In his article “The Passion of the Bureaucrats” (LRB 18.2.16) Tom Parks quotes – for benefit of “connoisseurs of the grotesque” – a letter referenced in one of the books about the Vatican he is reviewing. It is written to Cardinal Pell – then new to Vatican City – by the secretary of the Governorate, with regards to shopping possibilities at the Department of Goods and Supplies:
“Most Reverend Eminence, first of all may I beg you to accept my warmest congratulations for your appointmet as Secretary for the Economy. Meantime, I am pleased to inform your eminence that the most eminent cardinals are eligible for the following concessions: the purchase of groceries in quantities compatible with your family requirements…at a discount of 15 per cent; a discount of 20 per cent on the price list (already tax free) of up to 200 packs of cigarettes of the 500 packs allowed on a monthly basis; a discount of 20 per cent on the price list of clothing items; an allowance of 400 litres of petrol on the following terms: a) 100 litres paid by the Vatican; 300 litres at a discount of 15 per cent on presentation of the Cardinal Vouchers (the white ones), to be used inside the Holy See…While I remain at your service for every eventual elucidation, I am pleased to take this opportunity to assure you, in line with my most devoted respect for Your Most Reverend Eminence, that I remain you most devoted Fernando Vérgez Alzaga.”
Why, it’s too good to be true!