Archive of July 15, 2013

Vatican money freeze tied to second Msgr. Scarano case

Vatican City, Jul 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Although the Vatican froze funds belonging to Monsignor Nunzio Scarano after the Italian police arrested him, the hold on his account at the Vatican’s Institute for Religious Works and his suspension from work are related to a separate case of alleged money laundering.

Msgr. Scarano, a suspended accountant for the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, known by its Italian acronym APSA, is currently under arrest and charged with planning to illegally bring 20 million euro in cash into Italy aboard a government airplane.

But Msgr. Scarano is also under investigation for a separate alleged instance of money laundering, which is what triggered his funds being frozen by the Vatican on July 9, according to a source who works in one of the Vatican offices related to APSA.

According to a July 11 statement from Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press office, the Vatican investigation “was triggered by several suspicious transactions reports filed with the Vatican Authority for Financial Information.”     

Fr. Lombardi also stressed that the investigation “can be extended to additional individuals.”

Msgr. Scarano is charged with money laundering using his account at the so-called Vatican bank.

The public prosecutor of Salerno, the southern Italian town where Msgr. Scarano was born, filed the charges.

The investigation concerns transactions Msgr. Scarano made in 2009.

At that time, he took 560,000 euro in cash out of his personal Vatican bank account and carried it into Italy, to help pay off a mortgage on his Salerno home.

According to the Salerno public prosecutor, Msgr. Scarano asked 56 close friends to accept 10,000 euros in cash in exchange for writing a check of the same amount to deposit the money into an Italian bank account.

Questioned by the public prosecutor, Msgr. Scarano insisted that the origin of his money is clean, and that it comes from donors.   

In fact, Fr. Lombardi’s July 11 statement speaks about “several suspicious transaction reports,” which seems to indicate that the monsignor carried out a number of similar operations.

The freezing of his funds is unprecedented in the history of the Vatican financial institute.

The first version of the anti money-laundering law that the Vatican submitted to the European evaluators of the MONEYVAL committee did not satisfy them when it came to freezing suspicious funds.

The revision of the law in Jan. 2012 introduced – according to the MONEYVAL report released on July 2012 – “some welcome assistance in this area.”

This is also the first time that the Vatican has announced it had frozen funds in an IOR account, giving new impetus to the house cleaning efforts of the Institute’s new president, Ernst von Freyberg.

The Vatican’s finances have been – rightly or wrongly – seen as lacking transparency and not open enough to international cooperation.

Since the moment he took the post over, von Freyberg called this “a misperception” and proclaimed his commitment to transparency and improving the Institute’s image in the media.

In the midst of the scandal caused by the arrest of Msgr. Scarano, the Vatican financial institute was shaken by the unexpected resignations of its general director, Paolo Cipriani, and his deputy, Massimo Tulli, who both stepped down on July 1.

Fr. Lombardi stressed that “over the past weeks, the IOR nominated a Chief Risk Officer at Directorate level with a specific brief to focus on compliance.”

The chief risk officer is Antonio Montaresi, a manager who worked at the Promontory Financial Group. He was hired by the Institute to review all client relationships and the anti-money laundering procedures it has in place.

But the transaction Msgr. Scarano is actually under arrest is linked to him allegedly trying to bring 20 million euros in cash into Italy from Switzerland aboard an Italian government plane.

The money supposedly belonged to Paolo, Cesare and Maurizio D’Amico, three brothers from an Italian family of shipping magnates.

According to investigators, Msgr. Scarano was the mastermind of the plot that included Giovanni Maria Zito, a suspended agent of the Italian domestic intelligence agency, and Giovanni Carenzio, a financial broker.

Carenzio reportedly refused to go ahead with the deal, leading to the collapse of the plot.

Once the news of investigation into Msgr. Scarano broke, Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See suspended him from the service.

A former banker, Msgr. Scarano has been often described as being in charge of “accountability” for the patrimony administration, which handles the majority of the Vatican’s funds.

In fact, a source who works at the Administration and asked for anonymity said in a July 12 conversation with CNA, “Msgr. Scarano had nothing to do with the accountability.”

The source also said that “the top officials of the APSA were not happy with Msgr. Scarano’s behavior, but never made the decision to remove him from his post, probably because he was well known inside the sacred walls and there was no intention for rumors to be raised up.”

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Pope's island visit carried light to end of world

Lampedusa, Jul 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After the unexpected July 8 visit from Pope Francis, the little Italian island of Lampedusa received “an electric shock,” because he shed light on “the problem of immigration and the suffering of immigration,” says Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of the Agrigento, Sicily archdiocese.

It is “meaningful that Pope Francis made his first trip to Lampedusa, thus putting into practice what he asked: to go to the end of the world, to the peripheries and the poor,” observed Archbishop Montenegro, whose archdiocese includes Italy’s southernmost territory.

Part of the Italian region of Sicily, Lampedusa is in fact closer to Africa than it is to Italy.

And immigration has always been a concern for the little island, which is inhabited by about 5,000 people.

Archbishop Montenegro explained in a July 15 interview with CNA that the people of Lampedusa remember the first immigrants knocking on their doors in the 50s. Back then, “it could be a Tunisian that crossed the sea in search of luck.”

And even though the fear of a possible exodus from Africa dates began in the 50s, it was only at the end of the 80s that migration flows from Africa to Lampedusa started increasing each year.

In fact, since 1988, almost 20,000 people have died in the stretch of sea between Africa and Lampedusa.

“That stretch of sea is a tomb,” Archbishop Montenegro told Pope Francis during a lunch at the end of May.

The idea to pay a visit to Lampedusa first came to Pope Francis in April.

Archbishop Montenegro recounts that, “Don Stefano Nastasi, the parish priest of Lampedusa, wrote a letter to the Pope, explaining the situation of the island and inviting him, a son of migrants, to go and visit Lamepdusa.”

The letter was delivered and highlighted by Migrantes, a foundation of the Italian Bishops’ conference that deals with the issue of migration, which is also led by Archbishop Montenegro.

The issue also came up when the bishops of Sicily made their ad limina visit to Pope Francis and the tomb of St. Peter in May. During the visit the Agrigento archbishop raised the problem of immigration across the Mediterranean Sea.

Archbishop Montenegro told CNA that Pope Francis reacted to his words by saying, “I must make a second trip to Italy this year.”

“I thought,” he explained, “that the Pope just thought of planning a trip for the following year.”

In fact, the visit appeared to come together rather quickly, since the archbishop found out about where the Holy Father would visit “just a week before he came.”

After the visit, Archbishop Montenegro asked the pontiff if he was happy about it, and the Pope answered “yes.”

He was “very focused on his goal, that was to make a visit for mercy and the memory of the deaths,” the archbishop said.

When it comes to the political realm, Archbishop Montenegro stated that finding governmental solutions is the responsibility of politicians, not churchmen.

At the same time, he did offer an analogy of how the tiny Italian island can provide a starting point for addressing the global problem of immigration.

“If the world is a house, Lampedusa is one of its doors. Through Lampedusa, we can get into the world. Then, States must be able to accompany people to visit the rooms of the house.”

Lampedusa is a door because “it is a natural landing for those who come from Africa. It is just a platform. People just pass through Lampedusa, in search of other place where to land and stay,” he said.

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World Youth Day expected to boost economy in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The organizers of the World Youth Day to be held next week in Brazil have sent a report on the massive economic benefit Pope Francis’ visit will have on the area, estimating some 20,000 jobs to be created.

According to organizers, World Youth Day 2013 will have an estimated economic impact of more than $220 million in the Rio de Janeiro area, where the event will be held, from July 20-30.

More than 20,000 jobs are also expected to be created in connection with the event.

Financing for World Youth Day has come from a variety of sources, including corporate sponsorships and personal donations. The total cost of the event will depend on the number of participants, but initial estimates put it at nearly $140 million, organizers said.

Around 70 percent of those costs will be covered by contributions from World Youth Day attendees. Spontaneous donations as well as World Youth Day products will also help pay for the event.

Brazilian officials will be participating in the event on various levels, since the Pope will be a visiting head of state. Government officials will provide assistance with logistics, crowd control, public security, transportation, communications, and aid for the young people.

In Spain, where the last World Youth Day was held in 2011 in Madrid, the event generated an estimated $476 million and created 5,000 jobs.

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Pope Francis' accommodations for World Youth Day revealed

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Pontifical Council for Social Communications has posted a series of photos of the room where Pope Francis will stay during his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day, which will take place July 23-28.

The accommodations are located at the Sumare House in Rio de Janeiro, where Blessed John Paul II also stayed in October, 1997. The late pontiff had traveled to Brazil for the Second World Meeting of Families.

The room where Pope Francis will stay has a simple bed, a night stand with a telephone, and a small desk. A crucifix hangs on the wall over the bed.

The room reflects the simplicity and humility that has characterized his pontificate and his prior ministry as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

While archbishop, Cardinal Bergoglio lived in a small apartment in Buenos Aires rather than the archbishop’s residence. He rode the bus and the metro and cooked his own food.

Even as Bishop of Rome, he has elected not to live in the papal apartments, but rather in the Casa Sancta Marta, the Vatican's guesthouse.

The Pontifical Council for Social Communications photos of Pope Francis' room in Rio de Janeiro can be seen here.

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Child's smile enough to keep volunteers in Syria

Homs, Syria, Jul 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Syrian woman who works in a center for children opened during the country's civil war said that the smile of just one of these children is enough to keep motivating her and her colleagues.

“It is difficult to change this reality and to return to them their smiles and their joy; but the smile of one child is always enough to give us energy and support,” reflected Claude Semaan, one of the first volunteers to set up an educational center for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Homs, Syria.  

“We all support each other here,” Semaan told CNA July 10.

She began working with Al Mukhalis Center, an educational center for children aged six to 12, on April 16, 2012, about a year after the Syrian crisis began.

The crisis started in March, 2011, when demonstrations sprang up across Syria protesting the rule of the country's president, Bashar al-Assad. The following month, the Syrian army deployed to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.

Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 93,000 people. At least 1.7 million Syrians have fled to nearby countries, becoming refugees.

An additional 4.25 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war, their lives utterly disrupted.

In Homs, a group of volunteers opened the Al Mukhalis Center after a growing number of schools were shut down due to the violence.

“There was no security then, and we began working after feeling imprisoned in our homes for a whole year,” Semaan said. “We felt fear and frustration.”

She noted the educational project started “quickly and suddenly” because of the amount of children that began arriving at the center.
“We had to prepare the place and the equipment within just a few days, because we received 100 children,” Semaan remarked.

“We didn’t expect any children initially, but on the first day we were surprised to have 64 registered, and on the following day, 95.”

Semaan explained that the center decided to use more classrooms on the third day, although they doubted that so many children would attend because of the “disastrous conditions.”
“Parents and kids needed this center and they have placed great confidence in the local monastery, where we work.”

“We were scared and we felt we didn’t have enough experience, but we felt great energy within us,” she added.

“One day we woke up to the sound of shells and clashes, and the phone lines were dead,” said Semaan.

Despite the war raging around her, she went to the monastery she said, “because I was afraid that a child would come and find no one there.”

“But when I arrived, I found that all the volunteers were there because they had thought the same. And 82 children had come to the center.”

She underscored that when she asked the children why they came, “they replied enthusiastically, saying they would have come ‘even if the shells were over our heads.’”

“Even when there are dangerous conditions, we take advantage of it by going down to the bomb shelters and singing at the top of our lungs until it stops,” Semaan explained.

“We have a big responsibility because the school gives them joy.”

The young woman, who specialized in counseling university students, labelled the mental state of the children as “very bad” during the first days they began attending the center after their year long war experiences.  

She explained that because of the crisis, it is too dangerous for many Syrian children to even attend school.

“When we asked one of the children the name of his street, he said: ‘I live in the street of death.'”

His response is not uncharacterstic.

“When we ask children to draw anything that is on their mind, they always paint about the war: (things) such as tanks, weapons and dead people.”

According to Semaan, even the songs they sing are about the conflict and the regime, and that it is often difficult to teach them songs about life and love.

In the face of such a situation, Semaan and the other volunteers with Jesuit Refugee Services continue to help the children who have come to Homs to live as normal a life as possible, providing them with both education and loving concern.

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