Vatican banker Archbishop Marcinkus dies at age 84

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PHOENIX, Ariz., Feb 21 (Reuters) Retired Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, a close confidant of popes whose long tenure as head of the Vatican Bank was marked by major financial scandal, mysterious deaths and a criminal probe, has died at the age of 84, Catholic Church officials said today.

Marcinkus died yesterday at his home in Sun City, Arizona, a retirement community west of Phoenix. No cause of death was immediately announced.

Born in the Chicago suburb of Cicero to a Lithuanian window cleaner in 1922, Marcinkus retired to the United States in 1990 after leaving the Vatican, admitting he would likely be remembered as a villain.

He gained notoriety for the 1982 crash of Roberto Calvi's Banco Ambrosiano, but denied he or the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), were responsible for its downfall.

Calvi, known as ''God's Banker'' for his close ties to the Vatican, was found hanging from a bridge in London in 1982 with bricks and cash in his pocket. The death was initially ruled a suicide, but doubts remained and in September 2003 British police reopened the case. Italian police have said they believe Calvi was murdered by the Mafia.

Marcinkus also had dealings with Michele Sindona, the Sicilian financier who was chosen as an advisor to move some Vatican investments out of Italy and into international financial and real estate markets.

When Sindona's banking empire crashed in 1974 a lot of Vatican money was said to have gone with it. Sindona was later convicted of bank fraud and jailed in Italy for life for ordering the murder of a lawyer. He died in his prison cell in 1986 after drinking coffee laced with cyanide.

ALL BUT PRISONER OF VATICAN CITY IN MID-1980s ''I don't believe that we did anything that was wrong,'' Marcinkus told Reuters in late 1990 in regards to the Vatican Bank's relationship to Ambrosiano.


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