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It is said that when money talks even the angels listen. In Rome rumors of thefts, mismanagement and waste began to filter into the Vatican. In 1960, Girolamo Bortignon, Capuchin Bishop of Padua, began to complain to powerful friends in the Holy See that the activities in San Giovanni Rotondo would bear an investigation. Pope John sent an emissary, Msgr. Carlo Maccari, to the busy shrine with directions to set things in order. Maccari saw plenty that needed to be set in order. He saw the dread Spiritual Daughters squabbling over a cushion on which the padre had knelt, finally tearing it to bits. He saw other women following the padre about, armed with scissors to snip off pieces of his cassock. When he discovered that bandages dipped in chicken blood were being sold as having come from Padre Pio's wounds, he declared, "This is superstition, not faith," and returned to Rome.
For a Cleanup. A few days later, on the 50th anniversary of Padre Pio's ordination, congratulations came from all over the world, including a warm message from the Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini, a longtime friend. But from the Vatican came not a word. Instead, Maccari returned for a cleanup. Result: the trinket vendors drifted away, and the Spiritual Daughters were shorn of their powers. There were cries of "inquisitor," but Maccari had his way. Padre Pio was put under guard, and he soon found himself virtual prisoner in his own convent; his mail was opened and read; he was forbidden to celebrate Easter Mass in 1961 and to perform weddings or baptisms.
Stoically, Padre Pio went about his work, saying "I am patient, I will wait." He did not have much longer; on June 3, 1963, Pope John died. When a new Pope was elected, he was Padre Pio's old friend, MontiniPaul VI.
Life changed swiftly for the padre. Many of the men who had made things so difficult for him were consigned to the ecclesiastical boondocks; Maccari himself has been sent to an obscure parish in the Piemonte. Padre Pio once more hears confession without fear, is available to everyone. Once again, the tide of pilgrims has begun to swell. Would the crooks also resume their sordid trade? Padre Pio could not say.
At 76, he looks happier than he has in years, restoring the faith of his followers in the legend that he will live to be 99. Last week, looking back on the years of his disfavor, the frail friar, whose still-bleeding hands are hidden in red knit mittens, said: "The wretchedness of men equals the mercy of God."