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Vatican tangle over library 'sell-off' on Net



(Times of London)

Vatican tangle over library 'sell-off' on Net
FROM RICHARD OWEN IN ROME

THE plot reads like a modern-day The Name of the Rose. The Vatican
Library, which under generations of Popes acquired an unmatched
collection of books and manuscripts, is engulfed in scandal and
mystery. The library scandal, which has been brewing for more than a
decade, came to a head over an attempt to swell Vatican coffers by
selling the worldwide rights to images from the library's many
treasures on CD-Rom, videos, computers and the Internet. At the heart
of the affair is Fr Leonard Boyle, a genial and erudite Irish
Dominican who was head of the Vatican Library for 14 years. Fr Boyle -
who according to some insiders is as much the victim of the scandal as
its perpetrator - was dismissed last year. It has now emerged that Fr
Boyle had sold the rights to reproduce 150,000 Vatican manuscripts,
plus other works of art, to two Californians with a history of
bankruptcy. "It was like finding someone selling off St Peter's Dome,"
said Mgr Francesco Salerno, head of the Vatican's finance department.
"My hair stood on end". The Vatican librarian negotiated a contract
with Elaine Peconi, an exuberant marketing expert from California. In
1988, with Fr Boyle's backing, Mrs Peconi established a company called
Belvedere Courtyard Enterprises, with the right to market images from
the manuscripts. Under the deal, 40 per cent of the revenue went to
Mrs Peconi and her associates in California and the remainder to the
Vatican. Unknown to Fr Boyle, Mrs Peconi had been declared bankrupt in
1987, shortly before the Vatican deal was struck. Leroy Carver III, a
Californian financier and property dealer, and former owner of a
savings bank which had crashed with debts of $60 million, bought a 40
per cent stake in Belvedere Courtyard for $3 million, with the promise
of more to come. But the revenues were disappointing, and Mr Carver
fell out with Mrs Peconi, accusing her of using funds from the Vatican
sales to build a villa - a charge she denies. He withdrew from the
partnership and sued for a return of his investment - plus legal fees.
Fr Boyle nonetheless signed a second contract with Mrs Peconi valid
until 2024. At this point the Vatican stepped in and declared the
contracts with Mrs Peconi null and void. Mrs Peconi is now suing the
Vatican for breach of contract and claiming compensation for the lost
contract.


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