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Vatican officials: Swiss bank suspected of money laundering led to Pell conflict

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Holy See’s relationship with a disreputable Swiss bank triggered an internal dispute between the Secretariat of State and Vatican financial authorities. At the center of the conflict was a multimillion-dollar line of credit used to fund a controversial investment in London property speculation.

Sources inside the Vatican’s Prefecture for the Economy confirmed to CNA that a substantial part of the $200 million used to finance the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a luxury development at 60 Sloane Avenue came through credit extended by BSI, a Swiss bank with a long track record of violating money-laundering and fraud safeguards in its dealings with sovereign wealth funds. 

In 2018, BSI was the subject of a damning report by FINMA, the Swiss financial regulator, which concluded that the bank was in “serious breaches of the statutory due diligence requirements in relation to money laundering and serious violations of the principles of adequate risk management and appropriate organization.”

The bank was absorbed by the EFG Group last year. The merger was approved by FINMA on the condition that it was “fully integrated and dissolved” within a year and that no BSI employee be given a senior management role in EFG. Had the merger not been approved by FINMA, BSI would have had its banking license revoked and the business shuttered.

On Nov. 4, CNA reported that in 2015 Cardinal Angelo Becciu attempted to disguise $200 million loans on Vatican balance sheets by cancelling them out against the value of the property purchased in the London neighborhood of Chelsea, an accounting maneuver prohibited by financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014.

The attempt to hide the loans off-books was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy, then led by Cardinal George Pell. Senior officials at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that when Pell began to demand details of the loans, especially those involving BSI, then-Archbishop Becciu called the cardinal in to the Secretariat of State for a “reprimand.”

“Becciu summoned the cardinal - summoned him,” one senior official told CNA. “Pell was supposed to be the ultimate authority in monitoring and authorizing all Vatican financial business, answerable only to Pope Francis, but Becciu shouted at him like he was an inferior.”

Becciu reportedly told Pell the cardinal was “interfering in sovereign business” by looking into the Secretariat’s dealings with BSI. 

“Cardinal Pell was given to understand that as far as [Becciu] was concerned, the prefect was basically an administrative clerk and a rubber stamp, no more.”

Cardinal Becciu declined to answer questions from CNA on the topic, and Pell is incarcerated and unavailable for questions.

Pell raised the attempt to disguise the loans at the Council for the Economy, an agency led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich and charged with final oversight of Vatican financial transactions. 

One senior curial source told CNA that the issue was “noted, but no action was taken” by the council, despite the highly irregular nature or the arrangement.

One senior official at APSA, which acts as the Holy See’s reserve bank and manages the Vatican’s sovereign asset portfolio, defended the Vatican’s relationship to BSI and similar financial institutions.

“You have to understand, a lot of good can be done in those grey areas,” he told CNA. “Not everything the Church does or supports can be printed in a financial statement like a normal company. Sometimes the Church must be able to help without being seen to be helping.”

Among other charges, BSI was found guilty of allowing sovereign wealth funds to use the bank for “pass through transactions,” in which funds are transferred into a bank and passed through multiple accounts in a single day before being transferred back out again. Such activity is considered by regulators to be a clear warning sign of money-laundering. BSI was found to have systematically failed to document or investigate such transactions.

The FINMA report also highlighted instances in which BSI employees complained about the lack of transparency in handling transactions by sovereign wealth fund clients. Forbes magazine quoted one employee’s internal complaint, saying "My team is implementing these transactions without really knowing what we are doing and why and I am uncomfortable with this. […] there should be a stronger governance process around all this." No action was taken in response to this and similar complaints.

The connection to BSI comes to light as the Vatican’s own financial watchdog is struggling to assert its credibility. On Nov. 18, the president of the Financial Information Authority (AIF), René Brüelhart, resigned his post.

Although the Vatican press office characterized the departure as the end of “a five year term,” Brüelhart had not appointed for a fixed period, and he made it clear he had resigned.  

Shortly thereafter, Marc Odendall, a member of the AIF board, resigned as well, saying that the Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work, had suspended the AIF.

Odendall told the Associated Press that the AIF had been effectively rendered “an empty shell” and that there was “no point” in remaining involved in its work.

The agency’s director, Tommaso Di Ruzza, was recently reinstated after a suspension which followed a raid on his office by Vatican gendarmes. That raid also targeted offices at the Secretariat of State and is believed to be part of an internal investigation into the London property deal funded by the BSI loans.

In addition to Di Ruzza, several officials at the Secretariat of State were also suspended and barred from entering the Vatican following the raids. Among them were Msgr. Mauro Carlino and Dr. Caterina Sansone, both of who have served as directors of a London holding company used by the Secretariat of State to control the London property.

Pope calls Catholics in Thailand to follow in footsteps of early missionaries

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 21, 2019 / 05:30 am (CNA).- Thailand’s first Christian missionaries set out feeling the absence of the Thai people from their lives and wanted to share everything they knew about God’s love, Pope Francis told the country’s Catholics during Mass on Thursday.

The missionaries ended up learning more fully the plan of God, and found the Thai people to be their unknown family, he reflected.

“By hearing the Lord’s word and responding to its demands, they came to realize that they were part of a family much larger than any based on blood lines, cultures, regions or ethnic groups,” the pope said Nov. 21.

“Impelled by the power of the Spirit, their bags filled with the hope brought by the good news of the Gospel, they set out in search of family members they did not yet know. They set out to seek their faces.”

The pope’s homily during Mass at the National Stadium in Bangkok reflected on Jesus’ question in the Gospel of Matthew, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” and also Jesus’ answer: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.”

“The Gospel is an invitation and a freely bestowed right for all those who want to hear it,” the pope said.

The pope’s visit falls as Catholics in the country celebrate the 350th anniversary of the creation of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam, the country now known as Thailand. The country’s small Catholic community makes up less than 0.5% of the population, which is predominantly Buddhist.

Pope Francis reflected on the spiritual state of Thailand’s first missionaries.

“Their hearts had to be opened to a new way of thinking capable of overcoming the ‘adjectives’ that create division; this enabled them to discover the many Thai ‘mothers and brethren’ who were still absent from their Sunday table,” he said. “Not only to share with them everything that they themselves could offer, but also to receive what they needed to grow in their own faith and understanding of the Scriptures.”

The meeting of Christian missionaries and the Thai people enriched both, he said.

“Without that encounter, Christianity would have lacked your face. It would have lacked the songs and dances that portray the Thai smile, so typical of your lands,” Pope Francis continued. “The missionaries came to understand more fully the Father’s loving plan, which is not limited to a select few or a specific culture, but is greater than all our human calculations and predictions.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Catholics wait for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PopeFrancis?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PopeFrancis</a> in the national stadium of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Thailand?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Thailand</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ApostolicJourney?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ApostolicJourney</a> <a href="https://t.co/Ppq86JiVEC">pic.twitter.com/Ppq86JiVEC</a></p>&mdash; Hannah Brockhaus (@HannahBrockhaus) <a href="https://twitter.com/HannahBrockhaus/status/1197468188239261696?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 21, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

He rejected misleading views of the missionary as “a mercenary of the faith” or “a producer of proselytes.” Rather, the missionary is “a humble mendicant who feels the absence of brothers, sisters and mothers with whom to share the irrevocable gift of reconciliation that Jesus grants to all.”

Missionary practice is like the gospel parable of the wedding feast whose host sent servants to the streets to invite “as many as you can find.” Such an invitation is “a source of joy, gratitude and immense happiness,” the pope said.

He added that the anniversary of the apostolic vicariate is not “a celebration of nostalgia” but “a fire of hope to enable us, here and now, to respond with similar determination, strength and confidence.” It is “a festive and grateful commemoration that helps us to go forth joyfully to share the new life born of the Gospel with all the members of our family whom we do not yet know.”

This missionary life is for every Christian with a living faith, he said.

“All of us become missionary disciples when we choose to be a living part of the Lord’s family,” he continued. “We do this by sharing with others as he did. He ate with sinners, assuring them that they too had a place at the Father’s table and the table of this world; he touched those considered to be unclean and, by letting himself be touched by them, he helped them to realize the closeness of God and to understand that they were blessed.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Waiting for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PopeFrancis?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PopeFrancis</a> in the national stadium of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Thailand?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Thailand</a>! <a href="https://t.co/VrIi4OVeje">pic.twitter.com/VrIi4OVeje</a></p>&mdash; Hannah Brockhaus (@HannahBrockhaus) <a href="https://twitter.com/HannahBrockhaus/status/1197467120222658562?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 21, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

The Pope’s homily especially voiced support for the marginalized, like children and women who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking, “humiliated in their essential human dignity.” He mentioned young people enslaved by drug addiction and a lack of meaning, and remembered migrants who lack their homes and families and can feel orphaned or abandoned, “without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.”

The Pope’s homily also remembered “exploited fishermen and bypassed beggars.”

“All of them are part of our family. They are our mothers, our brothers and sisters,” he said. “Let us not deprive our communities of seeing their faces, their wounds, their smiles and their lives. Let us not prevent them from experiencing the merciful balm of God’s love that heals their wounds and pains.”

“A missionary disciple knows that evangelization is not about gaining more members or about appearing powerful. Rather, it is about opening doors in order to experience and share the merciful and healing embrace of God the Father, which makes of us one family,” he said.

The pope praised the apostolic initiatives of Thailand and encouraged the communities to act as missionaries: “let us continue to go forward in the footsteps of the first missionaries, in order to encounter, discover and recognize with joy the faces of all those mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, whom the Lord wants to give us and who are absent from our Sunday table.”

Christian missionaries first arrived in what is now Thailand in the mid-16th century. Some priests there who served Portuguese soldiers and merchants there baptized several hundred Christians. Missionaries and the native Christian community suffered several harsh persecutions before and after the apostolic vicariate was established, especially in the 1700s.

Merciful care should affirm the dignity of the sick, pope tells Catholic hospital in Thailand

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 21, 2019 / 02:30 am (CNA).- The dignity of the human person can be recognized and affirmed through loving medical care to the sick and injured, Pope Francis told the staff of St. Louis Catholic Hospital in Bangkok Thursday.

“The healing process should rightly be seen as a powerful anointing capable of restoring human dignity in every situation, a gaze that grants dignity and provides support,” the pope said Nov. 21.

The work of hospital employees, he said, “is about welcoming and embracing human life as it arrives at the hospital’s emergency room, needing to be treated with the merciful care born of love and respect for the dignity of each human person.”

Pope Francis addressed around 700 doctors, nurses, and service personnel from the Catholic hospital and other health centers run by the Church in Thailand.

He is in Bangkok for three days as part of a six-day journey which will also take him to Japan. The pope’s appointments in Bangkok include Mass, interreligious meetings, and visits to the prime minister and king of Thailand.

At the hospital, the pope thanked the Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres and other religious sisters for their joyful dedication to Catholic healthcare.

“You enable us to contemplate the maternal face of God who bends down to anoint and raise up his children,” he said.

Francis stated that Catholic hospital workers “carry out one of the greatest works of mercy, for your commitment to health care goes far beyond the simple and praiseworthy practice of medicine.”

“This is not only a matter of procedures and programs; rather, it has to do with our readiness to embrace whatever each new day sets before us,” he said.

After the encounter with medical personnel, the pope met privately with around 40 sick and disabled in the hall of the hospital, “as a way of accompanying them, however briefly, in their pain,” he explained.

Illness, he said, can lead people to ask serious questions about life, death, and suffering, but “by uniting ourselves to Jesus in his passion, we discover the power of his closeness to our frailty and our wounds.”

St. Louis Hospital, founded 120 years ago, has 412 beds. Its motto is “where love is, there God is.”

Francis said he was glad to hear the hospital’s philosophy is based on charity, because “it is precisely in the exercise of charity that we Christians are called not only to demonstrate that we are missionary disciples, but also to take stock of our own fidelity, and that of our institutions, to the demands of that discipleship.”

The director of the hospital, Dr. Tanin Intragumtornchai, told Pope Francis Nov. 21 that the Catholic hospitals of Thailand “are not the hospitals for business.”

“We have never entered into the commercial competition but [are] trying our best wholeheartedly to spread the Good News of Christ, especially through love and compassion,” he said.

“As your holiness once said … love is the best medicine and healing not only for the body but also for the spirit; and we realize well that this is our mission.”

Catholics make up around .5% of the population in Thailand, which is mostly Buddhist. Catholic missionaries from Portugal first brought Catholicism to the area nearly 500 years ago.

After Thailand, Pope Francis will head to Japan Nov. 23-26, where he will visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the sites of the 1946 atomic bombings.

In a meeting with Thailand's Supreme Buddhist Patriarch, Pope Francis encourages peace

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 20, 2019 / 09:42 pm (CNA).- Catholics and Buddhists share should work together to advance the cause of mercy in the world, Pope Francis said Thursday during a historic meeting with the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Thailand.

“Thanks to scholarly exchanges, which lead to greater mutual understanding, as well as the exercise of contemplation, mercy and discernment – common to both our traditions – we can grow and live together as good ‘neighbors,’” the pope said Nov. 21.

When Catholics and Buddhists “have the opportunity to appreciate and esteem one another in spite of our differences, we offer a word of hope to the world, which can encourage and support those who increasingly suffer the harmful effects of conflict.”

Pope Francis met with His Holiness Somdej Phra Maga Muneewong at the Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Temple in Bangkok, during a six-day Asian trip to Thailand and Japan.

The Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Thailand is the head of Buddhist monasticism in the country. He is chosen from among senior Buddhist monks and appointed by the country’s king. Somdej Phra Maga Muneewong, the 20th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, was appointed to the role in 2017.

The position has both spiritual and political significance in Thailand, and Muneewong's appointment was not without some controversy, especially among monastic factions with Thai Buddhism. Before Muneewong was chosen for the role by the king, another Thai monk had the endorsement of senior monastic leaders in the country, but he was accused by the military of tax evasion before being officially selected. His supporters said that charge was trumped up, and opposed the selection of Muneewong.

The pope noted that Catholics and Buddhists can “contribute to the formation of a culture of compassion, fraternity and encounter, both here and in other parts of the world. I am sure that this journey will continue to bear fruit in abundance.”

Pope Francis' visit to Thailand is intended to encourage the small Catholic community living in the Buddhist-majority country. The pope also has several interreligious meetings while in the country.

“On this path of mutual trust and fraternity, I wish to reiterate my personal commitment, and that of the whole Church, to furthering an open and respectful dialogue in the service of the peace and well-being of this people,” the pope said.

Francis noted that his visit follows in the footsteps of St. Pope John Paul II, who met the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch at the same temple in 1984.

St. Pope Paul VI was also visited by the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch at the Vatican almost 50 years ago, Francis said.

“Such small steps help testify that the culture of encounter is possible,” he stated, “not only within our communities but also in our world, so prone to creating and spreading conflict and exclusion.”

After giving prepared speeches, Pope Francis and the Supreme Patriarch had a brief informal conversation, in which they spoke about the value of fraternity between the two religions for promoting peace.

“If we are brothers, we can help world peace,” the poor, and the suffering, Pope Francis said, “because to help the poor is always a path of blessing.”

They also spoke about education and the role of missionaries in the country. Before leaving, the two exchanged blessings.

 

 

 

 

Prosecutor calls for arrest of Vatican bishop charged with abusing Argentine seminarians

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2019 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- A criminal prosecutor in Argentina has requested the arrest of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, who is accused of sexually abusing two seminarians. Zanchetta is suspended from a position at the Vatican’s central bank, where he was appointed an “assessor” by Pope Francis in 2017.

Zanchetta is accused of sexually abusing two seminarians, and was criminally charged in June. He could face three to 10 years in prison if he is convicted.

The bishop lives in the Vatican City State, at the Domus Santa Marta, the same hotel at which Pope Francis resides.

A prosecutor of sexual crimes in Orán, María Soledad Filtrín Cuezzo, has requested international assistance in Zanchetta’s arrest, because, according to El Tribuno newspaper, the bishop has not responded to repeated telephone calls or emails to the contact information provided by his defense counsel.

Cuezzo had opposed allowing Zanchetta to leave the country, according to El Tribuno, but the bishop was permitted to leave after he presented a document showing that he is employed within Vatican City. She has also said that she had frequently found it necessary to request assistance from the apostolic nuncio in Argentina in order to ensure that Zanchetta appeared in court during proceedings in his case.

Zanchetta is alleged to have sent sexually explicit selfies from his cell phone, harassed seminarians, and mismanaged the finances of the Diocese of Oran, which he led from 2014 to 2017. 

Earlier this month, police raided chancery offices in Oran.

The bishop resigned from his diocese in 2017, citing health reasons. Four month later, Pope Francis appointed him to a newly-created position in the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which oversees the Vatican’s assets and real estate holdings.

Reporting from Argentine sources suggests that the bishop was first accused of sexually inappropriate behavior in 2015.

According to a February report from El Tribuno, one of the Zanchetta’s secretaries alerted authorities after accidentally finding sexually explicit images sent and received on Zanchetta’s cell phone in 2015. The complaint says that some of the images depict “young people” having sex in addition to lewd images of Zanchetta himself.

The bishop claimed his phone and computer had been hacked, and that the accusations were motivated anti-Francis voices.

Pope Francis summoned Zanchetta to Rome for five days in October 2015. The pope appeared to have accepted Zanchetta’s excuse that his cell phone had been hacked, and dismissed the allegations.

The Vatican has stated twice that officials did not know about Zanchetta’s misdeeds until 2018, a claim that is disputed by Fr. Juan José Manzano, the former vicar general of the Diocese of Orán. Manzano claims that he reported Zanchetta in 2015, after the pornographic images were found on his phone. Manzano says he also reported him again in 2017.

The report also says three of Zanchetta’s vicars general and two monsignors made a formal internal complaint before the Argentinian nunciature in 2016, alleging inappropriate behavior with seminarians.

That behavior included entering their rooms at night, requesting massages from them, waking up seminarians in the morning, sitting on their beds, drinking alcohol with them, and favoring more the more attractive young men.

The 2017 internal accusation, which The Tribune says alleged more explicit abuse by Zanchetta of seminarians, resulted in Zanchetta’s exit from the diocese, though Zanchetta said he was resigning for health reasons. The Vatican did not open an investigation at that time.

Pope Francis said in January that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is now investigating Zanchetta.

It is not yet clear whether the bishop will be apprehended in the Vatican City State and extradited to Argentina.

 

ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner, contributed to this report.

 

Cardinal Parolin says he arranged controversial hospital loan, Papal Foundation grant

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2019 / 10:26 am (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary of State told CNA this week that he is responsible for arranging a controversial loan for the purchase of a bankrupt Italian hospital, and that he arranged with Cardinal Donald Wuerl a grant from the U.S.-based Papal Foundation to cover the loan when it could not be repaid.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin told CNA he felt “compelled” to address the matter “in order to put an end to a controversy that takes away time and resources from our service to the Lord, to the Church and to the Pope, and disturbs the conscience of many Catholics.”

“The operations involving IDI...are ascribable to myself,” Parolin told CNA Nov. 19, while insisting that his actions regarding the IDI were both legal and transparent.

CNA asked Parolin to confirm that he personally had arranged a 2014 loan of 50 million euros from APSA, the Vatican’s central bank, to partially fund the purchase of the bankrupt IDI hospital. The cardinal confirmed that he had.

The IDI was purchased in 2015 by a for-profit partnership of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and the religious order that had owned and managed the hospital while it went bankrupt, incurred 800 million euros of debt, and saw some of its former administrators prosecuted and jailed for systematic fraud and embezzlement.

Though Parolin said the arrangement was “carried out with fair intentions and honest means,” the APSA loan is likely to draw scrutiny from European banking regulators, as the loan seems to violate 2012 regulatory agreements prohibiting the bank from making commercial loans.

Those agreements were the result of an on-site inspection by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s Committee for combating money laundering and terrorist financing, and legally prohibit APSA from providing services to individuals or taking part in commercial transactions.

CNA also asked Parolin to confirm that he had personally devised a plan with Wuerl to request Papal Foundation funds to cover APSA’s bad loan. The cardinal confirmed that he had.

The $25 million grant request was widely understood to be an effort to remove the bad debt from APSA’s ledger before it drew attention, after it became obvious that the debt-ridden and insolvent hospital could not repay its loan to the Vatican central bank.

Wuerl, however, told the Papal Foundation board that the funds were intended to save the IDI from closure by covering short term operating deficits. But lay board members raised questions about whether the cash was really intended to meet an operating shortfall at the hospital, or to cover the bad debt at APSA.

Papal Foundation trustees and donors expressed also skepticism about the amount requested, which was far larger than its normal disbursements, which ordinarily are grants of a few hundred thousand dollars to charities around the world, selected by the Holy See.

After one board member objected to the loan by letter, former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was then a member of the board, wrote that raising concerns was “irresponsible, and seriously harmful to The Papal Foundation.” McCarrick was under investigation for sexually abusing minors at the time he intervened in the matter.

Despite objections, the grant was ultimately approved by the Papal Foundation board in a secret ballot - sources inside the foundation told CNA that board members believe all but one of the bishop members voted for it, while all but one of the lay members voted against approving the grant.

Dispersal of the money stalled after the board continued to ask questions about the final destination of the funds.

Two initial installments were sent to Rome in late 2017 and early 2018, totaling $13 million. After internal disagreements about the grant went public, Cardinal Wuerl said he would ask the Vatican to cancel the request and return the funds. In early 2019 Parolin wrote to the board saying the $13 million would be reclassified as a loan, rather than a grant, and would be repaid as credits against future grant requests.

When the grant money stalled, APSA was forced to write off 30 million of the 50 million euro loan, wiping out APSA’s profits for the 2018 financial year.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, head of APSA, acknowledged the loan and its write-off in September, even though APSA is legally prohibited from making loans that finance commercial transactions, due to its 2012 moneyval agreement.

After the Oct. 21 publication of a book that alleged the Vatican was nearly insolvent, Galatino blamed the loan for APSA’s failure to register a profit for the first time in its history.

Parolin answered CNA’s questions this week after Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who has widely been reported to have been the driving force behind both arranging the loan and pushing for the Papal Foundation grant, contacted CNA to deny his involvement in those matters. He told CNA that both matters were the "competence" of the Secretary of State, Parolin.

Becciu told CNA by text message earlier this month that he had not known about the APSA loan until after it was arranged, and that he had no part in requesting a grant from the Papal Foundation.

The 2014 APSA loan was arranged over the strong objections of Cardinal George Pell, then serving as the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and charged by Pope Francis with enforcing financial accountability on the Roman Curia. CNA has also reported a loan request for the same purpose had been vetoed by the IOR, the Vatican’s deposit bank, after its president, Jean-Baptiste Douville de Franssu, and Pell agreed that the IDI was unviable and the money would never be repaid.

While Parolin took responsibility for the IDI arrangements, Vatican officials across several dicasteries have told CNA Becciu was involved in organizing both the loan and coordinating the lobbying effort for the Papal Foundation grant. That effort included a visit to McCarrick by the secretary of APSA, Fr. Mauro Rivella, in Washington, DC, shortly after the grant request was made. The visit took place before McCarrick pushed board members to approve the grant, and after an investigation into McCarrick’s sexual misconduct had begun.

Still, Parolin insisted that “as far as I know, Cardinal Becciu had no role whatsoever in” those matters.

Nevertheless, Becciu’s personal connections to the IDI hospital go back at least as far as his appointment to the position of sostituto in 2011.

Shortly after Becciu began working as the second-ranking official in the Secretariat of State, Fr. Franco Decaminada, the IDI’s president - subsequently arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned, and laicised for theft and fraud - approached him for support on a proposal that the Secretariat of State supply the IDI with 200 million euros, ostensibly to fund a take over of another hospital by the IDI, which was already teetering on insolvency.

In October, Becciu told CNA he did not recall any such proposal, though it had been reported previously in Italian media. Shortly after that proposal was made, Decaminada hired Becciu’s niece Maria Piera Becciu, as his personal secretary.

In October, CNA asked Becciu if he or his position at the Secretariat of State had played any role in the hiring of his niece at the IDI. He told CNA that “she applied for the position and was hired.”

Last month, Becciu told CNA that his interest and involvement with the IDI ceased when Cardinal Parolin was appointed Secretary of State.

“Cardinal Parolin assumed the office of Secretary of State [in 2013] and I no longer concerned myself with IDI,” he said.

While taking responsibility for the APSA loan and the Papal Foundation request, Parolin told CNA that the interpretation of those events “by certain media is a different matter, presenting these operations as non-transparent, irregular or even illegal: this, as far as I am concerned, is not the truth.”

But beyond the APSA loan and Papal Foundation grant, other aspects of the IDI purchase have raised serious questions.

In addition to the APSA loan, the Vatican also used 30 million euros diverted from the Bambino Gesu, another hospital under its oversight, to purchase the bankrupt IDI. That money was taken from an 80 million euro grant the Italian government had given the Bambino Gesu.

Cardinal Guisseppe Versaldi, arranged that diversion. At the time, Versaldi led the partnership to buy the IDI, oversaw the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See and was the Vatican’s delegate to oversee the Italian province of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, the religious congregation that had owned the hospital, had a partnership with the Vatican to buy it again, and had also been dragged into insolvency.

Wiretaps recorded Versaldi discussing the plan with Giuseppe Profiti, the president of Bambino Gesu, with the two agreeing to conceal the misdirection of the funds from Pope Francis. 

Versaldi and Profiti later denied any wrongdoing, and the cardinal claimed he only wanted to spare the pope the technical details of the efforts to save the IDI. 

In his comments to CNA Parolin also addressed a lament from Becciu, who told CNA this month that while he is uncertain which Vatican officials have suggested he is connected to the IDI affair, he believes he could be the victim of a misinformation campaign, designed to sully his reputation by linking him to the affair.

Parolin does not think that to be the case.

“I believe there is no curial plot. In any case, I am completely extraneous to any operation of the kind: if there were such an operation I would condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Parolin told CNA.

A spokesman for Wuerl told CNA that the cardinal “has no comment beyond reiterating those facts already on the public record regarding the Papal Foundation application process.”  

 

Vatican affirms need for two-state solution after U.S. shift on Israeli settlements

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2019 / 09:40 am (CNA).- The Holy See on Wednesday reaffirmed its support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, after recent shifts in U.S. policy threatened to derail hopes of an agreement.

“In the context of recent decisions that risk undermining further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the already fragile regional stability, the Holy See reiterates its position of a two-state solution for two peoples, as the only way to reach a complete solution to this age-old conflict,” the Vatican press office stated on Wednesday.

The Holy See’s statement was issued two days after the Trump administration announced a reversal of U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank; the administration now said they did not violate international law.

The settlements are viewed as a significant obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to hopes for a two-state solution.

Previous U.S. administrations have taken varying stances on the legitimacy of the settlements, and the Trump administration reverted to the Reagan administration’s position that the settlements were not illegal. The announcement was a reversal of the Obama administration’s 2016 decision not to veto a UN resolution against the settlements.

“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Monday.

Pompeo’s announcement contradicted the UN’s position of the settlements being in violation of international law. In December of 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution—with the United States abstaining as a member country—that reaffirmed its existing opposition to the Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

Internationally, the U.S. move this week was viewed as a significant blow to hopes for a two-state solution. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory, Michael Lynk, called it “the very last nail in the coffin of the two-State solution.”

On Wednesday, the Holy See recognized the legitimacy of the State of Israel within boundaries “recognized by the international community” while also upholding “the same right that belongs to the Palestinian people.”

Both Israel and Palestine, the Vatican said, should settle on an agreement respecting both sides “with the support of the international community and in compliance with United Nations resolutions.”

In 1967, Israel began occupying the West Bank territory after the Six-Day War. Around 400,000 Israelis and 2.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which includes the Christian Quarter of the Old City.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported Israeli sovereignty over existing settlements in the West Bank during his campaign for re-election earlier this year.

The transfer of a hotel in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem to Israeli settlers has also made international news for the possible consequences for the future of the city.

Patriarchs and heads of local churches warned in a statement this summer that a disputed 2005 land deal transferring ownership of the hotel would undermine both the status quo agreement and the integrity of the Christian Quarter of the city, which is home to some of the holiest pilgrim sites in Christianity.

Vatican’s London luxury development company, with ties to alleged financial crime, offered to raze parish rectory

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

London, England, Nov 19, 2019 / 02:35 pm (CNA).- Developers acting for the Vatican Secretariat of State offered to raze a London parish hall and rectory and replace it with low-cost housing, in order to try to push through a luxury apartment development. The luxury development project involves two recently suspended Vatican employees, and a nest of Vatican-controlled holding companies led by an architect linked to accusations of money laundering and fraud involving Vatican accounts.

In a June 2016 proposal submitted to local authorities in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a developer seeking permission to develop luxury apartments at 60 Sloane Ave offered London’s St. Pius X parish hall and rectory as a location for building the low-income housing required by law to offset the luxury development.

The inclusion of the parish property in the planning application was facilitated by officials at the Vatican Secretariat of State, who visited the parish and worked with the local Archdiocese of Westminster to secure the cooperation of the parish pastor.

The involvement of the Vatican in developing the proposal comes to light after Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who authorized the Vatican’s investment, described the Holy See’s involvement in the real estate development as a matter of ordinary business, denying there was anything suspicious about the transaction.

“It is accepted practice for the Holy See to invest in property, it has always done so: in Rome, in Paris, in Switzerland and also in London,” Becciu said in October, insisting that the deal was “regular and registered according to law.”

The planning application was submitted on behalf of 60 SA Ltd., a private holding company registered in Jersey, a tax shelter in the Channel Islands, which owns the building and in which the Vatican had invested $200 million in borrowed money.

The parish property was that of St. Pius X parish in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood.

Fr. Peter Wilson, pastor of St. Pius X, said officials from the Archdiocese of Westminster visited his parish before the proposal was submitted, along with an unnamed official from the Holy See, who outlined plans for the property, which would have incorporated substantial low-income housing units into a new mixed use development.

“I knew that there was somebody from the Holy See coming along, whom I met, but I didn’t know why he was involved,” Wilson said. “The wider provenance of the plan was never vouchsafed to me.”
 
“They were going to knock down the presbytery and build a block of flats here. They told me I could have one flat in the block of flats and my heart rather sank, but who am I to argue with those above my station?”

The low-income housing proposal was turned down by London development authorities, who said it was haphazard, and noted there is no shortage of low income housing in the area of the parish, several miles from the luxury development. The developers eventually offered local authorities £12 million in lieu of the affordable housing requirement, in order for the luxury development to be approved.

The parish proposal suggests the involvement of Vatican officials in the development project was considerably more expansive than initially reported, as Church officials were a part of the development’s early planning details, rather than simply passive investors.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Westminster told CNA it “is often approached by developers or boroughs to take proceeds of the infrastructure levy or help with their social housing quota. Diocesan officers always review these proposals to see whether they offer long term benefits to the community and the mission of the Church.”

Regarding the proposal for St. Pius X, the archdiocese said that “In this instance, the developer, CapInvest, approached us in 2014 with such an offer. 79 St Charles Square was identified as a possible location for redevelopment, providing both accommodation for the parish clergy and a number of much-needed social housing units in the area. We agreed to meet with the developer to commence discussions.”

WRM CapInvest is an investment company owned by Raffaele Mincione, who owned the Chelsea building through a holding company, 60 SA Ltd. Mincione sold a share in the holding company, and eventually the entire thing, to the Secretariat of State. Another of Mincione’s companies, Athena Capital, a Luxembourg investment fund, acted as the vehicle for the Vatican’s investment.

“At no time did the developer disclose any connection between this project and the Holy See. Equally, no one from the Holy See contacted the Diocese about this project. We only became aware of this possible connection when [CNA] contacted [the archdiocese].”

Fr. Wilson told CNA it was a Vatican official who presented the plan to him, alongside archdiocesan officers.

He added that the idea was presented as beyond his power to prevent, despite canonical norms that ensure decisions about parish property are the purview of the pastor, not the Holy See or the local bishop.

The London property investment points to a network unsavory financial actors and unseemly practices involved in the Vatican’s London investment, even amid repeated efforts to bring financial practices into line with international practices and standards.

CNA has reported that the London investment was funded by a $200 million short-term loan arranged through Swiss banks, along with a nearly $50 million 2018 investment in the same property, bringing it completely under Vatican ownership. Rather than buying the building outright from 60 SA Ltd., Mincione’s holding company, the Secretariat of State instead took that company over in 2018, setting up a new London company to control the investment.

According to the Financial Times, Mincione sold his personal stake in the property to the Vatican at “a significantly higher price than he had paid for it two years earlier.”

Last month, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said the investment was unique in some ways, and that the fund in question appeared to be “well managed.” He said that he was working to clear up questions about the project.

“We are working to clear up everything. This deal was rather opaque and now we are trying to clear it up,” Parolin said.

Also last month, former sostituto at the Secretariat of State Cardinal Angelo Becciu strongly denied any impropriety in the deal, responding to what he called “slanderous charges” that he had “played with and tampered with the money of the poor" in the 2014 transaction, the cardinal defended the investment last month, saying it was “accepted practice.”

The London property investment is believed to be at the center of an ongoing investigation by Vatican prosecutors who, in October, raided the offices of the Secretariat of State and the Vatican’s own financial watchdog.

Msgr. Carlino

Among those suspended following the raids was Msgr. Mauro Carlino, an official at the Secretariat of State. Carlino was listed in May, 2019, as a director of a company called “London 60 SA Ltd.,” the holding company incorporated in the United Kingdom, through which the Secretariat of State controls the Jersey-based 60 SA Ltd., which in turn owns the property on Sloane Ave.
 
The UK’s registrar of companies lists the Holy See Secretariat of State as the single shareholder and legal person with “significant control” of the London company, and the right to appoint and remove directors. Public records show Carlino was terminated as a director in August, 2019, two months before the Vatican raid.

 

Luciano Capaldo

Among the other registered directors of London 60 SA Ltd. is Mr. Luciano Capaldo, an architect. According to his resumé Capaldo specializes in “real estate valuation” and “project-property design and management.”

In filings officially approved by the Secretariat of State concerning his initial appointment as a director for London 60 SA Ltd. in May 2019, Capaldo was identified as a “Vatican citizen.” A subsequent filing changed Capaldo’s nationality of record to British and Italian.

According to British corporate filing requirements, only an agent of the Secretariat of State or the first officer of the holding company could file a document appointing Capaldo as a director.

In practice this means only Parolin, Becciu, or Dr. Caterina Sansone, who was the company’s sole officer at the time of Capaldo’s appointment, would have filed the legal appointment that listed Capaldo as a Vatican citizen. 

Sansone was among the Vatican employees suspended in the October raid of the Secretariat of State by Vatican prosecutors.

It is not clear whether the document listing Capaldo as a Vatican citizen was in error, or whether the architect had in fact been granted a Vatican passport, but Capaldo himself was required to countersign the document identifying him as a citizen of the Vatican. 

Citizenship of the Vatican City State is sometimes afforded to lay employees working in the curia, but is only granted to those living within the territory of Vatican City itself, and forfeited upon departure. Vatican citizenship has also sometimes been granted to lay people as a personal favor by curial officials, because it confers several benefits, and the Vatican does not assess an income tax.
 
The Secretariat of State issues a small number of passports for travel in the name of the Holy See, reserved to clerics engaged on diplomatic service for the Holy See and carrying with them diplomatic immunity.
 
It is unclear what, if any, role Capaldo has in curial service, or why he might have been granted citizenship by the Secretariat of State if his job is to run a property investment in London.

Vatican citizenship could carry with it the benefit of access to banking privileges either of the Holy See’s two financial institutions, the IOR, which functions as a deposit bank, and APSA, which acts as the Vatican’s reserve bank and sovereign wealth fund. Such funds have been used in the past by private individuals seeking to skirt international banking regulations and external scrutiny of business deals.

According to the terms of an agreement reached with Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, following a 2012 on-site inspection, exempting it from future inspections, APSA was required to close a number of accounts held for private individuals, including senior churchmen and Vatican citizens. Senior sources at APSA and the Vatican’s Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that several of these accounts are still in operation but had been anonymized following the Moneyval agreement.

“Essentially, named accounts became private numbered accounts,” one senior official told CNA. “Looking at the account ledgers, there is no way to tell the difference between an individual or institution as the account holder, it’s just a number.”

“They were supposed to all be closed down, and some of them were. But no one is being made to do anything - some of the accounts are still very much on the books.”

Imvest

Though apparently living in London, Capaldo is a major shareholder and former chairman of an Italian real estate company called Imvest, which describes its business as “buying and selling real estates, as well as managing the construction of buildings, blocks and lots mainly for individual clients” and “facility management and services of territories and properties for tenants, private clients and public institutions.”

Among the company’s principal shareholders is a private, family-owned Italian bank named Banca Finnat Euroamerica S.p.A., which is controlled by the Nattino family.

In 2017, Italian financial authorities froze 2.5 million euros is assets belonging to Giampiero Nattino, who was then the bank’s chairman, saying that he had used personal accounts held at both IOR and APSA to commit a string of offences, including market manipulation, and had provided false information to Italian financial authorities.

In 2017, Italian police said Nattino had used Vatican accounts to carry out “a complex stock operation which resulted in criminal behaviour regarding market manipulation,” despite the 2012 directive to APSA to close such accounts.

The police action followed a 2011 investigation by Vatican authorities into Nattino. At that time, investigators identified Nattio as the owner of a portfolio of accounts at APSA which they suspected were used for money laundering and market manipulation. Authorities questioned why he had banking privileges at APSA at all.

The balance of Nattino’s accounts, some 2 million euros, was transferred to Switzerland shortly before the 2012 regulations were due to come into force. The Vatican investigation noted the “dubious origin and dubious final destination of the funds in the closing of” Nattino’s portfolio.

Another large stakeholder in Capaldo’s company Imvest is FEG International Assets SA, an anonymously incorporated company in Luxembourg formerly run by Gianluigi Torzi.

FEG and Torzi were named recently in a commercial fraud suit in London’s High Court. Also named as respondents in the suit were Giancarlo Andreella and his former company, Odikon Services PLC, of which Torzi was also a director. Odikon, formerly known as Beaumont Investment Services PLC, it is currently suspended by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority. Capaldo served as a director of Odikon Services until November 2018.

Imvest’s largest shareholder is Meti Capital, of which Capaldo also a part owner. Meti Capital’s largest owner (48% stake) is Yield Corporate Advisor Ltd., incorporated in Malta and owned by Andreella. Another major shareholder in Meti is Beaumont Investment/Odikon Services.

Imvest was raided by Italian authorities in May 2018 and several directors indicted on charges of preparation and submission of false budgets. Among those indicted was Alfio Marchini, a Roman real estate entrepreneur, and twice-failed candidate for Mayor of Rome for the 5 Star Party. That trial is pending.

Pastor of vibrant Arkansas parish named Bishop of Shreveport

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 19, 2019 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Tuesday appointed Msgr. Francis Malone, pastor of an Arkansas parish known for having generated many priestly vocations, as the next bishop of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Malone, 69, is the pastor of Christ the King in Little Rock, Arkansas, a parish which has produced at 6 priests and 6 seminarians since 2006. Before he became pastor in 2001, the parish had not had any vocations.

“Msgr. Francis Malone ... showed me how pure joy can be infectious, and that made me want to be a priest from an early age,” Daniel Wendel, a seminarian from Christ the King parish, wrote on the Diocese of Little Rock website this year.

Other seminarians and parishioners pointed to Msgr. Malone’s example as among the reasons why their parish has drawn many men to the priesthood. Malone himself credited Eucharistic Adoration.

“Our parish had no seminarians until after we inaugurated perpetual adoration,” Msgr. Malone told Arkansas Catholic in 2013.

“There can be no coincidence that since PEA [Perpetual Eucharitsic Adoration] began, we have had 11 men step forward to begin the process of discernment that leads to the altar,” he said.

As bishop-elect of the Diocese of Shreveport, Malone will succeed Bishop Michael Gerard Duca who led the diocese for ten years until Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Baton Rouge in June 2018.

Born in Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 1950, Malone was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Little Rock at the age of 26. Before becoming pastor at Christ the King, Malone served as pastor at Immaculate Conception Church, St. Anne Church, St. Michael Church, St. Mary of the Mount Church, and rector at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, among other assignments.

Malone is a canon lawyer, who earned his J.C.L. at the Catholic University of America in 1989. He is also holds multiple degrees from the University of Dallas, where he studied history as an undergraduate, and went on to earn master’s degrees in both divinity and education.

He has served as Chancellor of Ecclesial Affairs for the Diocese of Little Rock since 2008. Previously he was vicar general 2002-2006, managing editor of Arkansas Catholic Newspaper & director of communications in 1995, and chaplain of Rogers Memorial Hospital in 1983.

He was named a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre in 2002 and a protonotary apostolic in 2010.

Malone will be the third bishop of Shreveport, a diocese created in 1986. The Diocese of Shreveport has a total population of 812,200, of which 41,335 are Catholic.

Witnesses better than initiatives in parish-based evangelization, Pope Francis says

Monday, November 18, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2019 / 09:57 am (CNA).- Having a lot of parish initiatives is not the best way to reach people on a deeper level, Pope Francis said Monday, adding that evangelization is about giving a witness to personal encounter with Christ.

“Our parishes are invaded by many initiatives, where often, however, it does not affect the lives of people in depth,” he said Nov. 18 in the Vatican’s Pope Paul VI hall.

Speaking to Catholics who take part in “parish cells,” small, neighborhood-based prayer and study groups in Italy, he said, “you too are entrusted with the task of reviving, especially in this period, the life of our parish communities.”

“This will be possible insofar as [parishes] become, above all, a place to listen to the Word of God and celebrate the mystery of his death and resurrection,” he explained. “Only from here can we think that the work of evangelization becomes effective and fruitful, capable of bearing fruit.”

He noted that many people, for different reasons, are no longer attending their parish, arguing that “it is therefore urgent that we recover the need for the encounter to reach people where they live and work.”

“If we have encountered Christ in our lives, then we cannot just keep it for ourselves. It is crucial that we share this experience also with others; this is the main road to evangelization,” he said. “When the encounter is the fruit of Christian love, it changes lives because it reaches the hearts of people and touches them in depth.”

Parish cells are a ministry begun by Msgr. Michael Eivers, an Irish priest who served as a missionary in Nigeria before becoming a parish priest in Miami. Eivers died in 2017 at the age of 87. Parish cells can now be found around the world.

The pope urged Catholics to “never tire of following the paths that the Spirit of the Risen Lord” puts before them, including initiatives which allow for a deep witness of Christian discipleship, but he warned against expecting to always see the fruits of one’s evangelical labors.

Though it is human to want to see positive outcomes and results, he reminded Catholics that there is no promise from the Lord they will see them.

“Jesus did not tell the disciples that they would see the fruits of their work. He only assured that the fruits would endure. This promise also applies to us,” he stated.

“Do not hold back any fear of the new, and do not slow down your steps [among] the difficulties that are inevitable in the way of evangelization,” he added.

“When one is a missionary disciple, then enthusiasm can never fail!”

Pope Francis calls use of nuclear weapons 'immoral' ahead of Japan trip

Monday, November 18, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2019 / 05:01 am (CNA).- In a video message to the country of Japan Nov. 18, Pope Francis said he prays that the power of nuclear weapons will never again be used in the world.

Japan “is very aware of the suffering caused by war,” the pope said in his native Spanish. “Together with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be unleashed again in human history. Using nuclear weapons is immoral.”

Pope Francis will be in Japan Nov. 23-26, part of a six-day trip which will begin in Bangkok, Thailand.

In addition to Tokyo, the pope will travel to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he is expected to speak about peace and against the use of nuclear weapons at memorials to the victims of the 1946 atomic bombings.

He will also meet with victims of Japan’s “triple disaster,” when a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011 triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The theme of the visit to Japan is “protect all life.”

In his video message, Francis said “this strong instinct, which resonates in our hearts, to defend the value and dignity of every human person, acquires particular importance in the face of threats to the peaceful coexistence that the world has to face today, especially in armed conflicts.”

Pope Francis has been vocal in his opposition to nuclear arms throughout his pontificate. In a message to the United Nations in March 2017, he said their total elimination is both “a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative.”

Catholics make up less than .5% of people in Japan, a largely secular country where most of the population identifies as Buddhist or Shinto.

The pope said cooperation between religions is important for peace, and he hopes his visit will encourage people “on the path of mutual respect and encounter that leads to a safe and lasting peace that does not go back in time.”

“Peace is that beautiful, that when it is real, it does not recede: it is defended with teeth,” he said.

Francis is also expected to speak about care for the environment while in Japan. He said he wants to promote a protection of life “which includes the earth, our common home,” symbolized in the beauty of Japanese cherry blossoms.

He will be the second pope to visit both Japan and Thailand. St. John Paul II visited Thailand in 1984 and Japan in 1981.

This will be Francis’ 32nd international trip in his over six years as pope. Japan and Thailand will be his seventh foreign trip of 2019, and 10th and 11th countries visited this year.

 

President of Vatican's financial watchdog authority ends term

Monday, November 18, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2019 / 04:48 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Monday that René Brüelhart, president of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) has ended a five-year term and Pope Francis has chosen his successor.

Brüelhart told Reuters Nov. 18, that he resigned from the position, which has no official term limits.

According to the statement from the Holy See press office Nov. 18, Brüelhart’s successor will be announced after the conclusion of Pope Francis’ trip to Thailand and Japan Nov. 20-26.

The delay in the nomination is “necessary for the respect of previous official commitments of the person concerned and the resolution of some internal procedures of the Holy See,” Holy See press office director, Matteo Bruni, said in a separate statement.

The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee suspicious financial transactions; it is charged with ensuring that Vatican banking policies comply with international financial standards.

Brüelhart, 47, is a Swiss lawyer. Pope Francis named him the first lay president of the board of directors of the AIF on Nov. 19, 2014. He had served as director of the AIF since 2012.

The person designated by Pope Francis to be the next president of AIF is “a figure of high professional profile and accredited competence at an international level,” the Vatican statement reports.

“In this way the continuity of the institutional action of the AIF is ensured in this moment of particular commitments at an internal and international level,” it continued.

The AIF works alongside other financial entities in the Vatican, including the Secretariat for the Economy and the Council for the Economy, both of which were established by Pope Francis as part of his ongoing reform of the Roman Curia.

The authority’s 2019 report, released May 21, stated that they continue to catch cases of fraud involving the Vatican City State’s financial institutions, including a case of money laundering.

The report showed that there were 56 Suspicious Activity Reports filed with the AIF in 2018, down from 150 in 2017. SARs filed over the last three years have led the AIF to investigate cases of money laundering and financial fraud within Vatican financial entities.

The AIF’s director, Tomasso Di Ruzza, was cleared of any wrongdoing and reinstated to his position Oct. 23, after he had been among five Vatican employees suspended after an Oct. 1 raid of offices within the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and AIF.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State is currently at the center of a financial scandal involving a Vatican bank, the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, and millions of euros from misallocated government grants.

 

This story was updated at 5:30am MST.

Pope Francis: The poor, unborn, and elderly are neglected in the frenzy of modern life

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 17, 2019 / 04:30 am (CNA).- On the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis said that the poor and most vulnerable can be left behind in the frenetic haste and self-centeredness of the modern world.

“How beautiful it would be if the poor could occupy in our hearts the place they have in the heart of God,” Pope Francis said in his homily Nov. 17.

“In the frenzy of running, of achieving everything right now, anyone left behind is viewed as a nuisance. And considered disposable. How many elderly, unborn, disabled and poor persons are considered useless,” he said in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the 3rd annual World Day of the Poor with the theme “the hope of the poor will never be disappointed.”

“Amid so many penultimate and passing realities, the Lord wants to remind us today of what is ultimate, what will remain forever. It is love, for ‘God is love,’” he said.

Pope Francis warned that there is a great temptation in today’s world to try to know and to do everything “right now” that can cause one to lose sight of what is most important: “We no longer find time for God or for our brother and sister living next door.”

“How often do we let ourselves be seduced by a frantic desire to know everything right now, by the itch of curiosity, by the latest sensational or scandalous news, by lurid stories, by the screaming those who shout loudest and angriest, by those who tell us it is ‘now or never,’” Pope Francis said.

“To us, these are front page news, but the Lord puts them on the second page,” he said. “That which will never pass away remains on the front page: the living God, infinitely greater than any temple we build for him, and the human person, our neighbor, who is worth more than all the news reports of the world.”

The pope explained that the antidote to frantic haste is the Christian virtue of perseverance.

“Perseverance entails moving forward each day with our eyes fixed on what does not pass away: the Lord and our neighbor,” he said. “Let us ask that each of us, and all of us as Church, may persevere in the good and not lose sight of what really counts.”

Following the Mass and Angelus prayer, Pope Francis will share a free lunch with nearly 1,500 poor people invited to dine in the Paul VI Hall and nearby colleges. A medical clinic set up in St. Peter’s Square also offered free medical services to those in need in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor.

Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the medical clinic Nov. 15 and announced the creation of a new 4-story homeless shelter right off the St. Peter’s Square colonnade, which he called “the Palace of the Poor.”

The homeless shelter, staffed by the Sant'Egidio community, will have two floors of dormitories that can sleep 50 men and women, a kitchen to provide breakfast and dinner, and a recreation area for fellowship, educational programs, and psychological counseling.

“The poor person who begs for my love leads me straight to God,” Pope Francis said.

In his Angelus address, the pope thanked Catholics in dioceses and parishes around the world for their work in solidarity with the poor, which he said gives hope to the most disadvantaged.

“The Lord calls us to collaborate in the construction of history, becoming, together with Him, peacemakers and witnesses of hope in a future of salvation and resurrection,” he said.

Pope Francis established  the World Day of the Poor at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016. It is celebrated each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, one week before the Feast of Christ the King.

“The poor facilitate our access to heaven: this is why the sense of the faith of God’s People has viewed them as the gatekeepers of heaven,” Pope Francis said in his homily.

“Even now, they are our treasure, the treasure of the Church,” he said. “For the poor reveal to us the riches that never grow old, that unite heaven and earth, the riches for which life is truly worth living: the riches of love.”

Pope Francis: Women’s voices are needed in Vatican leadership

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Saturday that more women are needed in positions of leadership in the Vatican.

“We must move forward to include women in advisory positions, also in government, without fear,” Pope Francis said Nov. 16 in a meeting with the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

“Yes, of course, also as heads of dicasteries,” the pope said, adding that he had considered two women for the appointment last week of the new prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy for which Francis ultimately selected Spanish Jesuit Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves.

Pope Francis said that it is important to always remember: “The place of women in the Church is not just as functionaries.”

“Women’s advice is very important,” he said. “The role of women in ecclesial organization, in the Church, goes further and we must work on this as well because a woman is the image of ‘Mother Church.’”

Pope Francis commended the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life for having two women under-secretaries in their leadership. Both women are married with children.

The pope told the Vatican dicastery -- created in 2016 to promote the pastoral care of the family and the mission of the lay faithful -- not to “clericize the laity.”

He reflected: “So many times it happened in the other diocese [Buenos Aires], a parish priest came and told me: ‘I have a wonderful lay person, he knows how to do everything, everything. Do we make him a deacon?’”

Francis lamented that too often he sees permanent deacons become “first-class altar boys or second-class priests” rather than “custodians of service.”

“This, on clericalization, is an important point,” he said.

With the papal audience, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life headed by Cardinal Kevin Farrell concluded its first Plenary Assembly Nov. 13-16 on the identity and mission of the laity in the world.

The pope told the dicastery staff to “feel with the heart of the Church,” and to move from thinking from a local perspective to a universal perspective.

“The dicastery of which you are a part should, above all else, help the many disciples of Christ to live in daily life in conformity with the baptismal grace they have received,” he said.

“There are so many lay faithful in the world who, living their faith with humility and sincerity, become great lights for those who live next to them,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican Museums opens exhibit with newly restored Renaissance Marian paintings

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- The Vatican Museums opened Thursday an exhibit of recently restored paintings of the Virgin Mary by early Renaissance painter Carlo Crivelli.

“The Vatican painting gallery has the privilege of having three large scale paintings by Crivelli,” Vatican Museums’ Curator Guido Cornini told CNA.

“Crivelli is a relatively rare artist, so not many collections in the world may claim the presence of a nucleus of more paintings together,” he said.

The restorations were made possible by members of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, the fundraising branch of the Vatican Museums that started in the United States in 1983.

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See co-hosted the exhibition opening at the Vatican museums in celebration of the 35 years of formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Holy See.

“U.S. Patrons fund approximately 80 percent of all restoration projects at the Vatican Museums,” U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich said at the exhibit opening Nov. 13.

“Through their work, the Patrons ensure that the unique spiritual and cultural mission of the Vatican Museums continues to flourish, and that these works of art endure and inspire millions each year and for generations to come,” she said.

Each year the Vatican Museums curators put together a “wish book” of art pieces in the museums that most urgently need restorations. This is then sent to donors, who can commit to funding the restoration of a particular work of art.

For the Crivelli pieces, the restoration process consisted of many stages, Cornini explained.

“It is more than presenting the painting with a superficial cleaning,” he said. The restorer, diagnostic laboratory, art historian, and/or archeologist must work together to determine the best means of restoration and then execute it in meticulous process that can take over a year.

“You have to get through a long ... phase in which more historical information is being gathered both through the archives and compare this with a careful reading of the literature existing on that particular panel painting and then you prepare the proposal of a ‘therapy’ to follow, much like you would do with a medicine," Cornini said.

The restoration of the Crivelli paintings involved removing the “over-painting” from previous restorations to recover the original vibrant colors under the surface.

Carlo Crivelli (1463-1494) was an early Renaissance painter from Venice, known for his use of gold in the late Gothic style.

Crivelli used many of the latest innovations in painting at the time, but on the other hand, his style displays a nostalgia for medieval art, Cornini explained.

Perhaps his best known pieces are “The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius” (1486) and “Saint Thomas Aquinas” (1476).

The three newly restored pieces of art on display in the exhibit are a five-panel polyptych, “Madonna and Child with Saints” (1481), “Madonna and Child” (1482), and a “Pieta” (1488-1489).

“We are blessed with having these three important pictures, which were restored in past months, and we are now able to present them ... with the different histories behind each of them,” Cornini said.

The curator added that the three paintings mark the different stages in the development in Crivelli's style.

The exhibit, “Crivelli’s gold,” is on display in the Vatican’s Pinacoteca Museum Nov. 14 until Jan. 21, 2020.

Rachel Lanz contributed to this report.