Andrea Gagliarducci

Andrea Gagliarducci

Andrea Gagliarducci is an Italian journalist for Catholic News Agency and Vatican analyst for ACI Stampa. He is a contributor to the National Catholic Register.

Articles by Andrea Gagliarducci

First lay head of disciplinary commission at Roman Curia appointed

Jan 8, 2021 / 16:40 pm

For the first time, the Disciplinary Commission of the Roman Curia will be presided by a layperson after Pope Francis appointed professor Vincenzo Buonomo, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University. And it is possible that more laypersons will be appointed for other Vatican positions.

Book gives more insight into the actions of Pius XII and his 'bureau' during WWII

Jan 7, 2021 / 16:00 pm

A new book provides further information from the archives of Venerable Pius XII, including the Vatican’s attempts to oppose the actions of Nazi Germany through diplomacy during World War II.

After Secretariat of State shakeup, what’s next for Curia reform?

Jan 7, 2021 / 15:33 pm

The draft of the delayed document that will reform of the Roman Curia gives the Vatican’s Secretariat of State a more prominent place in the workings of the Church's central governing bureaucracy. But during the year 2020, Pope Francis moved in the opposite direction.

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Reconciliation is crucial in Belarus

Oct 21, 2020 / 08:00 am

The Church in Belarus has no other task than proclaiming the Gospel. It did so also during the protests that broke out in Belarus following the presidential elections in August, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Catholic News Agency.

Is Pope Francis moving toward a conclave?

Oct 14, 2020 / 00:00 am

There are two ways to interpret the exclusion of the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, from the Cardinals Commission of the Institute for Religious Works (the “Vatican bank”), and they are not mutually exclusive. The first would have it that Pope Francis is now back to the initial project of making the Secretariat of State less central within the Curial system. One of the original ideas was to dismantle the Secretariat of State and split the Church’s government into four different secretariats. According to the second view, the conspicuous absence of the Cardinal Secretary of State from the new IOR Commission would be at Parolin’s own request.  In any case, it was not by chance that Pope Francis originally left Cardinal  Parolin out of the group of red hats he formed to draw up the blueprint for his overhaul of the Curia in 2013. Cardinal Parolin joined the meetings from the beginning, and the Pope said he could consider himself a member at one point. However, no document amended the chirograph that established the Council of Cardinals, so there has never been an official document that certified the new composition of the Council of Cardinals.  Cardinal Parolin worked at the pope's side, and was able to get lots done – indeed, was the only one able to get all the necessary institutional steps taken when it came to implementing the piecemeal reforms we’ve already seen, and Parolin has the papl rescripts – administrative and legislative decrees – to prove it.  Cardinal Parolin succeeded in having all the papers set for decisions in times of institutional confusion. Pope Francis accepted – for a while, at least – that the Secretariat of State would have a central role, which it appears not only to keep but to see strengthened in the draft of the Curia reform, Praedicate Evangelium.  Likely, Pope Francis changed his mind following the recent scandals. He is now getting back to the original project: dismantling the institutional structure for a more pastoral and less State-like structure.  However, this is just one of the lenses through which understanding the situation. There is another interpretation, as valid as the other, that says that Cardinal Parolin wanted to step down from the IOR Cardinals Commission.  Cardinal Parolin has been keeping a pretty low profile on institutional issues. The Vatican situation is incredibly confused. Since Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu's Pope-pushed resignation, media have been filled every day with leaked documents of the investigation, analysis of alleged wrongdoing, and interviews with people involved in the Vatican world, as well as attacks, levied against Cardinal Becciu and in general against the Catholic Church.  Cardinal Parolin has been pondering whether to step in, but so far has kept himself at arm’s length from the tumult. It was risky, though, to stay on the IOR Cardinals Commission, since the so-called Vatican bank could be the target of a series of attacks on Vatican financial issues.  One of the attacks will be on the Malta trial. The IOR initiated, and is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with an investment fund with which it purchased the former Stock Exchange Palace of Budapest. Last March, a tribunal in Malta authorized two Maltese investment outfits to seize three-quarters of the IOR 2019 profits: €29,5 million. Although frozen, the money was included among the earnings of the 2020 IOR Report. The Maltese firms complain that the IOR caused them patrimonial damage. According to the companies, the IOR has first promised to invest 33 million euros in the Budapest Stock Exchange Palace's purchase and renovation and then withdrew the promise.  The IOR also allegedly twice blocked a sale of shares. Practically speaking, the Maltese society accused the IOR of interfering in the repayment of a debt. They also stressed that the Vatican bank's new management cares more about sullying the old management's good names than they do about doing profitable business. If this were proven right, it would be pretty serious. However, it would also be another clue to exactly what kind of war is being waged behind the  curtains in the halls of Vatican power. Raisons d'Etat and the necessity to preserve the Vatican as an institution are no longer critical. Instead, it is vital to carry forward a specific narrative to help survive during this stormy end of the pontificate.  Gossip in and around the Apostolic Palace is rampant.  It was known that Cardinal Becciu was going to be under attack, and the best informed were aware that the situation was going to become problematic. The same people now say that the struggle will be harsh, that information will be leaked, and many stories will be unveiled.  Il Sismografo, a Vatican news aggregator run by a former Vatican radio journalist, noted that the president of the Vatican City tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, , is also an op-ed writer with the GEDI Publishing group, which publishes the daily newspapers Repubblica, La Stampa, Il Secolo XIX, and other 13 local newspapers, as well as the weekly magazine L'Espresso.  Il Sismografo underscored that "a good part of these media owned by GEDI has been conducting for weeks an actual campaign against Cardinal Angelo Becciu,” alleging vague wrongdoing on scant evidence and with no trial in sight.  “(The attacks) are levied every day, using documents that might be confidential or secrets, some of which – if true – likely stolen from the Vatican (as in the Vatileaks 2 case) and used these days to provide arguments against the Sardinian red hat.”  Il Sismografo clarified that there are no suspects, nor might there be, regarding Pignatone’s bona fides. However, it noted that the leak of documents is now making it difficult for Cardinal Becciu to enjoy the presumption of innocence, to which – in all fairness – he does have a right.  Will there be a leaks  on other Holy See issues? It is probable. Will the IOR’s behavior be analyzed once the papers of the Malta trial are not sub judice anymore? It is possible.  Given all of these situations, Cardinal Parolin’s exit from the IOR Commission is providential: it helps avoid further erosion of his status as a papabile,  as some observer put it.  These whispered words shed light on a fact that must not be underestimated: People are waiting for the end of the pontificate, and they are preparing for the next conclave. Not by chance, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York sent copies of George Weigel's The Next Pope to his fellow cardinals. Nor is it surprising that any red hat should seek to distance himself from the brewing scandals.  At the same time, whispered rumors say that Pope Francis is preparing his succession, too. Other observers said that Cardinal Becciu was stripped of his cardinalatial prerogative to prevent him from acting like a kingmaker in the next conclave.  Other rumors say that Pope Francis may soon summon another consistory to create new cardinals, thus expanding the electoral basis. Currently, the college of cardinals comprises 120 red hats eligible to vote in a conclave; that is precisely the limit set by Paul VI. By expanding the electoral basis, Pope Francis will also expand the influence of the cardinals he created in a conclave.  In the meantime, the Oct. 13 meeting of the Council of Cardinals signals that the Pope is trying to move forward quickly. In the end, the Pope is setting up his legacy: the encyclical Fratelli Tutti will be his intellectual legacy, the Curia reform will be the pragmatic legacy, the expansion of the Conclave electoral basis will be the icing on the cake of the pontificate. 

IOR: Secretariat of State out of the Cardinals commission

Oct 10, 2020 / 00:00 am

For the first time since its establishment, the Cardinals Commission of the Institute for Religious Works (the so-called Vatican bank) will not include the Secretary of State. Cardinal Pietro Parolin has not been confirmed in the Cardinals commission, which was renewed by the Pope at the end of its 5-year mandate. The new composition of the Cardinals Commission appeared in the IOR website, but no was not communicated by any official release by the Holy See Press Office or the IOR. The only clue that new board was appointed was in a IOR release, dated Sep. 21, which read that “The Cardinals Commission of the Institute for Works of Religion, in its new composition, has approved, ad experimentum for two years, the implementing Regulation of the Statute.” There are two confirmations and three new entries in the new IOR Cardinals Commission: Santos Avril Y Castellç, though 84, will keep the presidency of the Commission, while Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna will stay on the board, even though he is above the retirement age of 75. The new entries are Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, Papal Almoner, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi, archbishop of L’Aquila, and Cardinal Luis Gokhim Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People. Cardinals Josip Bozanic, archbishop of Zagreb; Thomas Christopher Collins, archbishop of Toronto; and the aforementioned Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, are all out. The Cardinals commission is now back to a 5-member composition, as foreseen by the new statutes issued in 2019. For a while, the Cardinals commission was composed of six members. The last meeting of the old board took place on July 30, 2020, one and a half years after the Commission terminated its five-year term. Pope Francis appointed his first Commission in January 2014. The Vatican Secretariat of State has always been represented in the Cardinals Commission since it was established, and the Secretary of State was also the president. This was because the Secretariat of State was the central office in the Curia and – in theory, at least – represented the Pope’s interests. Pope Francis, however, gave the presidency to Cardinal Avril y Castellò. That the Secretary of State is no longer part of the Cardinals Commission at all is a further sign of how State will be further marginalized, at least in matters of financial management. Cardinal Parolin will be replaced by the Archbishop of L’Aquila, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi, who Pope Francis already appointed as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the administration of Vatican City. It is striking that the Papal Almoner will be on the Commission. It might show the Pope’s intention to make of the Almoner a critical position in the management of the resources – and of a piece with the decision to make the Almoner’s office a Dicastery for Charity (according to the draft of the Curia reform still under discussion). The prefect of Propaganda Fide is the other new entry. The Congregation for the Evangelization of People, by the way, has always managed its fund and resources since its foundation. These new appointments seem to follow the rationale that all the Vatican investments will be centralized. The shift in investment policy will particularly affect the Secretariat of State, which has an administration of its own that was also dubbed to be “the Vatican’s third bank,” after the IOR and the APSA, which is supposed to function as a central bank. “Third bank” is an improper description since State’s outfit isn’t a bank and neither of the other two is a bank in the proper sense, either, but it gives the idea. However, this is a step towards the marginalization of the Secretariat of State. It is impossible to know how much the recent financial scandals have affected the Pope’s decision. We are now back at the beginning of the pontificate when it seemed that the Secretariat of State would be dismantled, or at least losing some of its traction within the Curia. It is noteworthy that Pope Francis did not even include the Secretary of State in the first group of the Council of Cardinals. Cardinal Parolin was added later to the group. Given the Curia reform, Pope Francis has basically kept his most trusted men in critical positions, like Cardinal Santos y Avril, and steadily moves toward changes. The new Cardinals commission is now expected to appoint the seven members of the Superintendency Council, the “lay board”. It is possible Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, the president of the board, will be confirmed. According to the IOR statutes, the committee members will be appointed for a five-year term, renewable just once.

Pompeo's visit to the Vatican, how to decrypt it

Oct 2, 2020 / 00:00 am

It was no surprise that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not meet with Pope Francis during his visit to the Vatican on Oct. 1. The Pope has bilateral meetings with the heads of State, Prime Ministers, or monarchs. All the other meetings are not bilateral meetings because they are not on a par, and so they can be private meetings. Given this information, it is more interesting that Pompeo met the Pope last year, that he did not meet him this year. This year, Pompeo's meeting to the Vatican was strictly a bilateral meeting. On one side of the table, the US Secretary of State. On the other side, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, a sort of Vatican foreign minister. The visit took place on Oct. 1. The day before, on Sep. 30, the US Embassy to the Holy See organized a Symposium on Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy, at which Cardinal Parolin, Archbishop Gallagher, and Secretary Pompeo delivered speeches. Speaking with the Symposium journalists, both Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Gallagher underscored that Pope Francis did not agree to receive Pompeo because the Pope does not want the meeting to be exploited for electoral reasons. "We know that the Pope does not receive politicians while electoral campaigns are ongoing," said Cardinal Parolin. Before his European tour, Pompeo wrote an article for the US magazine First Things. In the article, the US secretary of State strongly criticized the Holy See confidential agreement with China for bishops' appointments. That piece and Pompeo’s speech at the Symposium set the tone of the Oct. 1 bilateral. Pompeo maintained that if the Pope renewed the agreement, ignoring Beijing violations of religious freedom, he would jeopardize his moral authority. The Vatican did not receive this criticism very well. The Vatican Secretariat of State is well aware of the trouble with the China agreement, so any criticism is welcome. However, questioning the Pope's moral authority seemed too much. Some of the bitterness of the early Vatican reactions owed itself to that. The bitterness became a sort of clash at the Sep. 30 Symposium. In his speech, Pompeo emphasized his political vision. In his view, a Church permanently in a state of a mission should be a Church "permanently in defense of basic human rights" and "permanently in opposition to tyrannical regimes." If Pompeo reiterated and clarified his position, the Holy See did as well. In his own intervention, Archbishop Gallagher said: "It should come as no surprise that the protection and promotion of religious liberty is one of the main ‘political priorities’ of the Holy See." Archbishop Gallagher further noted that "the Holy See has been assiduously and constantly attentive to abuses to religious liberty, whether on the level of authoritarian/dictatorial State or non-State actors, most vividly witnessed in those instances where there are physical persecution and even murder of 'religious minorities,' or whether through the ever more common tendency, especially found in the West, which promotes ideologies and even national legislation that conflicts with the exercise of religious liberty." He then added that "attacks against religious liberty are not only coming in the form of physical persecution but ever more through ideological trends and 'silencing,' through what has often been called "political correctness", which are taking ever larger liberties in the name of 'tolerance' and 'non-discrimination'." The Vatican foreign minister also referred to the promotion of so-called ‘new rights’, among them sexual, reproductive, and gender-based rights, often attached to agendae that attack religious freedom. So, Archbishop Gallagher, on the one hand, addressed the criticism to the Holy See, without mentioning specific cases like China. "The Holy See never does that," Archbishop Gallagher later explained to journalists. On the other hand, Archbishop Gallagher focused on a broader view: he blamed the push for new rights, positioning the Holy See on the same page as the US. For example, President Trump made of the life issues one of the main points of his presidency and was also the first president to address a speech at the annual March for Life. If Archbishop Gallagher broke the ice, Cardinal Parolin closed the conversation. In his remarks, Cardinal Parolin said that there is a negative and a positive approach in defending religious freedom. The negative approach, he said, "states simply that there should be no coercion in the practice of religion." On the other hand, the positive approach works to transform and correct the rationale behind the oppression of the faithful. This rationale consists in the radical autonomy of contemporary man. The Church combats this by showing people "the ultimate truth of their existence." This way, Cardinal Parolin moved a mild criticism to the US approach, and at the same time made it clear that the Holy See not only is aware of the numerous violations of religious freedom, but also – in its own way – is on the front line in the fight to roll them back. In a declaration informally delivered outside the official bulletin, the director of the Holy See Press Office stressed that "the parties presented their respective positions on the relations with the People's Republic of China, in a relaxed and cordial climate of respect." The meeting, the declaration went on, also zeroed in "on some conflict and crisis areas, particularly the Caucasian area, the Middle East and the East Mediterranean. The meeting lasted some 45 minutes." Generally, the Holy See does not provide information about the bilateral meetings. That a communication on the bilateral came out shows the Holy See considered the meeting relevant. Also, the Holy See aimed at smoothing any tension. In the end, diplomacy is also a play, and all the actors involved have lines of dialogue to deliver, the script of which is determined broadly by national interest more or less informed by moral commitment. The Holy See has no particular interests. Its international agenda is the common good. This is the reason why the Holy See's diplomacy is so peculiar.

A sneak peek at some of Pope Francis' lesser known decisions

Sep 23, 2020 / 00:00 am

The devil, the saying goes, hides in detail. To understand the things in the Vatican,  details are essential. Without the details, there is no possibility of understanding the overall pictures. Among these details, there is Pope Francis' decision to appoint five new Gentlemen of His Holiness. The appointment took place on July 7 and became known in Sep. 4. It is not the kind of decision that goes published in the Holy See Press Office's bulletin. Perhaps precisely for that reason, it is the sort of thing that can be revealing.  For those who are not familiar with the title, the Gentlemen of His Holiness are, according to Canon Law, “lay dignitaries of the Pontifical Household.” Paul VI established the title of Gentlemen of His Holiness in the motu proprio Pontificalis Domus issued on March 28, 1968. With that motu proprio, Paul VI reformed the Pontifical Household, streamlined the list of titles and generally overhauled the whole structure and ethos of the papal court.  The Gentlemen of His Holiness are under the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household. They are summoned to receive and accompany the Pope's meeting, the head of State and governments, the ambassadors to the Holy See, and other prominent international personalities.  There is not a path to getting the title of Gentleman of His Holiness. The Apostolic See makes the picks personally, at its total discretion. There are families of the Roman nobility that have traditionally been part of the pontifical family for years. One can join the pontifical family, however, after getting some recognition from the Holy See. The Gentlemen are not chosen according to their nationality. There is an international criterion of selection, emphasizing those who are part or recognize and appreciate the language and the Ceremonial of the Vatican world.  Who are the new five Gentlemen of His Holiness? Here are the names:  - Massimo Sgrelli, who led the Ceremonial of the Italian government from 1992 to 2008;  - Eugenio Ficorilli, who led the office of the Ceremonial of the Italian State to the Presidency of Council; - Gerardo Capozza, who comes from the Italian office for the Ceremonial of State;  - Roberto Sorbello, who worked at the Ceremonial of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and now collaborates at the Capitol's Ceremonial that is Rome's Town Hall; - Igino Rugiero, who served in the Ceremonial of the Italian Presidency of Republic and now leads the general secretariat of the Military Affairs Office and the Supreme Council for the Defense.  The appointment of these gentlemen of His Holiness is food for thought, for many reasons.  First, all of the new gentlemen are Italian and come from the Italian State Ceremonial. This gives the impression that the two banks of the Tiber got close. Recently – and after some years of internationalization - the Vatican has been becoming once again more Italian in many fields. There is a sort of comeback of the Italian influence within the Sacred Walls. The appointment of five Italians, all coming from the Ceremonial of State, might show that the Vatican’s Italianizing trend did not happen by chance.  The second piece of food for thought: Pope Francis' modus operandi. Pope Francis has shown until now a certain intolerance towards titles like that of Gentlemen of His Holiness. Rumor had it that the Pope wanted to abolish these titles and the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household, since both recalled the Papal Court.  In the end, both the structure and the titles stayed. The Pope changed the way of  managing them. In the particular case of the Gentlemen of His Holiness, observers noted that some of the noble families traditionally associated with the Papacy are not represented among the Gentlemen. At the same time, the latest appointments choose State officials without many connections with the Vatican world.  The third reason: although one could find these issues to be of secondary or even less importance in a complex Vatican world, they are not. The Vatican speaks through its tradition, and its language is the protocol refined in centuries of history. Titles are not just for the titles' sake, in the Vatican.  Pope Paul VI knew it very well. Many said that, with his reform, Paul VI shut down the papal court. This is not true. He simply transformed it.  In the past, the papal court was divided into the Pontifical Chapel, that assisted the Pope in his functions of the spiritual father of the Catholic and Church, and the Pontifical Family, that helped the Pope in his temporal role as sovereign of the Church and head of State, but also his daily activities. The court itself was rooted in history, and it was the expression of the spiritual reality around the Pope. Every gesture, every action had to be linked to religious meaning. That is why the Pope had a “family” helping him in his temporal functions, not State officials.  Here comes the fourth thing: what are the criteria to choose the new members of the pontifical family?  The impression is that the current criteria are more worldly. There were new members of the Pontifical Household appointed because of worldly motives or to express a particular interest in the past. There are known cases of Gentlemen of His Holiness who never should have been.  On the other hand, the fact that five people with similar profiles joined the club makes one think that there was a worldly, rather than a purely spiritual calculus at work in the choice.  If this seems like inside baseball, that’s because it is. The point is that these little details really can help us understand where the Pontificate is going.  Pope Francis is accepting to expand the papal court, after he was supposed to be of more than half a mind to shut it all the way down. All the new members come from the Italian environment. The criteria for selection suggest external factors can influence the pontificate. If this can be the case in little things, it might be the case in big ones, too. So it seems, at least. 

Pope Francis: a new encyclical to outline his post-COVID 19 vision?

Sep 1, 2020 / 00:00 am

Pope Francis will issue a new encyclical on the human fraternity. The document will outline Pope Francis' vision for the world after the COVID 19 pandemic. However, the encyclical will not be the only Papal text on which to focus. The Pope will also send a message to the general assembly of the United Nations—on September 15—and deliver two important speeches: one to the Global Compact for Education and one to the upcoming “Economy of Francis” event. These four pieces will lay out how Pope Francis wants the world to respond to the pandemic’s challenges. Pope Francis already gave some indication of his vision for the world post-COVID 19. On Easter Sunday, he sent a letter to popular movements. In the letter, he advocated for a new economic model that would not marginalize the poor. He called for a universal basic income for the lowest-wage workers excluded from globalization’s benefits. Other clues come from the catecheses Pope Francis is delivering every Wednesday at his weekly General Audience. The catecheses are about the social teaching of the Church as viewed through the lens of the pandemic. Pope Francis is developing some recurrent themes: he keeps saying that we cannot emerge from the pandemic unchanged, but must be either better or worse; he says that the effects of the pandemic are worsened from the economic model that makes things harder for the poor, both in facing the financial crisis and the illness; he advocates the building of more equal societies; he underscores that the pandemic led us to rethink the pace of our lives, which must now be turned into an ecological conversion that could let humanity finally respond to the environmental crisis. We can assume that these will be the guidelines of the vision Pope Francis will outline. The UN assembly will be held via video conference, but it is an important one since it marks the organization's 75th anniversary. Expect the main focus to be on how to get out of the crisis caused by the pandemic. Francis will likely underscore that it is crucial to get out of the crisis with new economic models, and not simply using the old ones or tweaking them. That. He will likely argue, would mean getting out of the crisis “worse”. The Global Compact on Education will take place on October 15. Pope Francis’ speech will likely focus on the recognition that “everything is connected,” as he stated in Laudato si’. When Pope Francis launched the Global Compact on Education, he stressed: "In my Encyclical Laudato si’, I invited everyone to cooperate in caring for our common home and to confront together the challenges that we face. Now, a few years later, I renew my invitation to dialogue on how we are shaping the future of our planet and the need to employ the talents of all, since all change requires an educational process aimed at developing a new universal solidarity and a more welcoming society".  Hence, the endorsement of “a global event on the theme Reinventing the Global Compact on Education.” He then expressed the hope that the meeting would “rekindle our dedication for and with young people, renewing our passion for a more open and inclusive education,” which nust always include “patient listening, constructive dialogue and better mutual understanding.” “Never before,” Pope Francis went on to say, “has there been such need to unite our efforts in a broad educational alliance, to form mature individuals capable of overcoming division and antagonism, and to restore the fabric of relationships for the sake of a more fraternal humanity.” Pope Francis will focus on the new generation in his intervention to the event "Economy of Francesco." Scheduled to take place in Assisi on November 21, it seems that there will be a virtual meeting, while the conference itself will be postponed to the next year. Pope Francis will take part in the event anyway.  The “Economy of Francis” meeting will gather young economics students from all over the world to study and propose a new economic model for the world. Pope Francis will likely emphasize financial challenges. He will ask to oppose the “economy that kills,” and call instead for a new model for financing enterprise and ask businesses and the world of finance to act for equality and care for the poor.  All of these speeches and thoughts will converge in Pope Francis’s encyclical. Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti revealed on August 26 that the Pope was going to publish a new encyclical on human fraternity. The diocese of Rieti is home to many Franciscan places, including the setting of the world’s first Nativity scene. Bishop Pompili made his remarks at an event launching a committee to celebrate a series of Franciscan anniversaries from now to 2026, the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s death.  St. Francis will be then the lodestar of the encyclica, the title of which should be: We are all brothers. Rumor says Pope Francis will sign on October 4—the feast of St. Francis—and present it to the world on October 5.  Pope Francis wrote it during lockdown. Expect it to enlarge on the notion of fraternity summarily stated in the Declaration on Human Fraternity Pope Francis signed with the Grand Imam of al Azhar, Ahmed bin Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi in February 4, 2019. Ever since, that declaration has become a guide for Francis’s diplomatic efforts, and the Pope has given it to every head of State who has come to visit him in the Vatican since the Declaration was published.  Brotherhood has always been a central theme of this pontificate. Pope 'Francis’s very first message for the World Day of Peace, in 2014, was on “Fraternity, foundation and pathway for peace.” In 2015, the message for the World Day of Peace was on the topic “No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters”.  Fraternity will be the point from which we may expect Pope Francis to relaunch the “globalization of solidarity” he considers to be the antidote to the “throwaway culture”.  Once these four texts are out, we will have Pope 'Francis’s thoughts on social and economic issues after the coronavirus crisis given a global framework. Pope Francis already developed most of the themes, so there will likely be not anything new. We may, however, learn more about specifics of the new approach or see a more in-depth articulation of it. It is meaningful that these four pillar-pieces will be presented as celebrations for the 5th anniversary of Laudato si’ are also underway. As if the Pope, five years ago, took a snapshot of the way he saw the world, and now is trying to indicate the way to the future.  One question is: will the Pope’s articulation of his vision include an explicit call for profound conversion to Christ, or merely treat us to a deeper and more detailed version of the Pope’s socio-economic ideas? 

Vatican, is there a problem in the International Catholic Migration Commission?

Aug 26, 2020 / 00:00 am

Anne Therese Gallagher was elected President of the International Catholic Migration Commission in March 2018. In that role she is mandated to convene governance meetings of the Commission. She might have some uncomfortable setbacks, however, because of the job appointment she recently received as Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation. This inter-governmental organization, made up of 54 countries that were former territories of the British Empire, advocates for and funds projects focused on gender ideology, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.  The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) was established by Pius XII n 1951. The Commission is a confederation composed by the offices for the migration of the Bishops Conference worldwide. Nowadays, ICMC works in more than 40 countries around the globe with staff and programs and continues its networking activities with Bishops’ Conferences. ICMC works in many fields: it has direct humanitarian operations, boasts a Resettlement Support Center that operates both in Turkey and Lebanon, and deploys protection experts to UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, operations, placing such experts in more than 30 countries. Hundreds of thousands of migrants refugees have benefited from ICMC support during the past 70 years. Gallagher has a long-standing international career behind her. A scholar, a teacher, and a human rights advocate hailing from Australia, Gallagher taught for 12 years at the Australian National University. She spent more than a decade in the United Nations, serving as Special Advisor to Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland. Gallagher then worked with the South East Nations Association.  In June 2019, Gallagher was appointed Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation. This position might not be compatible, however, with her role as an ICMC president. Throughout its history, ICMC has enjoyed close working relationships with different Vatican offices. According to its official website, “the Commonwealth Foundation is an intergovernmental organization established by Heads of Government to support the belief that the Commonwealth is as much an association of peoples as it is of governments.” The Foundation, the website reads, is “the Commonwealth agency for civil society; a unique, stand-alone organization established by, funded by, and reporting to governments.” One of the Commonwealth Foundation’s focus is that of gender equality. As shown by the official website, the Foundation funded several projects which advocate for sexual and reproductive rights or foster gender ideology.  The Foundation funded, for example, a 48-month project in South Africa started in 2019. The project has the goal of “Strengthening the capacity of transgender and intersex persons to advocate for the protection of their rights.” The Commonwealth Foundation also funded a project named "Increasing access to sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV services for women and adolescent girls". The project is in partnership with the Association of women living with HIV in Nigeria, Womankind Centre for Women Empowerment and International Community of Women Living with HIV in Nigeria West Africa.  According to the website’s description, “the project plans to start by building the capacity of WLHIV to advocate for their SRH rights, and training them to document incidences of violations as they occur.” Furthermore, “by the end of the project, awareness about SRH rights of health care providers and other stakeholders will have been raised, resulting in better access to SRH services by WLHIV. WLHIV in all their diversity will also be better placed to continue to advocate for their rights and to raise the issues that affect them with policymakers and other key stakeholders.” The Commonwealth Foundation also partnered with KELIN, the Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS. The KELIN is a Ngo that "works to ensure that human rights on reproductive health are integrated into policies, laws, and regulations. We do this by examining gaps at the county and national level and prepare recommendations for how to integrate relevant human rights.” The Holy See has strongly opposed the notion of sexual and reproductive health rights, which not only advocate contraception but also open the door for the right to abortion.  The Holy See also has tirelessly fought against gender ideology, and especially a gender-oriented terminology disseminated in the international documents. Pope Francis himself described the gender ideology as demonic.  Given the circumstances, is Anne Therese Gallagher's position in the Commonwealth Foundation compatible with the fact she is the ICMC president?  ICMC has labored for many decades, to fulfill its mandate, to restore dignity and inspire hope among refugees and migrants worldwide, as was given to the Commission directly by the Venerable Pius XII, and with special encouragement from then-Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, later Pope and now Saint Paul VI. It would be regrettable if the Catholic identity itself of the ICMC itself might be t put into question if the volunteer President does not clarify her position as Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.  After her election as the ICMC president, Gallagher gave an interview to the Australian Catholic Women’s organization and stated that “my election as the first woman to ever lead the ICMC is a milestone. But so is the fact that I was elected on a platform of change and renewal. I found that to be really encouraging”. “And of course,” she said,  “it’s not just about a woman taking on a role like this, but the laity in general taking up leadership positions in the Church”. She also stressed that “big change never happens quickly. But even the largest ship can be moved a great distance by shifting the tiller even slightly. “Much remains to be done but there are positive signs of change - reflecting a shift away from how things have been for a long time and reimagining how they might be done into the future.” In the end, Gallagher’s situation could be compared to that of Leslie-Ann Knight, who served as Caritas Internationalis Secretary General from 2007 to 2011.  Her re-application for a second mandate at the helm of the organization got a rejection from the Holy See.  Among the issues that jeopardized Knight’s race for a second mandate were some problems regarding organizations that joined the Caritas Internationalis Confederation.  For example, Caritas Internationalis had accepted among the confederation members, the Canadian Organization for Development and Peace. Many pro-life organizations highlighted that the CCODP advocated the legalization of abortion, delivered contraceptives, and supported pro-gender policies. The then general secretary Knight strongly defended the CCODP in a letter addressed to the donors.  The change at the helm of Caritas Internationalis was followed by the issuance of new statutes for the organization in 2012. The new statutes put Caritas Internationalis under the umbrella of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. They set a series of principles that might have prevented the risk of accepting into the confederation. Other organizations whose policies might be in contrast with the Catholic teaching. What will the Holy See do now in reaction to the situation of the ICMC President? 

Pope’s reshuffle of the Economy Council: what does it mean?

Aug 7, 2020 / 00:00 am

The new Council for the Economy, tailored by Pope Francis, keeps the same coordinator, brings back two cardinals who seemed out of the game, and finally closes the first era of the reform on the Vatican finances. On Aug. 6, Pope Francis appointed the new members of the Council of the Economy. The Council is composed of 15 members, eight cardinals, and seven laypeople. The Council replaced the “Council for the study of the economic and organizational matters of the Holy See,” the so-called “Council of Fifteen.” The Council of Fifteen ceased to exist when the Pope established the Council of Cardinals in 2014. The new appointments provide some clues to Pope Francis’ modus operandi. First of all, Pope Francis follows what will be a rule with the Curia reform: no Vatican position can last more than a 5-year mandate, renewable just once. He has applied this rule several times recently: to Msgr. Luigi Mistò of the Secretariat for the Economy (not to be confused with the Council), replaced by Maximino Caballero Ledo; Msgr. Mauro Rivella, formerly secretary of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, was replaced at the end of his five-year term mandate with a layman, Fabio Gasperini. Pope Francis also replaced his private Secretary, Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, who stayed one year longer than the 5-year term. The replacement of the members of the Council was then expected. Pope Francis, by the way, did not replace all of them. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, stays as the coordinator of the Council. Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, has been confirmed until he turns 80 – he is currently 79. The confirmation of Cardinal Marx likely indicates that the Pope is willing to maintain a certain continuity in the work of the Council. Seen from another perspective, it tells that a five-year mandate is often insufficient to build something new and lasting. The six new cardinal-members are Petr Erdö, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest; Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of Sao Paulo in Brazil; Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec; Joseph William Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, Anders Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm; Giuseppe Petrocchi, Archbishop of L’Aquila. Among the new members, the presence of Cardinal Scherer is particularly noteworthy. Cardinal Scherer was one of the Council of Fifteen members and a member of the Cardinals Commission of the Institute for Religious Works (the so-called “Vatican Bank”). Pope Francis sent him out from both at the beginning of the pontificate, and his exclusion from the Council of Fifteen was particularly striking. It is worth remembering that the Cardinal-members of the Council were: Reinhard Marx; Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, Daniel DiNardo; Wilfrid Fox Napier; Jean-Pierre Ricard; Norberto Rivera Carrera; John Tong Hon; Agostino Vallini. Except for Cardinals DiNardo and Napier, all the other initial members are retired. Cardinal John Tong Hon is currently administering the diocese of Hong Kong, but this is just because of the death of his successor and the delay (or prudence) in choosing a successor. With two noteworthy exceptions, then, the original cardinal-members of the Council were all retired or about to retire. The return of Cardinal Scherer is therefore food for thought. Has Pope Francis called him back to Rome because of his experience in these matters? If so, why did the Pope reverse his judgment? Another impressive comeback is that of Cardinal Petr Erdö. Cardinal Erdö is a skilled canon lawyer that Pope Francis chose as the general relator of the two Synods on family. The Cardinal has always taken traditional positions, and it seemed evident that most of the debates that arose during the Synods were beyond his will or imagination. His comeback to Rome might show Pope Francis’ particular appreciation for his work. Cardinal Erdö has always worked quietly and diligently. He is currently organizing the World Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, postponed to September 2021 due to the coronavirus crisis. Along with two Cardinals of the “Old Guard,” Pope Francis brought into the Council Cardinal Anders Arborelius, who is a sort of outsider in these matters. The Pope also appointed Cardinal Joseph Tobin a member, and this is a sign of the Pope’s appreciation for the current Archbishop of Newark. The composition seems to be a balance between old and new that should help the Commission navigate a difficult economic scenario. This is typical of Pope Francis: he combines old and new to have a balance of powers, and likely not to be targeted by any faction. Each of the members is a guarantee for some ideological positions. The composition of the lay-members is also more interesting. None of the new members has been involved in the past with the significant reform of the Vatican economy. The former lay members were Joseph F.X. Zahra; Jean-Baptiste de Franssu; John Kule, Enrique Llano Cueto; Jochen Messemer; Francesco Vermiglio; and George Yeo. Five out of seven (Zahra, de Franssu, Llano Cueto, Messemer, Yeo) were also members of the Pontifical Commission of Reference for the Organization of the Holy See Economic-administrative structure, the COSEA. With the new appointments, then, Pope Francis finally shut down the experience of that first Commission. The only survivor is now de Franssu, currently president of the IOR Council for the Superintendency, though he has been on the position for more than five years. The Commission made a series of proposals for curial reform, hired expensive external consultants, and also proposed the establishment of the Council of Cardinals. However, the COSEA was also at the center of a scandal when two of its members (the secretary, Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui) were tried in the Vatican for stealing and leaking confidential documents, the so-called Vatileaks 2 trial. Beyond that, Vatican News and other outlets emphasized that six out of seven new lay members are women. It is worth recalling that the former composition of the lay members of the Council for the Economy was criticized because it included no women.  However, the new members' CVs are brilliant and should dismiss any chatter about any kind of marketing choice by Pope Francis. Two of the new members are German: Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof is the president of Hidegaris, a movement of Catholic women in Germany that supports women students with difficulties; Marija Kolak is currently president of the Bundesverbandes der Deutschen Volksbanken und Raiffisenbanken. Two of the new members are Spaniards: Maria Concepction Oscar Garaicoechea is chairman of the Board of Directors of Azora Capita and Azora Gestion; Eva Castillo Sanz, is a a bord memmber of Bankia S.A., Zardova S.A., Fundacion Comillas-ICAI and Fundacion Entreculturas. Two are British: Ruth Mary Kelly, currently Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprises at the St. Mary’s University of London; and Leslie Jane Ferrar, who was  Prince Charles’ treasurer from 2015 to 2017.  The other member is the Italian Alberto Minali, who also was the CEO of the Cattolica Assicurazioni group, an essential Catholic insurance company in Italy. In the end, the new Council for the Economy has closed an era of the Vatican economic reforms. The new Council will have to face the post-COVID economic scenario, the non-brilliant financial performances of the Vatican finances (according to the IOR annual reports), and the last phase of the Curia reform. It will not be an easy task. 

Pope Francis replaces one of his shadows

Jul 31, 2020 / 00:00 am

Today, Monsignor Yoannis Lahzi Gaid leaves Domus Sanctae Marthae forever. The Pope’s second secretary greeted the personnel of the Domus on Jul. 30, thus ending  his 6 - year service. There has not yet been an official communication from the Holy See Press Office, but the news about Msgr. Lahzi’s departure spread at the beginning of the week, and multiple sources have given confirmation. There will be a release most likely at the moment Pope Francis appoints Msgr. Lahzi's successor – if Pope Francis does that. Msgr. Lahzi’s departure marks the end of an era, in a way. The ties to Pope Francis’s original team are completely severed. When he was elected, Pope Francis inherited Benedict XVI’s first secretary, Msgr. Alfred Xuereb. Francis appointed Xuereb prelate general secretary for the Secretariat for the Economy (2014 – 2018) and then nuncio to South Korea and Mongolia. Pope Francis brought since the very beginning another secretary onto the team: Msgr. Fabian Pedacchio Leaniz. Msgr. Pedacchio has been serving in the Congregation of Bishops since 2007, and he stayed on at the Congregation part-time while helping Pope Francis directly. In January, Pope Francis dismissed Msgr. Pedacchio, who went back to a full-time job at Bishops. He chose as his second secretary Fr. Gonzalo Aemilius, an Uruguayan priest coming from a wealthy family who converted as a teenager and is famous for his work with street children. Msgr. Lahzi then became the first secretary.  Fr. Aemilius came to Rome some time ago, and Pope Francis entrusted him with the pastoral care of the Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary, a charitable activity of the Vatican. He had no previous Vatican experience. If the next secretary has a similar profile, Pope Francis' agenda will be managed by two people with no previous experience in the Roman Curia. It would be a brand new situation, and the effects of it must be explored. The Pope's schedule is managed both by his personal secretaries and the Prefecture for the Pontifical Household. Coordination is rather important. It is, however, well known that Pope Francis personally manages a significant part of his schedule. He has several meetings outside of the official channels. Msgr. Lahzi leaves the Pope's personal Secretariat, but he will keep the Vatican diplomatic pass. As Pope's secretary, he was also pretty much committed to interreligious dialogue, particularly to dialogue with the Muslim university of al Azhar, based in Cairo. One can remember him standing behind Pope Francis when the Pope signed the Declaration on Human Fraternity with al Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al Tayyeb. Monsignor Lahzi was appointed "architect of interreligious dialogue" by the al Azhar university, and is now a member of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity. The Committee was set up to implement the Abu Dhabi declaration. It is chaired by Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Msgr Lahzi will not leave the Committee. He could be sent to a nunciature, but he will keep his work in his Committee and develop projects for the Church in Egypt. In the meantime, he appears to be maintaining his commitments in the service of the parish of Saint Domitilla in Latina, a city south from Rome. Born in 1975, Msgr Lahzi studied in Rome at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, where he earned a Ph.D. He joined the Holy See diplomatic service in 2007. He served in the nunciatures of Congo and Gabon and was chargée d'affairs at the nunciatures to Jordan and Iraq. In Baghdad, he lived very close to the church of Our Lady of Salvation, the Syriac-Catholic Cathedral. The cathedral was the target of a deadly jihadist attack on Oct. 31, 2010. 48 people perished in that massacre, and there is a beatification cause ongoing for them. Msgr. Lahzi is now working to build an orphanage and a hospital in the Egypts’s new administrative capital – a “new Cairo” – located 28 miles east of Cairo proper. The orphanage is called "Oasis of mercy," which will be owned by the Coptic Church and presented as one of the fruits of the "Document on Human Fraternity" signed at Abu Dhabi. The "Bambino Gesù Women's and Children's Hospital" is a pediatric hospital affiliated with the Bambino Gesù of Rome, the pediatric hospital owned by the Secretariat of State. This hospital will be the Coptic Catholic Church's first health facility in New Cairo. Both of the projects were presented in Jul. 21 at the headquarters of the United Emirates embassy in Italy. END 

Vatican Finances: what is the transfer of institutional cash to the Vatican “central bank” all about?

Jul 28, 2020 / 00:00 am

A recent provision by the Secretariat for the Economy made clear that the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See manages all the Holy See’s sovereign financial activity. In short, this means that it is back to old times as far as Vatican finances are concerned. All of the accounts owned by institutional entities will be transferred to the APSA. This way, the Holy See will have a sharp separation between institutional accounts and non-institutional accounts. Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, signed the letter in question and delivered it to the heads of the Holy See’s dicasteries to the superiors of the entities and bodies connected with the Holy See / Vatican City State, and to the president of the Vatican City State administration, on May 8th. The letter asked department heads to “keep the funds held in the APSA within the APSA, avoiding transfer of them toward other financial institutions,” to “transfer to the APSA the cash currently in foreign financial institutions,” and to “transfer to the APSA the cash held in accounts to the IOR.” (editor’s note: the IOR is the Institute for Religious Works, the so-called “Vatican bank). The letter asked that all  “sovereign funds” be moved to the so-called “Vatican central bank”. Plans to centralize investments have been underway for a while. When Cardinal George Pell, then prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, presented a major reform of the Vatican economy, he also launched the project for Vatican Asset Management (VAM), the purpose of which was to centralize investments and generate profits. The VAM never saw the light of day. The Holy See is an institution, not a company, and so it cannot have company-like management strategies. However, the ide of centralizing the investment was not a bad one. It could be realized differently, in a manner consonant with the nature and culture of the Holy See. Bringing all the funds to APSA was one possible choice. The APSA is also now living a transition. Recently, Fabio Gasperini was appointed secretary of the Administration. The first layman to take the position, Gasperini came from Ernst & Young and worked in the Vatican City State Administration in his younger years, before getting into the corporate world. Gasperini is called to better frame and structure the APSA’s role and operativity. What does the APSA do? The APSA is a “public authority” of the Holy See. One of its principal tasks is to review and authorize employment of persons and procurement contracts for the Roman Curia. A Vatican law on procurement was also recently issued, by the way, giving force of law to some procedures already in action within the APSA. According to the 2012 Moneyval report on the Holy See and Vatican City State, the APSA “has, since 2010, adopted specific regulations and procedures with respect to public procurement and contracts with a view: to ensure greater transparency; to uncover corrupt activities; to prevent the involvement of criminal activity in the procurement of public services and works”. Moneyval is the Council of Europe’s committee that evaluates how States fit the anti-money laundering internationally recognized measures. At the time of the first Moneyval report, the APSA held 23 personal accounts – 15 for the clergy and 8 for the laypeople. Already in 2001, the board of cardinals decided gradually to limit the provision of financial services to individual persons that are not organs or bodies of the Holy See and Vatican City State. The shutdown of the personal accounts began in 2006 and ended in 2015. This does not mean that the APSA did not do, or was not supposed to do, financial activity. Beyond the management of the salary payments for around 2,400 Holy See employees, the Extraordinary Section of the APSA also executes payment orders on behalf of various institutions of the Holy See. Moneyval also explained that the APSA, “manages the patrimony entrusted to it, having relationships with banks around the world, investing either in financial markets (deposits, equities, bonds), or in real estate in France, England, and Switzerland.” In addition to that, “the properties in those countries are managed by APSA’s wholly owned real estate companies. The members of the APSA management are also board members of the real estate companies”.  The Holy See patrimony is estimated in more than 5 billion euros, plus 6 billion euros in real estate.  The decision to move all of these sovereign funds to the APSA came at the end of the May 4 interdicasterial meeting. During the meeting, the heads of Vatican dicasteries discussed the Holy See’s financial situation following the COVID 19 crisis. The meeting focused on three possible economic outlooks: a drop in income between 30 and 50 percent, a reduction in income between 50 and 60 percent, and a drop income between 60 and 80 percent. In April, the Vatican City State Administration had already presented a contingency plan for expenses, placing a de facto freeze on any kind of external activity and cancelling all non-essential travel.  In his letter, Fr. Guerrero mentioned the interdicasterial meeting and said that the discussion also pivoted on “the further economic measures needed to strengthen the general financial situation in this particularly negative economic outlook.”  Bottom line: The Holy See needs cash to counter the effects of the economic crisis. The transfer of sovereign funds, however, is not just about meeting the cash crunch. It is part of a broader project to centralize investments. The COVID 19 crisis  merely presented the opportunity to carry forward this process .  In the end, only the institutional accounts of the Vatican dicasteries were transferred. Unlike the APSA, the IOR holds the “non-institutional” accounts: those of Vatican employees, Catholic Church entities, institutional entities from other countries, i.e., the embassies to the Holy See.  This plan is intended to save money and increase the room for institutional oversight on the sovereign funds. The dicasteries will likely keep their independence, but yes, there will be no possibility that their financial operations will come unnoticed. This is also why the Data Elaboration Center was moved from the APSA to the Secretariat for the Economy: the APSA cannot control itself, and you need an institutional authority to oversee another institutional authority.  In the meantime, the rationalization of fund management is already underway.

Europe and the challenge of religious freedom

Jul 17, 2020 / 00:00 am

The European Union’s Special Envoy for promoting the Freedom of Religions and Belief outside of Europe will soon be appointed. Maragaritis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission, announced the Office's re-establishment in a tweet on July 8. The announcement brought to a close what had been at times a very lively debate. The president of the European Commission originally decided not to appoint somebody in the role of advisor to her in the capacity of special envoy “at this time”. Then, after protests from many organizations, the Commission reversed itself. The position is still vacant, so everything is still up in the air and anything could happen: Why, then, is it so important to have a special envoy for religious freedom in Europe? The special envoy's Office was established in 2016, right after Pope Francis had been awarded the Charlemagne Prize. Jan Figel became the Special Envoy. During his mandate, Jan Figel traveled worldwide, opened bridges of dialogue, and had a crucial role in the liberation of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani woman who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy and then acquitted. Many backed the re-establishment of the position. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and president of the Committee of the Bishops of the European Union (COMECE), noted that "in some countries, the religious oppression reached the level of a genocide" and for this reason "the European Union must continue to campaign for religious freedom, with a special envoy."  This semester, Germany is president of the Council of the European Union. So 135 German members of Parliament asked the government to use the position to press the EU to restore the Office. Austrian members of Parliament signed a joint resolution with the same goal, and Jewish, Orthodox, and Muslim labels protested against the cancellation of the position.  It was then expected that the new European Commission was going to renew the mandate. It did not happen at first. In June, the Commission sent a letter to the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, a convenor of NGOs and individuals from any faith that works for religious freedom. In the letter, the Commission confirmed that they would advance religious liberty according to the 2013 EU guidelines, which recognize the human right to freedom of religion and belief and understand that right under European law to mean that everyone is free to believe, not to believe, change their beliefs, publicly witness their beliefs and share their beliefs with others.  In the letter, the Commission also said that violations were going to be monitored by the EU delegation. The delegation and Eamon Gilmore, special representative for human rights, were supposed to report on the violations After that, and all the protests, the Commission changed its mind and announced that the Special Envoy position for religious freedom was going to stay. Everything, by the way, is still suspended. We yet do not know who will be the next special envoy, and under which mandate.  There is another issue. The special envoy takes care of religious freedom outside of the EU, but religious liberty is at risk within the EU borders. There are many pieces of evidence that religious freedom is subtly dwindling in Europe.  Religious freedom inside the EU border is guaranteed under the EU charter of fundamental rights which is policed by the EU fundamental rights agency in Vienna. In addition, all the member states of the EU are constrained by fundamental democratic principles for which the commission can hold them to account if their laws don’t correspond. And yet, there are cases that show that show that religious freedom is at stake.  The most recent cases came from Finland and Sweden.  Päivi Räsänen, a member of Finnish Parliament and former minister, faces four investigations after tweeting a Bible passage questioning that the Evangelical Church in Finland sponsored the Pride 2019.  Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen, two Swedish midwives, appealed to the European Court for Human Rights because they found unemployed and could not apply for any job since they refused to help to perform abortions. The appeal was, however, declared inadmissible.  These are not the only cases, and it is not a new situation. It is worth remembering that the Holy See personally took the floor in 2013. Following the discussion of two cases at the European Court for Human Rights, the Holy See sent a note and widely explained why the religions are not "lawless areas" but instead "spaces of freedom."  The two cases that brought about the Holy See's note are Sindicatul' Pastoral cel bun' versus Romania and Fernandez Martinez versus Spain. Both of them provide food for thought even today. The first case was about a labor union formed in 2008 by the clergy in an Orthodox Church diocese to defend their “professional, economic, social, and cultural interests” in their dealings with the church.  When the Romanian government registered the new union, the church sued, pointing out that her canons do not allow for unions and arguing that registration violated the principle of church autonomy.  A Romanian court agreed with the Church, and the union challenged the court's judgment in the European Court for Human Rights. The union argued that the decision not to register violated Article 11 of the European Convention, which grants a right to freedom of association.  In 2012, the chamber reasoned that, under Article 11, a state might limit freedom of association only if it shows "a pressing social need," defined in terms of a "threat to a democratic society," This did not happen in Romania. So the chamber faulted the Romanian court, and Romania appealed to the Grand Chamber – the final EU judicial appeal venue. The second case regarded Fernandez Martinez, a Spanish instructor of religion. In Spain, public schools offer classes in Catholicism, taught by instructors approved by the local bishop. Fernandez Martinez did not get his bishop's approval. A laicized priest, Fernandez Martinez, took a public stand against mandatory priestly celibacy. When the school dismissed the instructor, he brought suit under the European Convention. His dismissal – he argued – violated his right to privacy, family life, and expression.  A section of the European Court ruled against him, because in withdrawing approval – the section stated – the bishop had acted "in accordance with the principle of religious autonomy"; the instructor had been dismissed for purely religious reasons, and it would be inappropriate for a secular court to intrude.  These two cases – the "Vatican foreign minister", then-Archbishop Dominique Mamberti noted – "call into question the Church's freedom to function according to her own rules and not be subject to civil rules other than those necessary to ensure that the common good and just public order are respected."  One should say that this is a vexata quaestio (an already widely discussed issue), with significance far beyond Europe.  Europe, however, is living in a particularly worrisome situation. The Observatoire de la Christianophobie in France and the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christian in Europe report an increasing number of cases that are food for thought. Religions became even more vulnerable after the coronavirus outbreak. Many provisions of various governments to counter the spread of the infection also jeopardized freedom of worship. It was an emergency, and everybody understands that, but at the same time, it is always essential to re-establish a principle, in order not to set a precedent. While watching over the religious freedom in other countries, it would be good that Europe had some more proper monitoring of the situation within its borders. As the Holy See keeps saying, religious freedom is "the freedom of all the freedoms," a litmus test for the state of liberty in each country. The appointment of an EU special envoy for religious freedom will be a welcome thing, therefore. It is yet to be seen, however, what will be the precise mandate and the powers of the Office. It would be good to expand its scope to address the violations of religious freedom within the EU, as well.

Christians face the pandemic in Palestine

Jul 15, 2020 / 12:25 pm

Facing the global coronavirus pandemic, Palestine has “the special and unique challenges of being under colonialism and a touristic country,” a Palestinian Catholic from the Bethlehem area told CNA.

AIF 2019 report, is the reform a good idea?

Jul 7, 2020 / 00:00 am

So, the Vatican’s financial watchdog is getting a name change and new statutes. The Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority will soon be known as the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority, or “SFIA” (ASIF in Italian). That’s not the real news, though. The real news is that the figures of the  watchdog’s recently released report for  2019 numbers show that the Holy See’s anti-money laundering law has been further strengthened. Not only. The figures also show that  the Holy See’s successful anti-money laundering efforts are part of a broader improvement in the whole financial oversight system. This furthers  the growth trend seen in previous AIF reports. The figures in the report are substantial: AIF received 64 suspicious activity reports (SARs), 55 of which came from supervised entities and four from other Holy See / Vatican City State authorities. The AIF also enacted four preventive measures, including the freezing of a bank account. Moreover, it forwarded 15 reports to the Promoter of Justice, which confirms the rising trend in the ratio between reports to the Promoter of Justice and suspicious activity reports. As far as international cooperation is concerned, the AIF involved 370 subjects in information exchanges with other financial intelligence units  (FIUs) and signed four new Memoranda of Understanding with foreign FIUs, for a total of 60 memoranda of understanding signed since 2012. The positive trends risk being overshadowed by declarations from Carmelo Barbagallo, who  took the helm at the AIF in November 2019. In his remarks, Barbagallo announced that the AIF would change its name and tweak its statutes. Barbagallo said that “first and foremost, pursuant to the new statutes, the name of the Authority would change to the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (SFIA), a name that highlights the Authority’s dual nature as intelligence unit and supervisory (and regulatory) authority.” Those remarks came through official Vatican media channels. Barbagallo  did not hold the traditional press conference to present the annual report. There was, in the end, no dialogue with the press, except for some arranged interviews, mostly in Italian and for Italian outlets.  Barbagallo also explained that the AIF statutes would be tweaked. “With reference to AIF’s governance,” Barbagallo said, “the new statutes confirm the role of the Board of Directors and task the president with setting and monitoring the Authority’s strategic goals.” In fact, the name change had already been discussed as far back as 2013, when the new Vatican anti-money laundering law was issued. Following the new law and the restructuring of the AIF with the two functions of intelligence and oversight, the proposal was better to highlight the outfit’s functions in its name. In the end, then-AIF president, Cardinal Attilio Nicora, suggested keeping the name as it was a known quantity that had acquired some credibility. Keeping the name, he observed, also made sense to show the continuity of the Holy See’s commitment. This change would suggest a revival of the past and a re-emergence of the first phase of the AIF. The enhanced president’s role would somehow limit the powers of a director and might create some problems. The president and the board of directors were tailored as guarantee bodies. With a proposing president and an executive board of directors, there can be potential conflicts of interest if the president and the board members keep their positions in activities outside the Vatican. How will this risk be solved? All of these discussions need further analysis and are focused on the future of the authority. On the other hand, the annual report is a snapshot of the activities of the past year, when the president was René Bruelhart and director Tommaso Di Ruzza. The report follows the structure adopted in the past and provides a comprehensive overview of the work done. In 2019, the Holy See joined the Single Euro Payment Area, which led to a Vatican IBAN issuance. In August 2019, the AIF also conducted a “targeted on-site inspection at the IOR for the purpose of verifying compliance with the current legislative and regulatory framework for payment services, including the fulfillment of all the necessary requirements for the IOR to join the SEPA schemes, as well as the ‘effectiveness’ of the payment systems.” The IOR adhered to the SEPA schemes in October 2019, while the Holy See joined the SEPA area in March 2019. In May 2020, the AIF initiated the first general on-site inspection of the IOR for prudential purposes. The inspection is not linked to any particular event: it simply had to be done, and it could take place only after the issuance of the new IOR statutes, which were approved in June last year. In 2019, the Financial Security Committee produced a second update of the General Risk Assessment. The report says the update “confirms a medium-low level of money-laundering (ML) risk and a low level of financial terrorism (FT) risk, with no significant domestic threats.” The AIF also issued in 2019 several instructions to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Regarding intelligence activity, the AIF suspended three transactions in 2019 for a total of €240,000 , and froze one account for a total of €178,970.65. Barbagallo emphasized the Memorandum of Understanding he signed with the Vatican interim general auditor, Alessandro Cassinis Righi. A protocol of that kind was approved already in 2019 between the then president Bruelhart and the interim general auditor. Has the memorandum changed, or was it just updated? Barbagallo’s statements suggest that it was mostly an update. Barbagallo also underscored that the AIF signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vatican prosecutor. The signing of that Memorandum led to the AIF’s re-admission to the use of the Egmont Group’s secure communication network. Egmont Group gathers some 165 financial intelligence units from all over the world. Via its secure network, members share intelligence about crimes such as money laundering, tax fraud, and terrorism financing. The AIF joined the Egmont Group in 2013. Egmont suspended the AIF from its secure network following search and seizure operations on the AIF’s offices during the Vatican police investigation into the purchase of luxury real estate in London by the Vatican Secretariat of State. The seizures also involved documents coming from foreign FIUs. The memorandum was designed to heal the breach generated by the seizures of reports from other FIUs. In the end, the protocol had to guarantee the independence of the investigation and the confidentiality of the information exchanged. International observers watched those developments keenly.   The report also presents two example cases, with no mentions of names. The first example case seemingly referred to the investigation on Italian entrepreneur Angelo Proietti, who was sentenced guilty for self-money-laundering connected with some procurements in the Vatican. It is known that the AIF reported the case. It is noteworthy that the Vatican tribunal sentence came in 2018, two years after Proietti reached a plea agreement in Italy. The second example referred to the freezing of the accounts of a customer of Vatican financial institutions investigated by a foreign jurisdiction. The 2019 figures show that the AIF’s work in strengthening the Vatican anti-money laundering system has been widely positive. Neither the AIF president, nor its  director were confirmed at the end of their five-year mandates, the successes notwithstanding. In the meantime, the AIF’s staff was doubled, from 6 to 12 employees. The new powers of the president and the composition of the board suggest a comeback of the past. The president will return to be a sort of deus ex macchina. The board is already less “international” and more Italian. After the resignations of Juan Zarate and Marc Odendall as board members, and the expiration without renewal of René Bruelhart’s mandate, the Italian Barbagallo (who comes from the Bank of Italy) was appointed president. Also, the Italian Antonella Sciallone Alibrandi filled one of the vacant seats on the board.  The international observers have, in the end, only one question: will these decisions  strengthen the Vatican anti-money laundering system, or will they make past issues  resurface?

Pope Francis, a Jesuit at the helm of the Congregation for the Clergy?

Jun 30, 2020 / 00:00 am

Bishop Daniele Libanori, Jesuit and auxiliary for the diocese of Rome, might be appointed next Friday as the successor of Cardinal Beniamino Stella as Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy. Rumor of the appointment has been in the Vatican corridors, strengthened by the fact that Pope Francis received Libanori in private audience on June 26. The news of the appointment must be treated with all the due conditionals since Pope Francis might always decide otherwise. If the guess should prove correct, however, Libanori would be the first Jesuit at the helm of the dicastery that has responsibility for all the non-religious priests in the world.  With Libanori, Pope Francis would again tap a trusted man at the helm of the Congregation for the Clergy. Libanori would replace Cardinal Beniamino Stella, one of the most trusted of Pope Francis' hidden advisors. Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Stella to Clergy on September 21, 2013. It was one of Pope Francis' very first appointments in the top Curia offices.  The Pope created Stella a cardinal during the February 22, 2014 consistory, and kept Stella at his post until now. Stella will turn 79 in August, while the retirement age is set at 75. Stella was also confirmed after his five-year term mandate, which expired in 2018. Daniele Libanori was chosen by Pope Francis as auxiliary bishop for the diocese of Rome on November 23, 2017, and was ordained a bishop on January 13, 2018. Since 2017, he is also the delegate of the diocese for the Clergy and the seminaries. Born in 1953, Libanori hails from the archdiocese Ferrara-Comacchio, in Northern Italy. He was ordained a priest in 1977, and he later joined the Society of Jesus in 1991. He is licensed in Theology of the Evangelization and has a Ph.D. in Theology of Christian Life. From 1982 to 1991, he was the rector of the seminary of the archdiocese Ferrara-Comacchio. After he pronounced the first vows as Jesuit in 1991, he was the university chaplain at L'Aquila, in central Italy, from 1993 to 1997. He then spent a year in the Jesuit community of Naples. From 1998 to 2003, he was the university chaplain at La Sapienza University in Rome. In 2003, he took final vows as Jesuit. From 2003 to 2016, Libanori served as rector of the Chiesa del Gesù in Rome. He has been rector of the church of San Giuseppe Falegname al Foro Romano since 2017. He is also a well-known exorcist in Rome. During the emergency caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, Bishop Libanori was vocal and visible. In particular, Bishop Libanori took the stage on the debate about the prohibition of celebrating Masses with the people. As known, some of the priests complained about the government's decision to forbid any gathering, be it religious or civil. Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, The Pope's Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, even decreed the shuttering of churches, following Pope Francis' suggestions. The day after the decision, by the way, Pope Francis decried the possibility of "A Church without people," thus compelling his Vicar to backtrack. The Pope always asked the faithful to respect government indications. On June 20, the Pope met the doctors of Lombardy, the most COVID-stricken Italian region. On that occasion, the Pope also pointed the finger at "the teenager priests" that advocated for  Masses with the people. Bishop Libanori’s position has been the Pope's position, and it is possible Pope Francis noted and appreciated that. In particular, Libanori expressed his point of view in a letter he addressed on March 19 to the priests of the sector of the diocese of Rome he administers. The letter was then published in the issue 4076 of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit-run Italian magazine vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State. La Civiltà Cattolica titled the letter “Faith at the time of Covid 19”. In the letter, Libanori noted that "many complain that the closing of the churches is part of the restrictions," but he warned that "it is the State, not the Church, that must legislate in terms of public health." Bishop Libanori then asked to find "new ways" to nurture the faith in a time of emergency. He conceded that "an open church might also be a sign of comfort." However, he added, "if it is just a sign, it is enough that only the Cathedral remains open." He added that "the True Church, made of men, thank God can live without churches, as it happened during the first centuries and as it is still happening in many places of the world." Bishop Libanori then asked whether "the protest, also vivid, against the shutdown of churches is animated by faith or rather by a religious sentiment that needs to be purified." The bishop also invited "not to be taken by the false zeal," since "behind the too insistent request for Eucharist often lies a sincere, but not mature, faith." Bishop Libanori showed a total consonance with Pope Francis, and perhaps his position on the matter might be decisive for him to take the post. The appointment of a new Prefect Clergy will begin the significant reshuffle of the top ranks in the Roman Curia.  While the Curia reform is still awaited, five prefects out of nine already turned 75. Beyond that, there are other top slots in the Curia that are going to be vacant. The Congregation for Clergy will experience a significant overhaul when the reform does come. Also, the secretary of the Congregation, Archbishop Joel Mercier, turned 75 in January. In March, Bishop Fernando Vergez Alzaga, general secretary of the Vatican City State administration, turned 75. Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, turned 75 in April. Quite surprisingly, Pope Francis confirmed him donec aliter provideatur (until it is differently decided).  The other prefects who surpassed the retirement age are Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who turned 75 last June; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, also 75 since June 2019; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, who is 76; and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for  Eastern Churches, also 76. If Libanori does get the job, it will be the second time the Jesuit Pope selects a confrere for a top-ranking Vatican position, after the appointment – last year – of Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. 

A layperson as secretary of the Vatican “central bank”?

Jun 12, 2020 / 00:00 am

Fabio Gasperini, a well-known manager who is working for Ernst & Young, might soon be appointed the secretary of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). Gasperini would be the first layperson in the position. Gasperini leads the Ernst & Young EMEIA Financial Services Office Advisory Banking & Capital Markets and Ernst & Young S.p.A. Italian FSO advisory services. He has 25 years of experience advising financial services institutions across a broad range of areas: from retail banking to asset management, investment banking, insurance, and capital markets. Gasperini also worked within the Vatican City administration when he was coming up, after graduating from Rome’s prestigious La Sapienza university with a degree in  Business, Economics, and Commerce at La Sapienza University in Rome. If the rumors on the appointment will prove right, Gasperini will be a connection between the Holy See and the corporate world and will have the task to carry forward the reform of the APSA, which is going to be framed as a real central bank. Gasperini would replace monsignor Mauro Rivella, whose five-year term as APSA secretary ended in April. Rivella became secretary of the APSA on Apr. 14, 2015. Coming from the archdiocese of Turin and ordained a priest in 1998, Rivella was previously under-secretary of the Italian bishops conference. Rivella joined the APSA in 2013 as the delegate of the ordinary section of the dicastery. The ordinary section administers the goods of the Holy See, including the real estate. The appointment of a new secretary at the APSA is part of a general renewal of the Administration's top ranks. The Pope has also begun reshuffling the membership of the APSA Cardinals commission. Pope Francis has already appointed as a member of the commission Cardinal Daniel Sturla, archbishop of Montevideo. He replaced Cardinal Agostino Vallini, who turned 80 and is no longer eligible to hold positions in the Curia. The Pope should also appoint another member of the Cardinals Commission to replace Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington, who will turn 80 in November. The Cardinals commission works alongside the president and is composed of eight members, appointed by the Pope. Other members of the commission are Cardinals Ruben Salazar Gomez, archbishop emeritus of Bogota; Ricardo Blazquez Perez, archbishop of Valladolid; Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Vatican City State administration; James Michael Harvey, archpriest of the St. Paul Outside the Wall Basilica; and Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the dicastery Laity, Family and Life, and Camerlengo. The current APSA organizational chart was outlined in 2017. Beyond the president and the secretary, the APSA has an undersecretary, an official for the management control, 13 offices, and services. APSA has 95 employees and about ten collaborators. The APSA manages the real estate holdings of the Holy See and Vatican City, signs  contracts with Vatican employees, and signs the contracts for procurements and maintenance of Vatican buildings. The APSA is also the holder of Vatican accounts opened in national banks. The donations and legacies to the Holy See or the Holy Father become part of the APSA patrimony, under APSA management. The APSA is the institutional/governmental investor for the Vatican City State and exclusively works for the Holy See bodies or Vatican City State. Until 2015, the APSA also headed the board of the Vatican pension fund. That ended with a reform enacted May 29, 2015 – one of several recent changes. In October 2016, the APSA underwent another small reform, in which the consultors of the Administration became part of a “supervisory board”. Until 2016, the APSA had 23 people, held by 15 members of the clergy and eight laypeople. All the accounts have now been shut down, and the APSA has no longer bank-like accounts. In 2020, the Data Processing Center of the ordinary section of the APSA was transferred to the Secretariat for the Economy, thus giving the secretariat a more critical role in overseeing the financial activities. Gasperini’s expertise also touches on business intelligence, business risk assessment, mergers and acquisition, strategic business plans, and profitably analysis. One of his main tasks will be the reorganization of the galaxy of companies and societies used by the Holy See to invest money. A first clue of the harmonization was the Vatican decision, earlier this year, to shut down nine Swiss holdings and to merge all of their patrimony - much of it going back to the 1929 Lateran Treaty  compensation for loss of territory - into one holding, the Profima SA. Gasperini's appointment would also break a traditional axis between the Italian Bishops Conference and the APSA: Rivella came from the Italian Bishops Conference, bishop Nunzio Galantino, president of the APSA, was formerly general secretary of the Italian Bishops Conference, and mons. Giuseppe Russo, the undersecretary, was previously Italian Bishops Conference responsible for the building of places of worship.  

The policeman who might be a saint

Jun 9, 2020 / 13:05 pm

With police brutality in focus around the world, one priest says it is important to remember a policeman who might one day be declared a saint: Vice-Sergeant Salvo D'Acquisto, an Italian policeman who gave his life for those he had sworn to protect.

Two cases show that religious freedom is dwindling in Europe

Jun 1, 2020 / 00:00 am

Conscientious objection and freedom of expression are under threat in Europe, as shown by two legal cases that made news last March.  On March 12, the European Court for Human Rights declared “inadmissible” the application by two Swedish midwives who had refused to commit abortions. At the end of March, news broke that a member of the Finnish Parliament and former minister for the Internal Affairs, Päivi Räsänen, is facing four police investigations because she sent a tweet questioning the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’s sponsorship of the LGBT event "Pride 2019".  Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers represented both Grimmark and Steen. Conscientious objection at risk Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen are two Swedish midwives. Since they refused to perform abortions, they were denied employment in Sweden.  In particular, Ellinor Grimmark asked for summer employment at the hospitals of Högland e di Ryhov in 2013. Even though both of the facilities were lacking midwives, Grimmark was denied employment since she had previously declared that she was not going to perform abortions because of her conscience and religious convictions.  After she was denied unemployment, she appealed to the Swedish authority on discriminations, Diskrimineringsombudsmannen. Her appeal was rejected based on the fact that in Sweden, the performing of abortions is part of the midwives' tasks, so there would be no discrimination in denying a job if a midwife refuses to perform them.  Linda Steen's case was similar: in 2015, she informed her employer of the women's clinic in Nyköping that she would be unable to assist in committing abortions and failed to be employed anymore.  Both of them applied to the European Court for Human Rights.  A 3-judge commission declared  the applications "inadmissible" on the basis of Article 9 of the European Convention for the Safeguarding of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.  “The Court notes that the applicant's refusal to assist in abortions due to her religious faith and conscience constitutes such a manifestation of her religion,” the decisions read, “which is protected under Article 9 of the Convention. There was thus interference with her freedom of religion under Article 9 § 1 of the Convention.”  The sentence continued that the interference was “prescribed by law since, under the Swedish law, an employee is under a duty to perform all work duties given to him or her.”  The decision went on to say, “Sweden provides nationwide abortion services and therefore has a positive obligation to organize its health system in a way as to ensure that the effective exercise of freedom of conscience of health professionals in the professional context does not prevent the provision of such services.” In the end, the court decision might lead to the notion that performing an abortion is part of the job description of a midwife. This ruling jeopardizes the right to work of all the European midwives who refuse to perform abortions because of their conscience.  There is a possibility that the decision might be overturned in the future by decisions made by the Court in a higher chamber, composed of 7 or 17 justices.  Robert Clarke, deputy director of ADF International, said right after the decision to be “very disappointed” because “a positive judgment from the Court would have been an important step in the protection of the right to freedom of conscience. Medical professionals should be able to work without being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions and careers.”  “International law clearly protects the right to freedom of conscience. Nobody should be forced to decide between their profession and their conscience. Rather than forcing midwives and other medical professionals out of their profession, Sweden should look to safeguard their moral convictions,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International. Freedom of expression Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish Parliament, faces four police investigations because of her position on homosexual relations.  The first investigation started because of a tweet she posted in June 2019. In the tweet, Räsänen questioned the official sponsorship from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland to the LGBT event, Pride 2019. Räsänen attached to the tweet the image of the Bible passage Romans 1:24-27.  The passage reads: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.” After the tweet, Räsänen was subjected to a police interview in November 2019.  The second investigation is about a pamphlet on human sexuality for a Christian foundation. The pamphlet was published over 16 years ago. The police had already decided to drop the investigation into Räsänen's pamphlet and concluded that there were no grounds to proceed with a prosecution. However, the Prosecutor General reopened the criminal investigation after the publication of the tweet, and on March 2, 2020, Räsänen attended a police interview.  During the interview, she said that she “never thought I would face a criminal investigation for sharing my deeply held beliefs. It came as a total surprise. As a Christian and a democratically elected Member of Parliament, I have often heard things with which I disagree – sometimes very strongly. At times, I have felt insulted. I believe the best response to this is more debate, not censorship.” Räsänen has served as a Finnish Member of Parliament since 1995, was chair of the Christian Democrats from 2004-2015. She was Minister of the Interior from 2011 – 2015, a position that includes the responsibility for Church affairs in Finland. Two additional investigations on Räsänen were later opened about interviews she granted to a tv program and a radio station. The tv program was broadcast in 2018. Räsänen discussed with the presenter also her personal beliefs.  The radio interview took place in 2019. The show was about "What would Jesus think about homosexuals?" and Räsänen intervened, sharing her opinions.  ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization for the defense of fundamental freedoms, is supporting Räsänen in the case. According to Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, “These sorts of cases create a culture of fear and censorship and are becoming all too common throughout Europe.” “In a free society,” Coleman said, “everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies.”  The silent threat to religious freedom in Europe began a long time ago The silent threat against religious freedom in Europe is not news. Already in 2014, a report of Aid to the Church in Need noted that the state of religious liberty was “worrying” and “worsening” in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.  Published every two years, the report is a snapshot of the state of religious freedom in 196 countries. The 2014 report collected data on the state of religious freedom in the world from Oct. 2012 to June 2014. The 2019 Report of the Observatory for the Intolerance against Christians listed a series of 325 incidents and hate crimes against Christians in Europe throughout 2018.  Beyond the increasing acts of vandalism against churches, especially in France, the report listed 240 hate incidents from 14 European countries. The incidents were included in the OSCE's 2018 Hate Crimes Report, released on November 15, 2019.  Ellen Fantini, the Observatory’s executive director, noted that “hate crimes constitute just a fraction of the undocumented pressures Christians face.” She added: “We have seen Christian-run businesses financially ruined, street preachers arrested, Christians forced to choose between their moral values and their professions, Christian student groups and speakers silenced on campuses, asylum claims of Christian refugees arbitrarily denied, and parental rights trampled on by overreaching governmental interference. Fundamental rights are rendered meaningless if they cannot be freely exercised by all Europeans.”