VATICAN FINANCES: ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY – CARDINAL PAROLIN SAYS HE ARRANGED CONTROVERSIAL HOSPITAL LOAN, PAPAL FOUNDATION GRANT

Pope Francis today started his first full day of activities on his visit to Thailand, the first of two nations he will visit between now and November 26. I have posted a separate column on that journey.

VATICAN FINANCES: ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY

I also posted this today on Facebook and Twitter: A cogent and easy to read piece that goes to the heart of the matter: https://religionnews.com/2019/11/20/four-powers-the-pope-needs-to-grant-the-new-chief-of-vatican-finances/
And the Wall Street Journal posted this:

VATICAN LOSES ACCESS TO INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL WATCHDOG INFORMATION – The Egmont Group, a network of financial intelligence units, has suspended the Vatican watchdog from accessing its secure web system – by Francis X. Rocca

ROME -An international network of financial watchdogs has suspended the Vatican’s access to its information, dealing a major blow to the Vatican’s financial credibility under Pope Francis. The Egmont Group, a Toronto-based network of more than 160 national financial intelligence units around the world, has decided to suspend the Vatican watchdog from access to its secure web system, through which members share information about money laundering, financing of terrorism, tax fraud and other financial crimes….” (https://www.wsj.com/articles/vatican-loses-access-to-international-financial-watchdog-information-11574199689)

CARDINAL PAROLIN SAYS HE ARRANGED CONTROVERSIAL HOSPITAL LOAN, PAPAL FOUNDATION GRANT

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.”

MONDAY IN THE VATICAN – INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY IN THE AMERICAS

If you want to experience the sheer joy of the beauty and solemnity of the Latin Mass in the splendid setting of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. I offer you the spectacular video of the Mass of the Americas celebrated Saturday morning in the shrine in Washington, D.C. by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. There are two links to the EWTN video – one in the moving article by Robert Royal (see below) and a link following that article.

I became so riveted as I opened the video a short while ago that everything else was moved to the back of the burner – work, this column, emails etc. I had to tear myself away from the video – but not the audio – as I proceeded with other work so that I would be done in time for a later appointment.

I had a great reunion with Abp.Cordileone Friday night in Washington as we both attended a book presentation for Kathryn Jean Lopez and her latest work, A Year with the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.

The archbishop and I had worked many of the same years in the 90s in the Vatican under Pope John Paul. I had not seen him in a while, the last time was probably some encounter at NAC, so it was good to touch bases and talk about a few current topics. Had I only known about the Mass, however! I was scheduled to fly back to Rome on the day of the Mass but believe I could have attended the Mass and made my flight. This Mass will be celebrated again in various U.S. cities so I have hope. What a joy it would be to have it sung in St. Peter’s!

MONDAY IN THE VATICAN

Pope urges support for WFP’s campaign to eliminate food waste
Pope Francis sent a message to the World Food Programme on Monday, calling on all to support the UN agency’s global campaign to eliminate food waste through a change in lifestyle. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-wfp-food-waste-hunger-malnutrition-rights.html

Pope asks people of Japan to protect life, ahead of Apostolic Journey
Pope Francis sends a video message to the people of Japan, and urges them to protect all life – symbolized there by cherry blossoms – and to pray for his upcoming Apostolic Journey. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-video-message-japan-prayer-nuclear-arms.html

Pope meets Argentine Interreligious Dialogue Institute
Pope Francis receives members of the Instituto de Diálogo Interreligioso (I.D.I.) of Buenos Aires, who are meeting to discuss the Document “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-argentine-interreligious-dialogue-institute.html

Pope appoints new President of Vatican Financial Authority
A Holy See Press Office communiqué says Pope Francis has chosen a successor to the current President of the Vatican Financial Authority, René Brüelhart, as his mandate ends. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/vatican-financial-authority-pope-rene-bruelhart-new-appointment.html

INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY IN THE AMERICAS

Robert Royal
By Robert Royal (TCT – The Catholic Thing)

Intimations of eternity are rare in this life. I had one, about this time of the year, when I was in high school. I’m enough of a modern man to know how unreal the claim seems. But it’s true. I was walking with a few friends under autumn leaves. We’d just been reading Virgil together in Latin, during last period. From somewhere, there welled up in me an overwhelming sense of both geologic ages and the immense extent of human life. And something beyond even those. Years later, I came upon an Italian poem – L’infinito – that captures the experience.

I had a similar experience this past Saturday morning. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco celebrated an Extraordinary Form Latin “Mass of the Americas” at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, accompanied by the music of Frank La Rocca, whom the archbishop had commissioned for that purpose. You can watch it by clicking here.

But listening to the recording and even watching the video can’t even begin to convey what the Mass was like in the Basilica. To underscore just one element, Archbishop Cordileone celebrated the Mass on the main altar under the baldacchino, way at the back of the church (instead of the new altar closer to the congregation). That had a marvelous effect. At least for me.

When he and the concelebrants processed to the far altar, near the imposing mosaic of Jesus as Pantocrator (“Ruler of All”), it was as if they were going deep into the divine mysteries. And later, when the priests came forward to distribute Communion, it was as if they were bringing the Body and Blood to the congregation from the depths of God Himself.

Image: The Christ Pantocrator mosaic by Jan Henryk de Rosen, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.

Call this romantic illusion, if you will – though I don’t consider myself prone to that sort of thing. But that’s what the Mass of the Americas conveyed to, I think, more than one person Saturday. Liturgical formality, noble music, serene worship, and the basilica’s very architecture combined to produce that rare experience.

We used to have a lot of that in the liturgy. The Mass, consequently, often impressed non-Catholics, even anti-Catholics. In 1774, John Adams (both non- and anti-) famously wrote to his wife, Abigail, about a Mass at Philadelphia’s Old St. Mary’s: “Here is every Thing which can lay hold of the Eye, Ear and Imagination. Every Thing which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.”

Adams wouldn’t have been so quick to reach for the old anti-Catholic slur about “the simple and ignorant” if he had been in the Basilica Saturday. And he wouldn’t have been so sure that the Protestant Reformation – now ailing and seemingly in terminal decline – had done away with real Catholicism.

Archbishop Cordileone had a brilliant insight in developing this Mass of the Americas (plural). He wanted an instance of real liturgical beauty. As he said in the homily, Catholicism teaches the Three Transcendentals: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Naturally, we seek to follow and extend the Good in various forms; we cannot do so properly, though, unless we know the Truth; and for most people the Truth has to be manifested, primarily through Beauty.

Archbishop Cordileone also wanted a Mass that would be rooted in both Americas, North and South. And that meant incorporating elements of the two great Marian traditions: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of Latin America, and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States.

There has been a lot of discussion in the Church recently about the old notion of “inculturation.” By the end of Amazon Synod last month, it had become a contentious term, primarily because the Vatican seemed to have chosen to promote a kind of inculturation that bent the Church in the direction of “indigenous spiritualities” more than drawing those indigenous beliefs into the fullness of Catholic truth and practice.

Frank La Rocca’s music struck a much better note of inculturation. The Mass was in Latin, Extraordinary Form, so the music drew appropriately from Church traditions of chant and polyphony, but also spoke a fluid and, above all, contemplative modern musical idiom.

One of the temptations of composers writing modern Masses is to draw attention to the music – and themselves. As Joseph Ratzinger often said, both before and after becoming pope, some sacred music seems more an opera or a concert than a Mass. La Rocca’s lovely work never gives into such temptations. Rather, it serves the spirit of the liturgy at every point.

There were Spanish and Indian motifs, particularly the melody of a popular hymn La Guadalupana woven into traditional musical forms, but never in a way that was intrusive or out of balance. While the archbishop was vesting publicly – quite something to witness in a pontifical Mass – the choir sang La Rocca’s beautiful arrangement of El Cantico del Alba (“The Song of the Dawn”), which contains the line: “Hell trembles three times at the sound of ‘Ave Maria.’”

At the de-vesting after Mass, a soprano sang the equally lovely Aue Maria (sic) – in Nahuatl, the native language in which Our Lady of Guadalupe addressed St. Juan Diego in her appearances on the hill of Tepeyac.

And it all ended with the familiar melody of the Salve Regina, sung in Latin but with La Rocca’s exquisite arrangement surrounding and advancing it.

The Mass of the Americas will be celebrated in other places here in the United States as well as in Mexico. If you have the chance, do yourself – your spiritual life – a great favor: make the effort to attend. Or see if you can bring it to your local cathedral.

My hope is not only that it will be repeated many times in the future, but that some of the aesthetic and spiritual possibilities it has opened up will also find their way into parish Masses – which desperately need fresh inspiration – all over our Hemisphere, and beyond.