Sour note: Sistine Chapel Choir director resigns after fraud allegations


VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, which has provided the musical backdrop to papal events for centuries, has resigned following allegations of fraud and embezzlement.

FILE PHOTO: The choir of Sistine Chapel is seen before the arrival of Pope Francis to lead the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Monsignor Massimo Palombella has “concluded his service” after Pope Francis approved his request to end his tenure, the Vatican said in a statement on Wednesday. Palombella, 51, has held the post for nine years.

The choir, made up of men and boys and one of the world’s oldest, sings at papal Masses, records for a major label, and tours.

Wednesday’s statement made no mention of an internal investigation involving Palombella and Michelangelo Nardella, a layman who was once the choir’s administrative director and tour manager.

Both have denied wrongdoing. Palombella’s lawyer said she had no comment and Nardella’s lawyer did not immediately return a call.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said the investigation, which began last year to probe possible financial irregularities, was continuing.

Palombella directed the choir until last week but Nardella had effectively been replaced in January when the pope moved it under the auspices of another Vatican department and appointed an Italian archbishop to oversee its finances.

Last year, the choir performed at the gala opening of an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York called “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”.

Its 2018 summer tour of the United States was canceled without explanation and the recording of a new CD was also stopped.

When the investigation began last year, Italian media reported that Palombella and Nardella were suspected of siphoning off money into an Italian bank and using it for personal expenses.

The choir is made up of 20 adult professional and salaried male singers and 35 boys under 13 known as the Pueri Cantores.

At the time the investigation began there were also reports that some parents had complained that Palombella had been excessively harsh in verbally reprimanding the boys when they performed poorly.

The choir was founded in 1471, with roots going back to the Schola Cantorum instituted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great around the year 600.

A Vatican source said Monsignor Marco Pavan, director of the boys section, would lead the whole choir temporarily.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Frances Kerry

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