'The Pope's Losing Battle with the Mob", headlined Warsaw's Polityka newspaper. Poland's a Catholic country. Nevertheless, the newspaper didn't pull its punches with its cynicism towards the papal threats, publicised here, to defrock Italian priests displaying obsequious sycophancy towards the Mafia.
They've always done so, lured by the largesse these imbued-in-religiosity mobsters render to the clerics from their extortion practices. Like all foreign horror news items, we read of them, grateful for the pervading integrity of New Zealand life. Well don't be too sure. Consider this.
Recently, a shop tenancy changed in a modern 17-storey Auckland CBD office building owned by my company. The previous tenant had blocked off some of its window which we now intended putting back to the conventional shop front.
At this stage, sit down with a stiff drink and accept my assurance I'm not making this up. For we were then informed by a planner my Auckland office uses for council dealings (which can be laborious) that under the new council rules, changes to a building's appearance require resource consent and we would be subject to penalty if we simply put back the window.
If that's not outrageously absurd enough, things then became truly Kafkaesque and illustrate why the Government, against ill-considered opposition parties' objections, wishes to tone down the Resource Management Act.
For we were then told that under the new Draft Unitary Plan, not yet enacted, our building being within 50 metres of a designated Maori heritage site, we needed RMA approval (for a new shop window, for God's sake), this instantly forthcoming at a cost of $4500 plus the approval of 13 iwi.
The council refused to advise the addresses of these iwi outfits, yet added that without their consent, we can't put back the window.
So the planner located then wrote to the 13 iwi, ranging from Taranaki to Whangarei.
Five replied stating they had no concerns while others said they were considering the matter, presumably calling huis to weigh up this window crisis.
One respondent bearing that fine old Maori name of Jeff Lee, representing something called Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki, contacted the planner.
Look up their website if you have tolerance for Maori "sacred footstep in the earth" guff, although it's 100 per cent on the mark with its proclamation: "Our vision is only limited by our imagination."
I'm sceptical about Mr Lee's vision but have no doubt about his imagination, for after advising the planners verbally that no Cultural Impact Assessment Report was required for the window, he nevertheless asked them to consider it - brace yourselves - given his ancestors, centuries ago, gathered in the vicinity.
Lee then wrote, outlining his terms for "assessing the window's cultural impact" which, he said, would take him "a total of six to eight hours".
For this he sought $90 per hour plus GST and "travel expenses of 0.77c p/km."
At this stage we became involved and told the planners to tell Mr Lee to get stuffed. In the words of my company's manager, a historian knowledgeable in Maori history and who speaks the language: "It's a classic case of bureaucrats worried about cultural correctness without thinking through the consequences."
I more succinctly call it a racket, just as with the Bay of Islands hole in the rock ("our ancestors gathered feathers nearby and Captain Cook looked at it, so give us money").
So too with the gangsterish extortion attempt with the Mighty River float. Evidently, all of these "sacred" sites hypocritically become desanctified by the payment of money.
The council has designated 61 sites across Auckland and nominated 3600 others "of interest". Undertake earthworks (swimming pool, building foundations, a shed etc) within 50m of a scheduled site and one must engage (pay) iwi.
None are of Stonehenge moment but instead claptrap such as "our ancestors beached canoes nearby" and the "feather-gathering" ilk.
I sent this material to Alan Duff in France. "It makes me sick," he replied, adding that an acquaintance had been confronted with a "$90 an hour rort" after buying a section and wishing to build a house.
Not even the New York Mafia would come at this nonsense. Six months after I bought a Wall St office tower, I received a panicky letter from the building managers, enclosing a letter from the Mafia's lawyer, saying he would like a meeting with the owners to "discuss his client's offer" to provide the building's services. "Treat them seriously," my manager urged.
Some hope! Instead I replied to the shyster lawyer proposing a meeting in my Wellington office, and heard no more.
But at least they would have provided the services, presumably clipping the various contractors' tickets.
What's happening here is far worse, being more aligned with the Italian Mafia's offering of unneeded "protection" services. In their wrong-headed sycophancy to Maori nonsense, the council fools who naively allowed this to develop are no different in principle from the fawning Italian priests.