. ‘He had a new report from the auditors he plans to preview with the C10 and then formally present to the economic council. He ranted and raved about it. He even waved it over his head like a banner. He has a flair for the dramatic.’
Malucchi, the vicar-general for the Diocese of Rome, was well on the way to becoming as corpulent as the pope. He lowered himself onto one of Lauriat’s good chairs and began to grumble. ‘The auditors,’ he spat, saying the word as if it were a venereal disease. ‘They’re more pious than the priests. The Church faces unprecedented challenges and here is the pope obsessed with money. Always profit and losses, assets and liabilities, these infernal balance sheets. In every instance he imagines the worst. To him all is corrupt. What he doesn’t understand, he sees malfeasance. This obsession seems to take precedence over bedrock concerns about tradition and faith. You’d think we elected him head accountant, not Vicar of Christ.’
‘Where did all this come from?’ Leoncino asked in exasperation. ‘Does he really wish to turn our Church over to green-visored men at counting tables? Our friend, Aspromonte, did a marvelous job hiding his true tendencies from us all these years, even when he occupied this very office. I never would have voted for him if I’d known.’
‘Well I didn’t vote for him, not even on the final ballot,’ Cassar sniffed. ‘You had my votes, Pascal.’
Lauriat tilted his head and returned something of a smile. ‘What’s done is done. We have our pope and we must do what cardinals in the Curia have always done. We must be a buffer against unhealthy tendencies. We must blunt the damage. Celestine is not infallible in matters of governance and administration. He is but a man all too liable to fumble in the dark. He has neither the time nor the aptitude to fully understand the intricacies of all our financial institutions and practices and their historical role providing ballast for the ship of state. It will take longer than his lifetime for his new councils and commissions to penetrate all the veils. Remember, we have seats on the economic council and Mario and I were able to wheedle ourselves onto the C8, his council of cronies, and turn it into the C10. Nothing happens without our knowledge. When Celestine is gone, we will turn the page. The papacy is self-righting. The pendulum will swing.’
‘God willing,’ Malucchi said, reaching for a pastry.
THE DEBT is out now in the UK and from 1 May in the US. Read more here.