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McCarrick: Foundation ‘irresponsible’ to question controversial Vatican grant

Washington D.C., Nov 6, 2019 / 03:40 pm (CNA).- Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick intervened to pressure members of the U.S. Papal Foundation to support a controversial grant request, intended to repay an illicit loan from APSA, the Vatican’s central bank. McCarrick met privately with the leadership of the bank in the months leading up to his intervention. 

McCarrick made the intervention in December 2017, after objections were raised to the Vatican’s request of $25 million from the Papal Foundation, for a bankrupt Italian hospital, the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI). 

The grant request from the Vatican Secretariat of State was, according to the minutes of a December Papal Foundation board meeting, first made in June 2017 as “an emergency request” from the pope, and was said to be intended to cover a short term cash crunch at the IDI.

The Papal Foundation is a charity that confers grants to charities at the request of the Holy See. Grants do not ordinarily exceed $300,000, which made the request for $25 million unusual. In autumn 2017, several board members objected to the request because they had discovered that the hospital was financially insolvent, and not merely in a short term cash crunch, as Vatican officials had led them to believe.

Among those who objected was James Longon, chairman of the foundation’s audit committee, who described the request in a memo to board members as a “disaster for the Papal Foundation. Not only is the decision process flawed, but the recipient has a dubious past.”

In early December 2017, another board member sent a letter to the entire board, raising objections to the grant request and outlining the financial problems of the IDI.

McCarrick responded to that board member by letter Dec. 14, 2017. He copied his letter to the cardinals on the foundation’s board. 

“Some of your own recent actions may have caused harmful injury to the Foundation itself,” the cardinal wrote to the board member, mentioning previous incidents of “unfortunate publicity” and “division” at the foundation, and suggesting that criticism of the grant request might cause more of the same. 

“The assertions and allegations that are mentioned in your letter were unfortunately based on anonymous sources ‘inside and around’ the Vatican. It is a shame that they do contain material that is demonstrably false, irresponsible, and seriously harmful to The Papal Foundation,” McCarrick wrote. 

“Many of the assertions supposedly supported by ‘an anonymous source” can be disproved by documentation that is readily available and public. It was unfortunate that you were not able to verify the information from your anonymous source before you disseminated it.”

“My objection is not to your disagreement with the grant request, but rather that your disagreement seemed to call into question the very integrity of the Papal Foundation itself,” McCarrick wrote, apparently suggesting that raising questions about the Vatican request was inappropriate.

Several sources close to the Papal Foundation told CNA that the “demonstrably false assertions” to which McCarrick referred included the claim that the IDI, which was declared bankrupt in 2013, had millions of euros of debt and liabilities. Those debts were in fact a matter of public record.

CNA has reported that the grant funds were never intended to go to the hospital but instead meant to partially repay a 50 million euro loan made by APSA, the Vatican’s central reserve bank, to fund the purchase of the IDI out of bankruptcy by a partnership established by the Secretariat of State and the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception – the religious order that originally owned and operated the hospital, which had assumed the bulk of the IDI’s outstanding debts. That information was not disclosed to Papal Foundation board members.

It is not clear if McCarrick was aware of the actual intended purpose of the grant funds at the time of his letter. However, CNA has learned that, in July 2017, APSA’s secretary, Fr. Mauro Rivella, met personally with McCarrick in Washington DC – shortly after the Papal Foundation grant request was first sent, and two months after the first accusation of sexual abuse was made against McCarrick to the Independent Reconciliation & Compensation Program in New York.

At the time McCarrick sent his letter, allegations of sexual abuse of minors made against him had already been forwarded to the Vatican. Cardinals Donald Wuerl and Timothy Dolan, both members of the board, were aware of the allegations.

McCarrick served on APSA’s board until 2010, when he was required to retire after turning 80. After 2010, McCarrick continued to serve as the U.S. representative for the Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice, a non-profit group controlled by APSA, a role he maintained until his public disgrace following the publication of allegations of sexual abuse in 2018.

CNA has reported that the APSA loan was coordinated by Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then the sostituto at the Secretariat of State, and contravened internal policies and international regulatory agreements. CNA has also reported that APSA eventually wrote off 30 million of the 50 million euro loan.

The loan from APSA came after the same proposal was denied by IOR, the Vatican’s custodial  bank which provides banking services to religious orders and curial employees, after its president, Jean-Baptiste Douville de Franssu, along with Cardinal George Pell vetoed the plan, concluding that the IDI would be incapable of repaying the loan.

McCarrick’s letter said that information concerning the IDI’s outstanding debts, and history of fraud and embezzlement was “unverified” and had “caused serious damage to the Foundation.”

McCarrick suggested that lay board members defer to the foundation’s cardinal members to “repair any damages that may have been done” to the credibility of the Papal Foundation and the grant request, and “clarifying your position.” 

While lay members of the foundation’s board were nearly unanimous in opposing the grant request, the bishop and cardinal members of the board outvoted them, and in December 2017, the grant request was approved.

Two initial installments of the grant were sent to Rome in late 2017 and early 2018, totaling $13 million. After internal disagreements about the grant went public, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, charged with presenting the proposal, said he would ask the Vatican to cancel the request and return the funds. 

In early 2019, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State said the $13 million would be reclassified as a loan, rather than a grant, and would be repaid through "discounts" applied each year to the list of grants requested of the Papal Foundation by Vatican offices and Catholic apostolates.

“The poor will end up paying the debt,” a source close to the Papal Foundation told CNA.

One senior APSA source blamed the breakdown of the Papal Foundation grant on what he believed to be anti-Francis sentiment among Papal Foundation board members.

“All these objections raised about IDI not being like the normal grant recipients are just justifications,” he told CNA. “If this had been a request from Benedict or John Paul II, they would have sent the money without thinking about it.”

Asked if the grant request had actually come from Pope Francis, if the pope had endorsed the request, or if he knew of the undisclosed purpose of offsetting the APSA loan, the official said it was “immaterial.”

“So far as the Papal Foundation should be concerned, if the Secretariat of State asks, it is the pope asking, refusing is to refuse the pope.”

McCarrick was convicted by the Holy See of sexually abusing minors and seminarians and laicized earlier this year. McCarrick is living in seclusion at a friary in Kansas and is unavailable for comment.

Pope Francis: St. Paul announced Christ to 'idol worshippers' without attacking them

Vatican City, Nov 6, 2019 / 08:15 am (CNA).- St. Paul announced Jesus Christ to “idol worshippers” in Athens without attacking them, but by building bridges, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

“We also ask the Holy Spirit today to teach us to build bridges with culture, with those who do not believe or with those who have a creed different from ours. Always build bridges, always reach out, never aggression,” Pope Francis said Nov. 6 in St. Peter’s Square.

“Let us ask him for his ability to delicately inculturate the message of faith, placing on those who are in ignorance of Christ, a contemplative gaze, moved by a love that warms even the most hardened hearts,” he said at the general audience.

In his weekly catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Francis described St. Paul’s discourse on the Areopagus as an example of inculturation of the Catholic faith in Athens.

“In the heart of one of the most famous institutions of the ancient world, the Areopagus, he achieved an extraordinary example of inculturation of the message of faith: he announces Jesus Christ to idol worshipers, and he does not do so by attacking them, but by becoming … a builder of bridges,” Pope Francis said.

Paul “shudders inside to see a city full of idols,” the pope said, quoting Acts 17:16. He added that this encounter with paganism pushed St. Paul to “build a bridge of dialogue with the culture.”

Looking upon Athens with the eyes of faith, “drives him [Paul]  to open a path between the Gospel and the pagan world.”

“In this way Paul observes culture, observes the environment of Athens starting from a contemplative gaze which discovers that it is God who lives in their houses, in their streets and in their squares,” he said.

Francis added: “This makes us wonder about our way of looking at our cities: Do we observe with indifference? With contempt? Or with the faith that recognizes the children of God in the midst of anonymous crowds?”

The pope explained that St. Paul revealed the true identity of the Athenian’s “unknown god” by beginning with creation. “That is, from biblical faith in the God of revelation, leading to redemption and judgment, that is, to the properly Christian message,” he said.

St. Paul “shows the disproportion between the greatness of the Creator and the temples made by man,” Francis said.

“In this way Paul, according to a beautiful expression of Pope Benedict XVI, ‘announces the One whom men ignore, yet they know: the Unknown-Known,’” he said.

Pope Francis said that Paul then invites the Athenians to “go beyond ‘the times of ignorance’ and to decide to convert in view of imminent judgement.”

The pope said that Paul’s announcement of the kerygma “arouses ridicule and derision” and “seems to have failed.” However, some adhered to his word and opened themselves to faith, among them, he said. “Among these is a man, Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, and a woman, Damaris.”

“Even in Athens the Gospel takes root and can run with two voices: that of man and that of woman,” he said.

When bombs fell on the Vatican

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- It was a dark autumn night in Rome, which was suffering under the occupation of Nazi Germany and was the target of bombing raids by Allied and Axis forces.

The Vatican City State was a neutral territory in World War II, but shortly after 8:00 pm on Nov. 5, 1943, a small non-descript plane dropped five bombs onto the Vatican.

Only four detonated -- the first went off near the Vatican train station, a second exploded on the mosaic workshop of the Vatican Museums destroying some of the pieces inside, a third damaged offices within the building of the governorate, and a fourth exploded in the ground outside the Santa Marta guesthouse, causing glass in a rear window of St. Peter’s Basilica to shatter.

No one was hurt, but until the last decade the bombing was shrouded in mystery, because there was not a lot of information about who carried out the attack and why.

At the time, Rome was occupied by German forces and was part of the Italian Social Republic, a German puppet state nominally led by Benito Mussolini.

Mussolini’s government accused the United States of having dropped the bombs, and the fascist press accused the Allies.

In a 2010 book, author Augusto Ferrara published documentation which showed that immediately following the bombing, the Secretariat of State convened an inquiry into the source of the attack, sending letters requesting explanation to Germany, the U.S., and Great Britain. Blame for the raid was denied by all three.

But the investigation uncovered that the bombs were dropped from a S.79 aircraft supplied by the Italian Social Republic, which had departed from the airport of Viterbo, about 50 miles north of Rome.

Documentation in the Italian-language book, titled “1943. Bombe sul Vaticano,” shows the bombing was ordered by Roberto Farinacci, a fascist politician and advisor to Mussolini who wanted to destroy Vatican Radio because he thought it was transmitting military information to the “enemy.”

The Sunday immediately following the attack, Venerable Pius XII addressed people in St. Peter’s Square, explaining what happened and that an investigation was underway. But when it was revealed that it was likely done by a fascist leader, he asked for it to be kept out of the newspapers, since Italy was still at war.  

After the Nov. 5 raid, the Vatican was hit once again, on March 1, 1944, when a British plane accidentally dropped its bombs too nearby and hit the Vatican wall, killing a Vatican workman and injuring a religious, as well as shattering the windows of the building of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In May 1943, after the first bombs were dropped on Rome by Allied forces, Ven. Pius XII had written to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt asking him as much as possible to spare Rome “further pain and devastation” and to keep Rome’s treasured shrines “from irreparable ruin.”

Roosevelt replied June 16, 1943, saying, “attacks against Italy are limited, to the extent humanly possible, to military objectives.”

“In the event it should be found necessary for Allied planes to operate over Rome, our aviators are thoroughly informed as to the location of the Vatican and have been specifically instructed to prevent bombs from falling within Vatican City.”

Despite this, heavy raids were carried out on Rome before it was captured by the Allies June 4, 1944. Among these was the devastating bombing of July 19, 1943, in which thousands of civilians were killed.

The same day, after the raid ended, Ven. Pius XII and the future Pope Paul VI (then Secretariat of State Archbishop Giovanni Montini) traveled to the area most-affected, the San Lorenzo neighborhood, to hand out money to the crowds gathered in front of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura.

US bishops arrive in Rome for ad limina visit with Pope Francis

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Every American diocesan bishop will travel to Rome over the next four months for meetings with Pope Francis assessing the state of the Church in the U.S.

The U.S. ad limina visit will be not only the first with Pope Francis, but the first since the Church in the US was shaken by a crisis of mistrust in episcopal leadership due to mishandling of sexual abuse allegations against Theodore McCarrick and others.

An “ad limina apostolorum” visit is a papal meeting required for every diocesan bishop in the world to provide an update on the state of one’s diocese. The trip to Rome, usually made together with all the bishops from a country or region, also serves as a pilgrimage to “the threshold of the apostles,” giving the bishops, who are the successors of the apostles, the opportunity to pray at the tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Ad limina visits typically take place every five years, as the world’s more than 5,300 bishops rotate through Rome. However, some countries have gone 10 years without an ad limina visit, as was the case with Taiwan. During Benedict XVI’s pontificate, bishops from nearly every diocese in the world visited within seven years.

The last U.S. ad limina was with Benedict XVI in 2011-2012. Since then much has changed in the American landscape, from the Obergefell U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in 2015 to the heightened tension over immigration debates under President Donald Trump.

The Catholic environment in the US has itself undergone considerable transformation since Pope Francis’ trip to the United States in the fall of 2015.

In the last two years alone, Catholics in the US have reeled from the public revelations of McCarrick’s sexual abuse, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, letters from Archbishop Carlo Vigano, Bishop Michael Bransfield’s serious financial misconduct, and the resulting crisis of mistrust in episcopal leadership.

The first rounds of U.S. bishops to come to Rome come from dioceses in the northeast U.S., the hardest hit by these scandals.

The American ad limina visits are divided into 15 regions. Pope Francis will meet with bishops from New England Nov. 4-8, New York Nov. 11-15, and New Jersey and Pennsylvania Nov. 25-29.

Bishops from New England began the first round of visits Nov. 4 with a Mass in Santa Maria Maggiore. They are also celebrating a Mass Nov. 5 in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and Nov. 7 in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“We feel very keenly today, all of us, the weight of human sinfulness, of infidelity, of scandal, of the sin that weighs down the Church,” Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford said in his homily during the Mass in Santa Maria Maggiore, according to CNS.

Before meeting the pope, bishops on an ad limina trip also typically visit all of the Vatican dicasteries and can schedule personal meetings with the head of each dicastery to discuss particular matters.

During such visits, bishops’ conferences deliver exhaustive reports, called Quinquennial Reports, describing the status of the Church in their country.

Previous to  Francis' pontificate, the meeting of the bishops with the pope included an exchange of speeches from both the president of the bishops' conference and pope, who delivered a speech providing pastoral recommendations and priorities. After the exchange of speeches, the pope then held a short conversation with each bishop individually.

Pope Francis changed the format of these visits to an open group conversation among the visiting bishops, who are allowed to ask questions of the pope for up to two hours. He also added an additional meeting presided over by himself with the bishops and the heads of some of the dicasteries. In past visits, this has included representatives from the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Clergy, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

The American ad limina visits coincide with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly and election Nov. 10-13. Bishops from the state of New York will therefore be absent from the General Assembly and will vote remotely from the North American College in Rome.

Before the end of 2019, Pope Francis will meet with bishops from Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and the U.S. Military Archdiocese, in addition to New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

After a short hiatus for Christmas, the Latin rite bishops of the remainder of the territory of the US, and the country's Eastern Catholic bishops, will make their ad limina pilgrimages in 2020, from mid-January through the end of February.

Cardinal Pell objected to controversial Vatican hospital loan

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2019 / 11:12 am (CNA).- A 50 million euro loan request to secure the purchase of a bankrupt hospital was vetoed by Cardinal George Pell and financial authorities at the Institute for Works of Religion, commonly called the Vatican Bank, before it was approved by the Holy See’s central bank, APSA, where the loan breached international regulatory agreements. 

According to several Vatican officials, in late 2014 two cardinals requested that the IOR, the Vatican’s commercial bank, grant a 50 million euro loan to a for-profit partnership between the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and a religious order, which intended to purchase a bankrupt Italian hospital, then in government-administered bankruptcy.

The hospital, the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), had been owned by the religious order, the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, which had formed a new organization with the Vatican Secretariat as its partner, in a complicated plan to unburden itself from the hospital’s massive debts

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then an archbishop, and Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi were both involved in the plan, and requested the loan from the IOR, several Vatican officials told CNA.

Their loan proposal was rejected in 2015, when the IOR board determined that the IDI would never be able to repay the loan, senior sources at two Vatican financial agencies told CNA.

Officials at APSA and the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that Pell was vocally opposed to the loan proposal. The cardinal was at that time charged by Pope Francis with reforming Vatican finances.

It was clear the proposal would have “been a case of throwing good money after bad. There was no question of a return to stability, let alone profit,” one official told CNA.

After the proposal was rejected at the IOR, a request for a 50 million euro loan was made at APSA, the Vatican’s central bank. The loan likely violated APSA's international regulatory agreements.

“They were desperate,” a senior source at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA. “There was simply no other way to make it work.”

While the IDI loan was being considered at APSA, Pell’s office, which had been given oversight of the central bank’s portfolio, refused to sign off on the transaction, Vatican sources told CNA.

But Pell’s resistance was apparently not enough to stop the loan.

A senior source at APSA told CNA that “there was no taking ‘no’ for an answer,” and that the deal was “passionately” insisted on by Versaldi and Becciu. “It was never not going to happen,” the source told CNA, “the prefecture tried to block the agreement but it went ahead anyway.”

Vatican officials told CNA that Becciu, and Cardinal Versaldi, went to APSA for the loan because the central bank had already shown itself resistant to financial reforms at the Vatican. The Secretariat of State, where Becciu was the second-ranking official, was also reportedly resistant to Pell’s efforts at financial transparency and reform.  

“There was a basic, point blank, refusal to share information, to collaborate, or to open the books to the Prefecture and the Council for the Economy,” one senior source at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA. “This has been a consistent attitude from both State and APSA.”

After conflict over the loan, Pope Francis withdrew oversight authority over APSA’s investment decisions from Pell’s office. Multiple Vatican sources told CNA that decision was strongly influenced by lobbying from Becciu.

Cardinal Becciu was also responsible for the cancellation of a proposed external audit by PricewaterhouseCooper of all Vatican finances, and opposed to Cardinal Pell’s intention to end the practice of keeping some Holy See assets and funds “off books.”

Becciu and other officials at the Secretariat of State have explained that they objected to the external audit because of the confidentiality required to conduct their work. Recent reporting has also revealed that the Secretariat was then making unauthorized real estate investments with money borrowed from Swiss banks; a fact likely to have been revealed during an external audit.

Senior sources at the Prefecture for the Economy and APSA told CNA that the cancellation of the audit was also explained, in part, by promises that an independent audit of APSA was already planned. 

But sources at both APSA and the Prefecture for the Economy said that no external or independent audit of APSA has actually been conducted, and that there has instead been a “good faith undertaking” between APSA and the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF). 

Senior sources at the Prefecture for the Economy and APSA also told CNA that efforts to enforce transparency at the Vatican’s central bank and Secretariat of State played a decisive part in the ouster of the first Auditor General, Libero Milone, in 2017. 

Milone has stated that he was forced to resign under threat of prosecution because he was pressing for information about the hundreds of millions of euros held off-books by curial bodies.

“Some people got worried that I was about to uncover something I shouldn't see," Milone told the Financial Times on November 2. “We were getting too close to information that they wanted to be secret, and they fabricated a situation for me to be thrown out."

At the time of Milone’s forced departure, Cardinal Becciu defended his role in removing the auditor, saying that he had exceeded his mandate.

“He went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me," Becciu said in 2017. "If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him."

Pell is now in prison in the Australian state of Victoria, following his 2018 conviction on five counts of sexual abuse. The cardinal could not be reached for comment.

CNA asked Cardinal Becciu for comment on his role in seeking an IOR loan for the purchase of the IDI. The cardinal declined to comment.