Vatican denies free Christmas crib linked to corruption scandal

VATICAN CITY Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:17pm IST

The Vatican Christmas tree is lit up after a ceremony in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Max Rossi

The Vatican Christmas tree is lit up after a ceremony in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican December 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican said on Thursday there was no link between its decision to accept the gift of a nativity scene in St Peter's Square and allegations that it had previously paid inflated prices to have them built.

This year's larger-than-life Christmas tableau depicting the biblical scene of Jesus' birth, worth about 90,000 euros ($120,000), was donated by the southern region of Basilicata, one of Italy's poorest.

Some of the documents that sparked this year's 'Vatileaks' scandal indicated that in 2009 the Vatican paid an Italian company six times that amount, about 550,000 euros ($720,000), to build its nativity scene in the square.

The letters, leaked to the media, mentioned the payment as an example of corruption in the city state's business dealings.

Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, deputy governor of the Vatican City, was asked by reporters whether accepting a donated crib was a response to the scandal.

"This is exclusively the result of the offer by the Basilicata region to give us this gift, which, with a minimum of good sense, has been accepted," he said.

In the leaked documents, Sciacca's predecessor, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, said the exorbitant cost of the 2009 crib was an example of how the Vatican was losing money through corruption.

Vigano said he had managed almost to halve the cost of the 2010 crib. He was subsequently transferred to the United States, despite an appeal to his superiors to be allowed stay in his job, in what he saw as punishment for doing his work too well.

Two people were convicted by a Vatican court over the leaks of documents.

Paolo Gabriele, the Pope's former butler, is now serving an 18-month jail sentence in a Vatican jail cell for stealing sensitive papal documents and leaking them to the media.

A computer expert was given a suspended sentence for obstructing justice in the case.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella and Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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