10 July 2019, The Tablet

Sistine Chapel Choir director resigns

In recent months the papal choir faced an investigation for financial irregularities, and earlier this year Francis placed it under new management

Sistine Chapel Choir director resigns

File photo, boys in the Sistine Chapel choir
CNS photo/Paul Haring

The Director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, Mgr Massimo Palombella, has resigned. 

In a statement, the Vatican explained that Pope Francis had accepted Mgr Palombella’s resignation after the choir director had canvassed the “unanimous opinion” about his future from the Salesian order - of which Palombella is a member - and the papal office of liturgical celebrations. 

The Sistine Chapel Choir, which can trace its roots back to the sixth century, and has been formally active since 1471, is believed to be the oldest choir in the world.  

But in recent months the papal choir faced an investigation for financial irregularities, and earlier this year Francis placed it under new management, removing it from the oversight of the papal household.  

Francis gave responsibility for the choir to the Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, which is led by Mgr Guido Marini, the Pope’s master of ceremonies.

The Vatican announced that Mgr Marini had placed Mgr Marcos Pavan, who directs the boy singers of the choir the “Pueri Cantores.”

Mgr Palombella was appointed for a five-year term by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, and then given another term by Francis in 2015. That was due to expire in November 2020. 

Trouble started to emerge in the choir last July when a summer tour to the United States was cancelled without explanation and in September 2018 the Vatican announced an inquiry into “the economic-administrative aspects” of the choir. Italian media at the time reported that the allegations included money-laundering, fraud and embezzlement, with the choir’s former administrator, Michelangelo Nardella, a central person of interest. When he re-organised the choir’s management in January 2019, he placed Archbishop Guido Pozzo, a Vatican official, in charge of the finances.

Despite the recent difficulties, Mgr Palombella is widely credited with undertaking a transformation of the “Sistina,” wining it the respect of the musical world along with collaborating with choirs from other denominations including Westminster Abbey and Hereford Cathedral.   

The choir has toured the world with performances in Buckingham Palace, Hong Kong and New York, and joined up with Deutsche Grammophon, one of the world’s leading classical music recording labels, to produce CDs. Their touring included performing at a gala opening of an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York called “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”  

All of this is a major turnaround following a period of decline during the second half of the twentieth century, when the choir earned the nickname “the Sistine screamers”.  

But success came at a cost. While the “Sistina” stepped onto the global music stage, its own administration appears to have struggled to have kept pace. The choir, a multi-million pound operation, did not appear to have a designated financial officer or dedicated accountant with Nardella having been put in charge of all administrative matters. 

Church sources also say Mgr Palombella faced opposition from a faction in the choir who are devotees to the legacy of deceased choir director, Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, which has a foundation set up in his memory. 

The Vatican says that Mgr Palombella has made himself available for a new ministry to be assigned to him by the Salesians. 


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