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

Vatican Finances, what is going on? The Vatican City State Administration

May 21, 2020 / 00:00 am

Plans for a “Vatican Asset Management” outfit were laid out almost as soon as Pope Francis created the new Secretariat for the Economy.  The VAM was supposed to be a centralized office that managed all Vatican investments. The proposed management outfit would have responded to two needs: that of generating revenues to support the expenses of the Holy See / Vatican City State; and, that of keeping investments under better control (because each dicastery had some funds that it managed independently). The proposal met with a decidedly mixed reaction in the Vatican, as well as – it is fair to say – a good bit of pushback. The President of the Council of Superintendence of the Institute for Religious Works, Jean Baptiste de Franssu, claimed in 2015 that the project would not touch the IOR, for example, but only the Vatican dicasteries. In any case, the proposal was put aside. De Franssu’s cool early reaction also makes it even more interesting to note that the Institute for Religious Works has recently expressed support for the idea that there is need to centralize investments. Centralization of investments was at the center of the institutional crisis that arose with the IOR’s complaint regarding the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a luxury property in London. The IOR did not want to give the Secretariat of State a loan to support the acquisition, and complained about the operations. However, observers have also noted in the Institute’s resistance the desire directly to manage the money involved. Current cirscumstances The ongoing debate tells a lot about the Vatican balances and current positions. The idea is still being explored. It was also discussed in the last meeting of Pope Francis with the heads of Vatican ministers on May 4, 2020. During that meeting, Vatican officials saw three economic outlooks for the Vatican. More than a “best, middle, worst” trio, the three outlooks were better characterized as “devastating, catastrophic, apocalyptic”. The Holy See’s balance sheet is in the red, and the financial situation worsened with the coronavirus crisis. According to the first scenario, income would drop by 30 to 50 percent, while the debt would go up by 28 percent. The second scenario foresees a reduction in revenues between 50 and 60 percent. This should lead to a corrective intervention on wages, with an 83% increase in the deficit. The third scenario foresees a reduction in revenues between 50 and 80 percent and an increase in the deficit by 175 percent. The Secretariat for the Economy tends to believe that the first scenario will occur. In this case, the Institute for Religious Works and the Governorate would decrease the contribution to the Holy See. The scenario 1 limits the deficit to 30-40 percent. In 2019, the Holy See had introits of roughly €270 million, and spent €320 million. Forty-four percent of expenses concerned  approximately 3 thousand employees. Other items of expenditure were the maintenance of nunciatures, the management of real estate assets, and property taxes. The Holy See delivers €24 million a year in charitable works. The figure does not include the charity works financed by Peter's Pence and by other charitable foundations under Vatican control. Deficit, by the way, is nothing new for the Holy See. In 1979, the first year of John Paul II's pontificate, it closed with a shortage of 19 billion lire – the then Italian currency. In 1980, the deficit was 31 billion lire, some 27,5 billion euros today. Between 2001 and 2015, the consolidated financial statements of the Holy See closed ten times in the red and only six times in the black. Short version: structural changes need to happen, and yesterday is already too late. The APSA proposal The study also suggests strengthening the financial position of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. Salaries are paid through the APSA. How to strengthen the APSA financial position? The study by the Secretariat for the Economy suggests moving the investments currently controlled by curial departments into the APSA, transferring whatever dicastery-held liquidity is in foreign financial institutions to the APSA, and also moving dicastery-held liquid assets now deposited with the IOR into the APSA. According to the study, it would be positive to arrive at the creation of a “single specialized service center on which the financial resources of the Bodies converge” to “improve the proceeds from the financial management to be made available to the Holy See.” This is, in short, the revival of Vatican Asset Management. Cardinal Pell’s proposal never took root entirely precisely because it was going to take away managerial autonomy from the various dicasteries. Now, however, the circumstances are dire enough to warrant a second look. Transparency and Opacity The issue of purchasing the London apartment also brought to light situations that Cardinal Pietro Parolin called “opaque”. The Financial Intelligence Authority had subsequently cleaned up the operation. Still, the presence of Vatican officials on the boards of the companies involved in the purchase transactions, highlighted by the Catholic News Agency, shows that there were at least questionable operations and reformed. That was precisely the meaning of the reforms launched by the Financial Intelligence Authority. Seen from this perspective, Pope Francis’s decision to cut loose both the President of the Authority, René Bruelhart, and the director, Tommaso Di Ruzza, who were the architects of the financial reform that earned the Holy See great international credit, is inexplicable. Cardinal Pell thought he was going to break this system of small interests (someone would say corruption) with a Vatican Asset Management outfit set up and controlled from outside the old power structure, brought out of the Vatican, and by the influence of some circles. The auditing contract signed with Pricewaterhouse Cooper in 2016 also came from that rationale. The agreement was then renegotiated so that the sovereignty of the Holy See would be preserved. The role of the APSA APSA is regarded as a central bank and is the institutional-governmental investor of the Vatican City State. It operates exclusively on behalf and in the interest of the organs of the Holy See or of the State itself. Economic reform has taken many steps back and forth. The reform began in 2014 with the motu proprio Fidelis Dispensator et Prudens, which led to the formation of the Secretariat for the Economy, the Council for the Economy, and the Vatican Auditor General. The new Vatican pension fund statutes of May 29, 2015, stipulated that the president of the Fund’s administration would no longer be the president of APSA, but would instead be appointed. In October 2016, even the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See underwent a small reform that had changed the functions of its consultors, which had become part of a “supervisory board”. This reform brought to a tilt in the Vatican system. The reform seemed to treat APSA like a bank, although it was not. Until 2016, the APSA had accounts of only 23 people (15 members of the clergy and eight laypeople). For this reason, it also came under the jurisdiction of the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority for a period. The closure of the accounts ended in 2016. Therefore the APSA no longer came under the jurisdiction of the AIF, as highlighted in the third progress report of the Committee of the Europe Council MONEYVAL. Now, it will be a question of whether the centralized investment fund being discussed will be a sovereign wealth fund linked to the "central bank" or whether it will be treated as an external fund, as was the initial proposal. Until now, the work done by Archbishop Pena Parra, deputy of the Vatican Secretariat of State, has been to break the old circles of power while maintaining the sovereignty of the Holy See. A clear example was Monsignor Rolandas Makrickas at the helm of the administration of the Secretariat of State. Monsignor Makrickas is the first non-Italian to take up that position and is totally outside of any circuit until now had managed the operations. What future? It is all about understanding what the underlying philosophy of the reforms will be. The reform of the Curia was also born with the idea of ​​reducing staff, and it is no coincidence that a freeze on hiring has been in place since 2014. The Secretariat for the Economy also spoke of flexibility in the remuneration system and of providing more significant opportunities for employees. However, it would be a matter of changing an entire mentality, which is the most complex work. The success of the financial reform of Pope Francis will be played on these issues. Set aside the problematic reform of the administrative ranks, the new investment funds remain the only option. So will there be only one investment fund? By whom or what will it be managed? With what criteria? These are some of the burning questions,. 3- end This is the third of a series of three pieces on Vatican finances. The first piece can be found here. The second piece can be found here.

Vatican Finances, what is going on? Sloane Avenue and more

May 20, 2020 / 00:00 am

The Holy See is reportedly seeking to renegotiate the £120 million loan it used to complete the purchase of property at 60 Sloane Avenue in London. The news appeared in the Corriere della Sera on May 3, 2020, in the economic reports, and sheds new light on the story of the real estate purchased by the Vatican Secretariat of State. That purchase is, in fact, at the center of an intricate Vatican judicial affair, which led to searches in the Secretariat of State and the Vatican Financial Information Authority and the suspension of five Vatican officials, plus another suspended during the investigation. The news is food for thought, and raises some new questions. If the Holy See is trying to renegotiate the mortgage, then the investment was a good investment. If it was a good investment, then the efforts made to preserve it, leaving all the opaque areas (copyright Cardinal Pietro Parolin), were made to protect the Holy See, rather than to put it in a complicated situation. If this reconstruction is accurate, then why the suspensions, which then led to a total change in the leadership of Vatican finance, among other things on the eve of one of the evaluations of the Council of Europe’s MONEYVAL committee? There is still no real clarity on the real estate deal carried out in London by the Secretariat of State now under scrutiny. Why, then, was the director of the Financial Intelligence Authority, Tommaso Di Ruzza, suspended if there was no clarity on charges? And why were both the former AIF chief René Bruelhart and Di Ruzza not confirmed at the end of their mandates, a decision that also led to the resignation of two members of the FIA’s board of directors? The outbreak of the crisis The financial scandal has laid bare an institutional crisis inside the Vatican, which also affects the Secretariat of State. The Secretariat of State has funds abroad and its emergency financial reserve. These are funds belonging to the dicastery, which Cardinal George Pell, then prefect of the Secretariat for Economy, quantified in 2015 at about €1 billion 400 million. Between 2011 and 2012, the First Section of the Secretariat of State of which Monsignor Alberto Perlasca was administrative head starting in 2009, decided to invest in a luxury real estate development in London (the aforementioned property at 60 Sloane Avenue). The 60 SA company managed the property. The Vatican Secretariat of State signed its purchase for $160 million with the Luxembourg-based Athena fund, owned and managed by Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, who acted as an intermediary. When the Athena fund was liquidated, the investment was not returned to the Holy See. The Holy See risked losing all the money if it did not buy the building. Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, deputy of the Secretariat of State since August 2019, saw little clarity in the operation and reported it to the AIF, which  consulted five foreign FIUs and blocked the purchase, communicating the decision to both the English FIU and the Secretariat of State. The problem was this: the purchase of the property is included in a series of corporate schemes and screens that did not make the Vatican appear among the buyers, while the role of the mediator was enhanced.  It was a way, in short, for Mincione to raise the price tag on the deal. The Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority blocked the deal based on the regulation it issued, providing full transparency to those who move money. However, the contract obliged the Secretariat of State to purchase. The AIF restructured the investment, excluding intermediaries and thus making the Holy See save some money. The Secretariat of State, at that point, asked the IOR for resources sufficient to close the old mortgage and allow  the opening of a new one, to conclude the purchase. The IOR said “No,” involved the office of the auditor general led by Alessandro Cassinis Righini on an interim basis, and reported the operation to the Vatican Promoter of Justice, citing the lack of clarity regarding the way the Secretariat of State’s money was being used. The complaint was forwarded on July 2, 2019, by the IOR’s general director, Gianfranco Mammì. Mammì had also directly warned the Pope, with whom he has a personal relationship. On August 8, 2019, the office of the auditor general sent a document to the Vatican prosecutors. The document also noticed that almost 80 percent of the reserves of the Secretariat of State are deposited with Credit Suisse, rather than at the IOR. According to the general auditor, the failure to use the IOR created a conflict of interest. The reason is that the investments employ donations received by the Pope for the sustenance of the Curia. These donations would be used in funds that, in turn, invest in securities that the client is not made aware of, as well as in funds allocated in off-shore countries such as Guernsey and Jersey, where they are exposed to high speculative risk and dubious ethics. The promoter of Justice receivesd the green light directly from the Pope, not passing through the Vatican court. With the collaboration of the Gendarmerie, it launched an operation that led to the ”raids” in the Secretariat of State and Financial Intelligence Authority, and to the suspension of five officials, including Monsignor Mauro Carlino, the former personal secretary of Cardinal Angelo Becciu (substitute of the Secretariat of State from 2011 to 2018) and at the time of arrest at the head of the Information and Documentation Office of the Secretariat of State. The suspension left the suspicion that the investigation did not evaluate all the previous steps and deliberately put aside the AIF’s work in the issue. It also left questions open regarding who might have stood to gain from the real estate sale. The latest developments The news of the search for a new mortgage went hand-in-hand with news that the  London and Kensington municipal councils had granted a new building permit for the estate on Sloan Avenue, which will no longer be destined for luxury apartments, but offices. The building will have two further floors. This allows the Holy See to restructure and renegotiate the conditions for the £120 million mortgage with Cheney Capital. The mortgage had expired on April 30, 2020. It had 5 percent interest plus Libor, an interbank rate. According to the Corriere della Sera, the Holy See aimed to extend the debt to 5-10 years, with interest rates around 2 - 2.5 percent. Alternatively, the Vatican could replace the mortgage with a one from another bank. All so as not to lose the investment, which between 2013 and 2018 took a sum of about €300 million from the Secretariat of State. The people under investigation Five people are under investigation: two managers of the Secretariat of State, Vincenzo Mauriello and Fabrizio Tirabassi; an administration officer, Caterina Sansone; and two senior Vatican leaders: Monsignor Maurizio Carlino, head of the Information and Documentation Office, and the director of the AIF (the Financial Intelligence Authority) Tommaso Di Ruzza. To these was added Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who for ten years had been head of the Administrative Office of the Secretariat of State and who had then been transferred to the Apostolic Signatura. On April 30, 2020, the Holy See Press Office said that “individual measures” were taken “for some employees of the Holy See, at the expiry of those adopted at the beginning of the investigation into financial investments and in the real estate sector of the Secretariat of State.” Practically speaking, they were sacked. Msgr. Carlino returned to the diocese of Lecce, Sansone has been moved to another office with fewer responsibilities, Mauriello and Tirabassi were suspended again until July Di Ruzza was not renewed in his mandate as director of the AIF, which expired in January, after earning praise for the Vatican’s financial structures from international monitoring agencies. None of the people investigated have yet been charged.  The investigation is still in the preliminary phase. Rumors say  Tirabassi has yet to be questioned. The institutional crisis and the players at stake All these details show that we are not talking about a mere financial scandal, but rather a particularly severe institutional crisis. It seems to be an attack on the institution from within the institution. On the one hand, there is the IOR. The Institute for Religious Works recently reformed its statute and has focused heavily on ethical finance. The financial investments of the IOR have always met certain specific criteria, and since the mid-1990s, the Institute has subjected the financial statements to an external review. The IOR balance sheet is not terribly healthy. They range from the profit of €86.6 million declared for 2012 – which quadrupled the earnings of the previous year – to €66.9 million in the 2013 report, to €69.3 million in the 2014 report, to €16.1 million in the 2015 report , to €33 million in the 2016 report and €31.9 million in the 2017 report, to reach €17.5 million this year. This is the fault of market trends, and also of the expensive external consultants who have been brought in to help craft  Institute’s policies. For some time, draws were made on reserves, which gradually dwindled. The IOR could undoubtedly benefit from the obligation to allocate institutional investments to the Institute, which is what is being contested by the Secretariat of State. It should be noted, however, that the latest IOR report certifies that the liquidity deposited by asset management has decreased by €47.3 million. This drop in liquidity, which corresponds to a decline in customers, “is attributable to the withdrawals by some customers for their institutional activities,” explained the general director Gianfranco Mammì. Does this mean that the IOR is no longer considered attractive for institutional activities even by religious congregations? On the other hand, in recent years, the IOR has carried out a series of complaints and trials against former managers, establishing a subcommittee for past offenses closed in 2017 and working to build a narrative based on the idea that the IOR is cleaned up and rejuvenated. There are ongoing or appeal proceedings, which in some cases raise doubts about the very possibility of the people under investigation to carry out operations without the consent of the Institute's top management. One of these proceedings concerns a real estate sale in Hungary through a company based in Malta: the lawyers of the same company have raised the suspicion that the IOR is pursuing the procedure precisely to discredit the work done in the past. Again, justice will take its course. The Financial Intelligence Authority On the other hand, it was thanks to the AIF that Angelo Proietti was sentenced guilty for money laundering and that light was shed on banker Giampietro Nattino, who made himself the screen of the IOR and the APSA. These are cases of which the Institute'’s publicity never speaks. The Financial Intelligence Authority has played a crucial role in developing the international credibility of the Holy See. From joining the Egmont Group, which brings together over 140 intelligence authorities from around the world, to building and strengthening the Vatican’s anti-money laundering system, the Financial Intelligence Authority has been recognized as a reliable partner in both its intelligence and supervisory functions. The latest annual report of the Authority listed 56 memoranda of understanding signed with its counterparts in the field of information and eight memoranda of understanding in its supervisory function. Among these, the Italian Financial Information Unit and the Bank of Italy testify to a well-crafted and well-performing bilateral relationship. Information exchange with Financial Intelligence Units worldwide has also made AIF a privileged interlocutor. The latest report shows that the AIF has exchanged information with foreign FIUs 473 times, while 158 spontaneous communications have been transmitted to foreign Financial Information Units, and 15 have been received. The financial information and money laundering prevention system set up by the AIF, with the series of regulations issued, had given the Holy See the technical requirements for entering the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). This workload is based on relationships of trust characterized by the necessary confidentiality of intelligence, as well as on a well-built and properly functional legal system. The Vatican Tribunal In its latest 2017 progress report, the Council of Europe’s MONEYVAL committee praised both the anti-money laundering system and the establishment of financial crime section in the court, but also said the court needs to conduct more prosecutions. The next Moneyval report will look at how well paper reforms are really being implemented, especially insofar as the tribunal is concernedThe Vatican court has always contested this accusation of ineffectiveness, as well as the idea that the court is the weak link in the system. The day after the news of the searches, the appointment of Giuseppe Pignatone as president of the Vatican Tribunal was announced. Known for his anti-mafia investigations, Pignatone thus goes from being a prosecutor to being a judge. He is retired from the Italian judiciary system, which means he will be able to work full time for the Vatican Tribunal. However, he came into the Vatican with the knowledge of the Italian code, not of the Vatican code. The Vatican took over the Italian 19th-century Zanardelli code, a liberal code adapted to modern times with a reform of Pope Francis in July 2013. It is different from the Rocco code in force in Italy, which was drawn up under fascism and rejected by the Holy See. Before Giuseppe Dalla Torre presided the Vatican tribunal, Dalla Torre is a profound connoisseur of the Vatican particularities in criminal and canon law. Now, the appointment of Pignatone also suggests a loss of the Vatican “exception”, and a State that conforms to Italy goes against the international accreditation work that has been done so far, first with Benedict XVI and then with Pope Francis. What scenarios in the Secretariat of State? Are we going back to the times when the Vatican modeled itself on the Italian State? Maybe it’s too early to draw conclusions. It should be noted that everything began to come to light when Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra began working and reshuffling the ranks of the Vatican Secretariat of State. An Italian had always led the administration of the Secretariat of State. Monsignor Alberto Perlasca led the office for ten years. In 2019, he was appointed Deputy Promoter of Justice at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. The new head of the administration is Monsignor Rolandas Makrickas, a Lithuanian, who recently arrived at the Secretariat of State after serving at the nunciature in  Washington. It is the first time that a non-Italian had led the administration of the Secretariat of State, which already had frictions with the Secretariat for Economy when it seemed the new economy outfit wanted to take control of all the Vatican finances. The risk of returning to old balances seems strong in this moment, the very one in which the Secretariat of State has regained a central role; the Secretariat for the Economy has seen a well-defined separation between supervision and administration with the motu proprio "Temporal goods" of 2016, and the Auditor’s office has been better inserted among the bodies of Curia. The desire for a reversal has been there ever since Benedict XVI initiated the reform process with the Monetary Convention with the European Union of 2009. The IOR’s complaint has exposed an institutional wound that will be difficult to explain internationally. All the credibility and financial strength that the Holy See has acquired in these ten years could be at risk. 2 – continue This is the second of a series of three pieces dedicated to the Vatican finances. The first piece of the series can be found here.

Vatican finances, what is going on? The Malta case

May 19, 2020 / 00:00 am

Attorneys for a Maltese business venture involved in a legal dispute say the so-called Vatican bank’s new management care more about sullying the good names of the old management, than they do about doing good business. That is a serious accusation. The lawyers representing Futura, an investment company with which the Institute for Religious Works had started a deal shortly before the sensational renunciation of Benedict XVI, say the IOR has no interest in maintaining its reputation or defending its investments. Instead, they say the current IOR management are out to cast the previous management in a bad light. The accusation comes directly from Futura’s lawyers. After Pope Francis’ election, everything has changed in the IOR. The Malta trial is only one episode, albeit a revealing one – and this is also the thesis of Futura's lawyers – especially when it comes to the disputes being played out within the Vatican financial institutions. The latest meeting of the heads of dicasteries saw the Vatican big wigs take up – again - the idea of a central fund: a topic already widely discussed in the past. How this fund will be structured – if it will be structured at all – remains to be seen. . Times are bad for Vatican finances, indeed, and as the general worldwide economic outlook continues to be grim, the Vatican’s straits will only become more dire. The Malta case On April 4, Maltese media reported that the Maltese Civil Court had ordered the seizure of €29.5 million from the Institute for Religious Works. It was the latest development in a saga that began in 2013, when the IOR took on an investment obligation with which it then failed to comply, and sued the companies in Malta with which the IOR had entered into the deal. The seizure of the IOR money was the result of a counter-complaint made by the companies involved, which accused the IOR of blocking a sale of shares. Practically speaking, they accused the IOR of interfering in the repayment of a debt. . The way the story has unfolded shows how the Institute for Religious Works has managed investments from 2013 to the present. The investment over which the dispute in Malta arose, was one of the last ordered during Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Subsequently, the top management of the Vatican financial institution changed. The new management adopted a new investment policy. Many of the previous financial transactions have been canceled, sometimes at the expense of substantial penalties, other times incurring unpleasant situations such as that of Malta. The IOR transferred funds and said it did to resort to ethical investments. The general impression is, instead, the IOR wanted to cut the past. Was the IOR’s past so dark, by the way? The complaint against the IOR came from two companies based in Malta: Futura Investment Management Ltd., which manages the Futura collective investment scheme. They are both affiliated with the Optimum fund. Cougar, another of the actors, is a Luxembourg company that has a majority in the Hungarian company "Tozsdepalota Ingatlanforgalmazo es Fejleszto Korlatolt Felelossegu Tarsasag" – TIFKFT. In April 2012, the IOR asked Optimum to "host" the IOR’s Ad Maiora fund. Ad Maiora was a fund of funds, which the IOR used to manage and coordinate a series of investments made with the authorization of the Board of Superintendence. The IOR allegedly failed to invest in the deal, and the €29.5 million seized by Maltese authorities appears to be the amount of the loss. According to the Institute, the committee that led to the investment was deceived by Alberto Matta and Girolamo Stabile, directors of Futura Investment Management, and by Optimum. In 2013, the IOR had decided to invest €41The operation foresaw that the Futura K fund would buy a non-performing loan from the owner of the building of the former Hungarian stock exchange. For those unfamiliar with financial jargon, a non-performing loan is a loan to a debtor with a high insolvency solution. For this reason, the collection of credit is uncertain. That loan was then converted back to 86 percent of shares in the Hungarian company that was renovating the estate. The IOR initially participated with €17 million and an undertaking to contribute to the renovation of the building (valued by a qualified appraisal at the end of 2012 for 40 million) and therefore participated in the profits. In May 2013, the IOR Board of Superintendence decided to close Ad Maiora and manage directly the funds it comprised. In October 2013, the new IOR general director Rolando Marranci decided that the IOR would pay off the K fund with 24 million (17 initials + 24 remaining for a total of 41) would then have managed the operation himself. But the K Fund never received the promised money and asked the IOR to fulfill its undertakings. At that point, the IOR sued the K fund, asking to get back the €17 million. According to the IOR, Futura had made a profit of €11.6 million by first tricking the Vatican into the price and then planning to sell 90 percent of the future shares it held in the company that was renovating the the stock exchange to the Cougar Real Estate in Luxembourg. This was, in turn, owned by a Dubai company. The Vatican’s accusation is that Cougar was used to acquire the €20.4 million loan, bringing the remaining €11.6 million into the coffers of Holdabco and Alpininvestissements, two other minority shareholders. “It is clear,” the IOR’s attorney said, “that the IOR has been abusively caught in a threatening network of suspicious intrigues and transactions.” On November 23, 2019, the IOR learned that Indotek Group Hungary was about to acquire Cougar. The IOR complained that neither Cougar nor Futura provided the IOR with any notification of the transaction, which would have led to the sale of the investment. For its part, Futura sued the IOR, accusing the Vatican outfit of having committed to investing €41 million, but only putting in  €17 million. The IOR would, therefore, be bound to invest the remaining €24 million, as documented in Futura’s commitment letter signed by Director Marranci. The position of the lawyers of Futura and Optimum was detailed in a reply the sent to the Times of Malta on December 14, 2019, following an article about the case. The lawyers say, “Despite IOR’s allegations about a lack of transparency, the details of the transaction were indicated by our clients to IOR before the execution of the investment.”  Futura claims that the IOR and its investment committee had been offered the opportunity to invest €20.4 million directly in a non-performing loan or to wait for the sell out of the building to run its course to recover the full amount of the loan eventually. “This was a risky and reputationally problematic instrument,” the IOR, the lawyers continued, so they decided not to invest in the non-performing loan. “since it deemed that  Instead, the IOR preferred to acquire the asset once it was cleared of risk, that is, when bankruptcy had been deactivated, and then to invest in a cleaned-up asset. This choice, the lawyers argue, required third parties, and, naturally, the price of the asset without debt is much higher than the non-performing loan. According to the Maltese lawyers, “[T]he truth is that IOR defaulted on its undisputable contractual obligations and has been trying in every possible way to find legal ground in order to avoid the inevitable and severe consequences of this.” The lawyers also pointed the finger at the new IOR’s management. They underscored that, after the unexpected renunciation of Benedict XVI, the Institute had experienced a series of changes, with the change of two presidents of the Board of Superintendence from 2013 to today, two general directors and most senior officials, as well as many members of the Cardinals' commission. “New management launched a scathing critique of the previous management of the Institute and, particularly, the former DG Paolo Cipriani and his deputy Massimo Tulli, against whom the IOR has brought legal proceedings before the Vatican Tribunal and in Italy,” the Futura and Optimum lawyers wrote. It is worth mentioning that a Vatican court has sentenced Cipriani and Tulli for mismanagement, and the appeal process is ongoing. The first instance sentence is, however, food for thought. The financial operations of the Institute of Religious Works had also been praised in the first report of MONEYVAL, released in 2012. The same report said that the review of customers had already been started. Cipriani and Tulli resigned in July 2013, to allow the Institute to better defend itself in a process involving an APSA Vatican official. After their resignation, the IOR hired the Promontory Financial Group’s highly expensive external consultants, who completed a review already underway and well advanced. There is more. The last balance sheet signed by the old IOR management, referring to 2012, bore assets of 86.6 million euros, a figure that has not been reached anymore. Many investments have been abandoned. Still, the IOR’s investment procedures required each transaction to be examined by the Investment Committee, where the chairman of the Board of Superintendence sometimes sat. So if the operations were all in surplus, how can the two IOR executives be accused of bad management? And if the higher authorities scrutinized every activity, how could responsibility for any mismanagement fall solely on the two former executives? The statements of Futura’s lawyers thus risk shedding light on the fact that the IOR was unable to maintain the investments of the previous management and that divesting them caused significant damage to several different interests, including the IOR’s own. Everything will have to be demonstrated with the process, but this is indeed the impression one gets from it. Futura’s lawyers went even heavier. “The Institute’s real goal,” they wrote, “is not to protect its investment. On the contrary, our client contends that, through its actions, not least its refusal to honour a €24 million residual capital commitment pivotal in the development of this major real estate project, IOR is consciously putting the Hungarian investment at risk, to strengthen its allegations of mismanagement against Cipriani and Tulli.” They concluded: “It is, to say the least, unfortunate, that our clients have ended up in the crossfire between various factions within IOR, with the Institute blithely unconcerned about the reputation of our clients, the success of its investment and the rights of other third-party investors in the same project, which have nothing to do with the ongoing dispute! [sic]”  These disputes play into and out of  two other cases, which we will also scrutinize in this series of three pieces on Vatican finances. One of the other cases  is the purchase by the Vatican Secretariat of State of a prestigious property on Sloane Avenue in London. This purchase is at the center of a dispute that led to the suspension of five Vatican officials: four of them formerly in Secretariat of State, and one of them at the Financial Intelligence Authority. All of them were removed from their positions  without any formal charges ever being brought against any of them, and indeed before the investigations were even finished. This is a dispute that goes beyond the Institute for Works of Religion and is not only a financial scandal but also an institutional problem. The third case is the discussions around the Vatican investments, which are closely connected with the Malta and Sloane Avenue issues. The Malta, Sloane Avenue, and general administrative matters all point to a single, central issue, which has become even more pressing today in times of economic crisis due to the coronavirus: how does the Vatican support itself? 1 – continue (first of a series of 3 pieces on the Vatican financial situation)

Belgian Brothers of Charity fight for their name after CDF decision

May 8, 2020 / 13:00 pm

After the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that the hospitals of the Brothers of Charity in Belgium can no longer be considered as Catholic, the religious order is seeking to prevent the hospital network from using its name.

Is Pope Francis setting up the next Conclave?

May 6, 2020 / 00:00 am

At the end of the last week, Pope Francis elevated cardinals Luis Antonio Tagle and Beniamino Stella to the Order of Cardinal Bishops – the highest rank of dignity within the College of Cardinals – putting them on par with the Cardinals eligible for the office of Dean of the College. He also appointed the archbishop Ilson Montanari as vice Camerlengo. These decisions could have an impact on the next conclave. Pope Francis, however, is not likely to set up the election of his successor according to traditional criteria. Cardinal Tagle is widely considered to be among the  papabili. Many observers saw Pope Francis’ decision to tap him for the top spot at the the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples as a sort of investiture. Pope Francis now decided to “co-opt” Cardinal Tagle – a technical term - into the order of Cardinal-bishops. With some exceptions, Cardinals are all archbishops, and  are divided into three Orders, lowest to highest: Cardinal Deacons, CardinalPriests, and Cardinal Bishops. These three orders mirror the duties that Cardinal had in the ancient Church. Cardinal Bishops were the leaders of Rome’s suburbicarian dioceses (the jurisdictions immediately surrounding Rome): Ostia – which has gone to the Dean of the College of Cardinals for nearly a thousand years; Palestrina; Albano; Velletri-Segni; Porto-Santa Rufina; Tusculum (Frascati); Sabina-Poggio Mirteto). The Dean of the College of Cardinals is elected from among the Cardinal Bishops. The suburbicarian dioceses are seven and Cardinals-bishops are six, since the Dean joins his title to that of Ostia. The Dean of the College of Cardinals is essential. When the See of Rome is vacant, the Dean of the College leads the pre-conclave meetings and then the Conclave itself. If the Dean is older than 80 and therefore excluded from participation, the vice Dean will lead the Conclave. If the vice Dean is older than 80, the senior Cardinal Bishop will lead the Conclave. This happened in 2013 conclave: both the Dean – Cardinal Angelo Sodano – and the vice Dean – Cardinal Roger Etchegaray – were beyond 80 and unable to participate. The expansion of the order of Cardinal Bishops was already under discussion. Since Cardinals are living longer, a Conclave without any Cardinal Bishop is not beyond the realm of possibility. There was talk of creating the office of the Cardinal Bishop-emeritus in order to resolve the issue. Since Cardinal Bishops had been, until Paul VI’s reform, the bishops of the suburbicarian diocese, they could be considered emeritus when they turned 75, as the regular bishops. Following this rationale, the Pope could even double the number of Cardinal Bishops in the College of Cardinals without untethering them from their traditional link with the diocese of Rome. Pope Francis opted for a different way. He elevated some Cardinals in rank and put their titular sees on par with those of the Cardinal Bishops. The Pope did so also with Cardinal Tagle. This looked to many observers like further confirmation of Francis’s preference for Cardinal Tagle as his successor. It need not necessarily be taken that way, though. Among the new Cardinals co-opted into the ranks of the Cardinal Bishops in June 2018, there was also Cardinal Fernando Filoni, then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Pope Francis likely thought that the Congregation must be led by a Cardinal Bishop, considering that Propaganda Fide is going to be the first among Curia dicasteries in the new disposition. For this reason, the Pope wanted to add Cardinal Tagle among the Cardinal Bishops – and it is almost entirely a functional rationale, which also gives a glimpse of the lines along which the Curia reform has been thought out. Cardinal Beniamino Stella got the rank of Cardinal-bishop differently: he was assigned the See of Porto-Santa Rufina, which belonged to Cardinal Roger Etchegaray until the Frenchman passed away in September 2019. Cardinal Stella thus traditionally joins the order of Cardinal Bishops. His elevation in rank is also a particular sign of appreciation by Pope Francis. Cardinal Stella is considered one of the most influential of Pope Francis’s advisers. Pope Francis’s pick for the vice Camerlengo is surprising. The Pope appointed Archbishop Ilson Montanari for the post. Archbishop Montanari is the Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops, be he is also the Secretary of the Conclave. So, in case of a conclave, some issues might arise. The Camerlengo chairs the Apostolic Camera – Chamber – and manages the Church’s temporal goods during sede vacante. The Camerlengo is a Cardinal, and so he takes part in the Conclave. During that period, he cannot lead the Apostolic Camera. During the Conclave, the vice Camerlengo takes over the responsibility of the management of the temporal goods. In this particular case, the vice Camerlengo will be in the Conclave, too. So, who will lead the Apostolic Camera during the Conclave? It is not a minor detail, and the fact that it appears to have been overlooked is possibly revealing: Pope Francis, in the end, appoints the people he trusts. Practical-institutional issues can be addressed afterward. Pope Francis, in other words, does not think of the institution per se. He mostly thinks of an institution as tied to its leader and an extension of the leader’s personality. Pope Francis therefore often seems to understand his role as that of the guarantor of the institution thus conceived. He articulated this vision somewhat painstakingly, when he outlined his reform vision in his Christmas addresses to the Roman Curia. He did so when he opened the Vatican judicial year, despite investigations into the Financial Intelligence Authority and Secretariat of State. He also did so again, when he decided to fire all the people involved in the FIA/State investigation, though there were still no judgments or even formal charges against the people he dismissed. Pope Francis has no filters, and he likes to make decisions himself. It is unlikely that the Pope wants to design a successor. He knows that the Church has no dynasties and that he cannot be sure that everything will go according to his plans. The Pope’s most trusted circles are not among cardinals. Those who are, must rely on a more prominent structure and an institution that goes beyond centuries. Pope Francis’s strategy cannot be, in the end, that of designating a successor or burning an enemy. Rather, Francis instead aims at expanding the electoral base. The more cardinals of his line there are, the more likely it is that his legacy will be carried forward. Pope Francis’s legacy, by the way, is political and geopolitical: mostly based on practical issues. Francis’s guiding rationale is that the Pope can be an influential guarantor able to give voice to the poor and the marginalized. The Pope dialogues with governments and seeks to create new political and economic models. This is not a papacy that inspires ideas, nor is it an institution capable of providing frameworks beyond the practical issues. A little hint of this rationale came at the end of Pope Francis’ Urbi et orbi Easter message. The Pope concluded the message saying, off script: “These are some thoughts of mine that I wanted to share.” This sentence somehow de-institutionalized that moment. With Pope Francis, the institution is dismantled to change its profile. Pope Francis often spoke about the need for a conversion of the souls. This is how he pushes for the conversion: to dismantle to rebuild, or at least to leave the reconstruction to people he trusts. From this perspective, the choice to co-opt Cardinal Tagle in the Order of Cardinal Bishops does not mean that the Pope is setting up Tagle as a candidate for his succession, nor that the Pope is burning his eventual candidacy. It merely means that the Pope is shaping the institution his way. There is no history or tradition to be preserved. There is instead a new Church to be created in the Pope’s image. This is how the next Conclave is being set up: It will be a different kind of Conclave, in which none of the traditional keys to understanding papal electoral dynamics will be valid. The issue must be furtherly explored.

Coronavirus, how much money did the Vatican lose?

May 5, 2020 / 00:00 am

As governments around the world work to assess and contain the effect of the coronavirus emergency on the economy and state finances, the Vatican is further tightening its belt. The Vatican City State administration addressed a circular letter on April 8 to all the Vatican entities and departments. Protocolled AS / 06062 / 2020, the letter presented stringent expense-containment measures. However, this letter was not actually delivered. The Vatican City State administration then delivered another letter on Apr. 17, which confirmed the stringent expenses-containment measures. This second letter was Protocolled AS / 06215 / 2020. The Vatican City State Administration asked for “a drastic cut in the expenses for consultancies” and for the “suspension, whenever possible, of fixed-term contracts.” Internally, the administration already has a “freeze on hiring and promotions” in place, and requires that “no overtime work” be justified, “except for unavoidable institutional reasons, which must then be absorbed with the flexibility of work time and shifts.” The Vatican City State also asks its departments to let employees enjoy their remaining vacation days and take days off to recuperate the extra time (in lieu of overtime pay). Finally, the circular asks to cancel all the events already scheduled in 2020, included work-related trips and travel, and to freeze all planned purchases of new office furniture. “The current COVID 19 health emergency is having serious repercussions on a global level, the circular reads, “and in the upcoming times it will have even more repercussions on the Holy See / Vatican City State economic/financial situation.” “The superiors of the Holy See and the Vatican City State administration,” the letter continues, “are well aware that the full restoration of the activities will not take place in a short time, nor for the entities of the Roman Curia and neither for the directions/offices of the administration.” The letter also underscores that the Vatican would continue to pay salaries and is not going to fire anyone. The drastic economic measures are also intended to contain the impact of the decision to cut rents to the shops currently in Vatican buildings. The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) took the decision. The APSA is in charge of the management of the Holy See real estate. In particular, the APSA administers 2,400 flats and about 600 offices and commercial premises. The overall value of the Holy See real estate is estimated to be between 2 and 3 billion euro. The coronavirus crisis is strongly impacting the financial resources of the church: the general suspension of public Masses has caused massive economic loss for parishes everywhere. The crisis is also taking an economic toll on the Holy See and the Vatican City State, with the Peter’s Pence collection postponed to October 4 and the extraordinary collection for the Holy Land postponed to September 13. Vatican City is the smallest State in the world. Vatican City has no GDP. All its economic activities are intended to support the life of the State and the activities of the Holy See. Vatican employees are about 5,000, split between the Vatican City State administration and the Holy See. They all get a salary, generally modest. The Vatican City system provides rent-controlled housing, as well as a tax-free supermarket, shopping mall, and gas stations. The economic activity includes investments in real estate and some financial operations, to generate revenues and help the Holy See to carry forward its initiatives. The coronavirus crisis will likely push the Vatican to review its investment policies to face the money loss. It is tough to estimate from the outside how much the coronavirus emergency has cost the Vatican. Basing on some open data, it is likely that the Holy See / Vatican City State lost some 25 million euros (about 27 million dollars).  Most of this money is the missed revenues from the Vatican Museums. The Vatican also cut the rents of commercial activities in Vatican buildings. It is already time for a robust spending review in the Vatican. The Vatican Museums have been closed since March 9. The Vatican is thinking about reopening the Museums, though with restricted access and enhanced health security measures. The reopening of Vatican Museums was one of the topics of the extraordinary meeting the Cardinal Secretary of  State, Pietro Parolin, held with the heads of Vatican dicasteries on April 22.  It is complicated to assess the precise impact of the Vatican Museums on the Vatican  City State balance sheet. The latest balance sheet was published in 2017 and referred to 2015. The balance sheet was not formally approved by the Pope, who only “inspected” the document. As usual, the balance sheet was split into that of the Holy See and that of the Vatican City administration. The balance sheet of the Holy See refers to the activities and expenses of the Roman Curia. Vatican City’s balance sheet relates to the activities of the small Vatican territory, including the Vatican mall and supermarket, the Post Office, and the Vatican Museums. As of 2015, the balance sheet of the Holy See had a €12.4 million deficit, while the balance sheet of Vatican City had €59.9 million in profits. According to a Vatican press release, the Museums generated the majority of the gains. The release did not specify how much was the impact of the Vatican Museums in the Vatican City administration. An approximate calculation based on the number of tickets sold suggests that the Vatican Museums bring some €101 million into the Vatican’s coffers each year ($109.5 million). Two months of missed revenues amount to approximately €16,940,000. However, this number does not take into account the profits generated by the Vatican Museums shops and by individual tours. The loss is pretty high, considering that the employees keep getting their salaries. For this reason, the Vatican City State administration initiated a drastic spending review. Following the restrictions of the Italian government to counter the coronavirus pandemic, the commercial activities have been shut down, and so they have had virtually no income during the last two months. The APSA decided that, during March and April, the tenants in the commercial premises will have to pay just one-fourth of their rent. The second fourth of the rent is due within a year. The other half have been waived: one-fourth was waived by the Pope and another by the APSA. It seems that the APSA will likely prolong the provision since the shutdown of many shops will last at least for another few weeks. It is yet to be assessed how much the crisis will impact donations to Peter’s Pence and the Papal Almoner. Peter’s Pence is collected every year, usually on the Feast of St. Peter and Paul (June 29). There are no recent official figures for the amount of the collection. According to the Wall Street Journal, as of 2018, the Peter’s Pence amounted to €50 million. The Holy See can also count on the profits of the Institute for the Works of Religion – IOR – the so-called Vatican bank. IOR profits in 2018 were €17.5 million, about half of the earnings of the previous year. The negative trend of the IOR profits has been lasting for seven years now: in 2012, benefits were €86.6 million; in 2013, €66.9; in 2014, €69.3 million; in 2015, €16.1 million; in 2016, €33 million;  and in 2017, €31.9  million. If the negative trend continues, it is unlikely the Holy See will be able to look to financial investments to fill the holes this crisis is opening. 

Pandemic shows that our health comes before the economy, says archbishop

Apr 30, 2020 / 09:30 am

The coronavirus pandemic is telling us that “our health counts more than the economy’s health and that true human fraternity is more valuable and noble than diplomatic success,” a Taiwanese archbishop has said.

The image of the Divine Mercy was exposed for the first time 85 years ago. In Vilnius

Apr 25, 2020 / 00:00 am

Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is situated at the geographic center of Europe. The Gate of Dawn is one of the entrance doors of the city, where there is a chapel  dedicated to our  Lady of Mercy. It was in that chapel that the image of Divine Mercy was exposed for the first time, 85 years ago. Not many people know that it was in Vilnius St. Faustina Kowalska - the Polish nun to whom Jesus gave the work of spreading devotion to His Deivine Mercy – fulfilled the wish of Our Lord to paint the image that has become known the world over. Jesus had asked her to do that in Plock, according to Sr. Faustina diaries.  The image was exposed for the first time at the Gate of Dawn from Apr. 26-28, 1935. The image of Vilnius is slightly different from the picture we all got to know. The famous image of the Divine Mercy is a replica by the Polish painter Adolf Hyla, an ex-voto he made to thank Jesus he was still alive after the Second World War. Hyla's image has some characters slightly different from the original one. But spread because the original image was believed lost. The story of the image of the Divine Mercy is fascinating and full of turns of events. Archbishop Grusas of Vilnius says: “For a long time, the Lithuanian people themselves did not know much about this picture. Because of the difficult geopolitical circumstances, the world has not known for a long time either of the first picture of the Divine Mercy.” Since 2005, the painting has been in a chapel expressly dedicated to the Divine Mercy, with perpetual Eucharistic adoration. “Since the image was transferred there,” Archbishop Grusas adds, “more and more people are discovering and deeply understanding the Mercy of God, especially in Lithuania.” Why was the image of the Divine Mercy painted in Vilnius? Sr. Faustina joined the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw in 1926. In April 1929, her superiors sent her to a convent in Vilnius, which was then part of Poland. One year after her return from Vilnius, she was transferred to the convent in Plock, where she stayed from 1930 to 1933. In 1933, after she took perpetual vows, she was again transferred to Vilnius. There she met Fr. Michael Sopocko, her confessor. She reported to him the visions and the conversations she had with Jesus. She told him that Jesus had asked her to craft an image of His Divine Mercy. Fr. Sopocko took her to the studio of the painter Eugeniusz Kazimierowski. Although an Atheist, Kazimierowski accepted the commission.  It was 1934. Kazimierowski's studio was not far from Sr. Faustina’s convent. She went  every day to his studio; she checked and oversaw every small detail of the painting. She wanted to make sure that the picture fully matched the indications Jesus gave her. Kazimierowski finished the painting in 1935. The first exposition took place at the  Gate of Dawn, whose chapel had been dedicated to Mary, Mother of Mercy, 400 years earlier. For three days, on Apr. 26, 27, and 28, the painting was hung on display in the chapel, and people venerated it. It was a crucial moment: the beginning of the Divine Mercy devotion as we know it today. More importantly, it took place on the first Sunday after Easter, the very same liturgical moment of the year that St. John Paul II officially set as Divine Mercy Sunday. In his memoirs, Fr. Sopocko shared a recollection: “During the Holy Week of 1935 Sr. Faustina said to me that the Lord Jesus demanded that I place the picture in the Gate of Dawn for three days where the triduum at the end of the jubilee of Redemption was to be held.” “The triduum,” Fr. Sopocko continued, “was planned on the same days as the coveted feast of Mercy. Soon I learnt that the said triduum was going to be held indeed and the parish priest of the Gate of Dawn asked me to say the sermon. I agreed, on condition that the picture would be placed as a decoration in the window of the cloister where the picture looked impressive and attracted more attention than the picture of Our Lady.” In her  Diary, Sr. Faustina wrote: “On Friday, when I was at the Gate of Dawn to attend the ceremony during which the image was displayed, I heard a sermon given by my confessor Father Sopocko. This sermon about divine Mercy was the first of the things that Jesus had asked for so very long ago. When he began to speak about the great mercy of the Lord, the image came alive, and the rays pierced the hearts of the people gathered there. Great joy filled my soul to see the grace of God.” Things quickly became more difficult. In 1936, Sr. Faustina had to return to Poland. At first, she went to Walendow, south-east of Warsaw. After she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, she was sent to the sanatorium in Pradnik. Krakow. She died in 1938. The image of the Divine Mercy stayed in Lithuania, hidden in the church of St. Michael, where Fr. Sopocko was pastor. The outbreak of the Second World War battered Lithuania. In 1939, Soviet troops invaded the Baltic state and began the process of imposing official Atheism: shutdown of seminaries, the prohibition of teaching religion, seizing of ecclesiastical goods, and the abolition of the State – Church agreement all came in fairly short order. Nazi Germany occupied Lithuania in 1941, and in 1944 the Soviet Union occupied the country again. After the war, Lithuania remained a Soviet satellite. In 1948, the communist authorities decided to turn the church of St. Michael into an architectural museum. The church was closed then, and all the decorations and furnishings of the church sold, except the image of the Divine Mercy. The painting remained hanging for three years on a wall of the former church of St. Michael, until two women in 1951 decided the picture was not safe, and carried it away. They bribed the custodian with a little money and a bottle of vodka, and carried the painting off, leaving the frame. They  took only the canvas, wrapped with care, and they hid it in an old cellar at a friend’s house. The women were eventually deported to Siberia, while the canvas, after some years – it’s not clear exactly how many - was brought to the church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius. When the women were given amnesty and allowed to return from their Siberian exile, they went back to Vilnius to recover the image. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk has been among those who worked to bring back the painting to Vilnius. Speaking with Catholic News Agency, he recounts:, “In 1956, after five years of imprisonment, Fr. Jozef Grasewicz began searching for the image. He was a great worshiper of the Divine Mercy and a friend of Fr. Sopocko. One day, he visited his friend Fr. Jan Ellert in the church of the Holy Spirit. There, he saw the image, and he asked Fr. Ellert to give it to his parish of St. George  in Nowa Ruda, Belarus. Fr. Ellert agreed. The image was then transferred to Nowa Ruda, hanged very high.” Fr. Grasewicz had to leave Nowa Ruda in 1957, and Fr. Feliks Soroko administered the parish for a while, until he was transferred to Odelsk. Nowa Ruda was then without a priest, though the people kept on going to church to pray. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz also explained what happened when the Soviets turned the church into a storage facility: “In 1970, the Soviet authorities closed the church of Nowa Ruda and turned it into a warehouse. All the furnishings of the church were moved to another church, but the image of the Merciful Jesus. It seems there was not a ladder long enough to get to it.” The painting stayed then, abandoned in the church. Fr. Spocoko died in 1975, without knowing what had become of the picture. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz served as vicar of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius between 1981 and 1986. “Fr. Grasewicz was in the meantime appointed parish priest of St. Anthony and the Epiphany in Kamlonka, Belarus,” he recalled. “In 1982, [Fr Grasewicz] proposed to move the image of the merciful Jesus to the Gate of Dawn.” The current archbishop of Minsk tells the he "gave the opinion that it was impossible to display the image in the chapel because the walls of the chapel are filled with votive offerings." Archbishop Kondrusiewicz then suggested moving the image into the church of the Holy Spirit. Fr. Grasewicz agreed, and so did Fr. Alexander Kaszkiewicz, who was then pastor of Holy Spirit. The image was moved back to Vilnius during the night – a night in November of 1986. A replica was set to replace the image in the parish in Nowa  Ruda. The image stayed in the church of the Holy Spirit until 2005, when it was moved to the church of the Holy Trinity, which is now the shrine of the Divine . This year, therefore, also marks the 15th anniversary of the Divine Mercy’s translation to its home in Vilnius. 2020 can be considered a Year of Divine Mercy, then, since there are many important anniversaries to be celebrated. The 20th anniversary of Sr. Faustina’s canonization will be celebrated on Apr. 30. Sr. Faustina Kowalska entered the Congregation of the Blessed Mary of Mercy 95 years ago, on Aug. 1. On Aug. 25, it will be the 115th anniversary of the birth of St. Faustina, and, on Aug. 27, the 115th anniversary of her baptism. The 85th anniversary of the revelation of the words of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy will be celebrated Sept. 13-14. The original image of the Divine Mercy has a particularity: its face matches the face of the man of the Shroud, but also with the Sudarium of Oviedo and the Holy Face in Manoppello. All of these images are different, made differently, and still they match: a miracle within a miracle. Through all these vicissitudes, one message comes through clearly: Europe will be saved only if Christ and his mercy will be at its center.  

Pope Francis: the Latin American model as a way out of the coronavirus crisis

Apr 21, 2020 / 00:00 am

Pope Francis’s Letter to Popular Movements on Easter Sunday epitomizes his social thought, which is deeply rooted in the Latin American mentality and culture. Pope Francis’s responses to social problems are born out of the experiences of the Latin American peoples. The question that lies beneath is whether those experiences might be applied globally. The Latin American angle is often underestimated when it comes to interpreting Pope Francis’s moves. It is a crucial key, however, to understanding the Pontificate. Pope Francis is Jesuit, Argentinian and Latin American. We cannot separate these three identities. The outcomes of the Special Synod on the Amazon made Pope Francis’s identity evident. As a Jesuit, Pope Francis did not promote doctrinal changes. He believes in the Church as a holy hierarchical mother. As an Argentinian, he is not anti-Roman, as one might think. At the same time, he is proud of his origins and his people. For this reason, Pope Francis instinctively distrusts every form of colonialism. Finally, as a Latin American, Pope Francis believes in the people and their just claims. The Latin American peoples feel oppressed and colonized, and still hold to Simon Bolivar's dream of becoming a united continent. The popular movements are the expression of the pueblo (people) that keeps working, though oppressed and at the margin of the history. To Pope Francis, the people is the real soul of society. For this reason, every Pope Francis’s action leans toward the people. The notion of the pueblo contrasts with the idea of a cold government, detached from the people and careless of poverty and social imbalances. Pope Francis calls this way of governing “technocracy” – that is , a government that does not put the human being at the center, but technical know-how apt to achieve goals determined by a calculus that discounts the people both individually and corporately. Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in veritate also spoke about the risks of technocracy. Pope Francis focuses almost exclusively on one single part of technocracy: the socio-economic aspect. The Social Teaching of the Church has a broader view of technocracy. According to the Social Teaching of the Church, technocracy begins with a de-humanization that leads to the manipulation of the human being. The socio-economic paradigm is part of this vision. All of these details are keys to understanding why Pope Francis thought to write to the popular movement at Easter. In the end, Pope Francis wanted to indicate a pattern for a social renaissance for the world after the COVID 19 pandemic. On Apr. 3, Pope Francis dedicated his daily Mass to those who are “already working for after.” Pope Francis said: “There are people who are now thinking about [what comes] after the pandemic, about all the troubles to follow. There will be issues of poverty, unemployment, of hunger. Let us pray for all those who are helping now but are thinking about tomorrow, to help all of us.”  Those words have probably been the first clue to Pope Francis’s reflection. To Pope Francis, the current crisis is also an occasion to reshape the economic system. Since the beginning of the Pontificate, he made several references to the “economic system that kills.” The attacks on the financial system were later developed in his encyclical Laudato si’, and in the three speeches that he delivered during his meetings with the Popular Movements: two in Rome and one in Santa Cruz (Bolivia).  One can also speculate there is a fundamental rationale. Pope Francis read his election as the vindication of Latin America, even as he reads the current crisis as making room for the social vindication Latin America has been  so long expecting. Pope Francis wants to extend this social vindication to the whole world, since he considers the world imbalances and inequalities a global issue.  This is the background behind Pope Francis’s decision to address a letter to popular movements. The message was published, translated in several languages, on the websites of the popular movements. It bears all Pope Francis’s sympathy for a world of thought and action that has always been there, beneath the surface, and that has always been on the side of the poor.  The Latin American Church is, in the end, a political Church. It lives in a social context different from the European or generally Western one. In Latin America, institutions are considered oppressors, and the people are the oppressed. The claim of the right of the three Ts: (Tierra, Techo, Trabajo: land, shelter, work) is a response to oppression. Equal dignity for everyone is based on something very concrete; it cannot be ideal or based on abstract principles.   According to this perspective, the State must take care of the people, and the people must claim their rights. The market marginalizes the people, and the people cannot compete. In the latter, Pope Francis even justifies “the rage and powerlessness at the sight of persistent inequalities,” and shows appreciation for the movements that are keeping up their work.  The technocratic paradigm is mostly a socio-political problem for Pope Francis, one he sees from a very pragmatic perspective. It is not a general push to consider the human being as an object in a world where the technology rules. To Pope Francis, technocracy is just any ideology that puts the State or the market at the center. Pope Francis writes, then, “Tthe technocratic paradigms (whether state-centered or market-driven) are not enough to address this crisis or the other great problems affecting humankind. Now more than ever, persons, communities, and peoples must be put at the center, united in healing, to care, and to share.” From this perspective, it also becomes clear the Pope Francis' request “to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out. It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights.” In the end, Pope Francis’s project for integral human development is driven by one desire or goal: the redemption of the people. The perspective must be reversed: the institution must be placed at the service of the people, and not the people at the service of the institutions. Whatever that is, it is not a socialist perspective: Pope Francis tries to give pragmatic responses to practical issues; that’s the Latin American way. Here lies a crucial key to understanding Francis’s pontificate. Pope Francis does not concern himself with doctrinal issues simply because those issues are far from the people. To Pope Francis, it is essential above all to approach people. The pragmatic solution comes first. Pope Francis does not care about history because, to him, the urgent matters come first. History is not important. The reaction to issues is important. This is what the Pope means when he mocks the rhetoric of “we have always done it this way”. Pope Francis is not a Pope that looks at the institutions because institutions have betrayed the people. In Latin America, the people and the great leaders shape the institutions and not vice-versa. For this reason, the institutional side will never be fully developed during this Pontificate, not even in Curial reform. This Pope will always be the one who shapes this institution, not vice versa. Francis is not a Pope who looks at the problems of the world with the perspective of a long term ideal. He looks at the issues of the world with the view of the people. As a man of the people, he looks for concrete and fairly ready solutions. The marginalized ones must be re-included in society, and this must be the institution’s task at any cost. For all of these reasons, we cannot expect revolutions on doctrinal issues. Pope Francis applies a different point of view. Between the marginalized people and the institutions, he instinctively is on the side of the marginalized. Now that history is at the crossroads, Pope Francis thought it was time to grab the momentum for the redemption of the marginalized. Or at least, to try for it. Pope Francis’s message to popular movements is, in the end,  a message. However, the message was sent on Easter Sunday. That must carry some weight of meaning. Reading between the lines, Pope Francis is celebrating the resurrection of the people. That people that, according to Pope Francis, can never fail. This is the reason why Pope Francis cannot look to any other way out of the coronavirus crisis but the Latin American way. Pope Francis universalizes, in fact, the sentiment of the Latin American continent. Following Simon Bolivar and Methol Ferré's ideas, Pope Francis aims at a Latin American continent united and strong, a new guiding light in the world. The letter to the popular movements provides another clue to the contents of this vision.

Lithuania, the "map of light" against coronavirus from the shrine of Siluva

Apr 19, 2020 / 00:00 am

We’ve become way too familiar with the maps, whose spots mark the places where the COVID-19 pandemic has struck. The shrine of Siluva, in Lithuania, launched a counter initiative: the “Map of Light”, where every spot marks a place where people prayed to God to end the pandemic. The apparition of the Virgin in Siluva is one of the first Marian apparitions in Europe, if not the first one. The Virgin of Siluva is venerated with the title of Health of the Sick. The Map of Light initiative started as an invitation to multiply prayers, and is now become  a charity initiative. Bishop Algirdas Jurevicius, the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese of Kaunas (where the shrine is located), stressed that “this project aims to help the people of the world to participate as much as possible in the prayer of intercession for those who are affected by the coronavirus pandemic and to provide the opportunity to support them with a donation.” The goal of the initiative is “to spread the message of hope that together we can counterbalance the statistics of infections and deaths with the statistics of prayer, support, unity, and light,” said Bishop Jurevicius.  “Starting Apr. 8,” he added, “the project is expanded by inviting people from all over the world to join in the prayer and contribute with a donation to help those who are suffering the consequences of the pandemic.”  The shrine invites people to join in praying the rosary and symbolically light a candle on the map, which can be found here.  The bishop added that “those who wish are also invited to contribute their donations to Caritas or another organization in their country that cares for people who are most affected by the pandemic.”  At press time, there were 3,393 lights of prayer lit. Among them, four prayers from Israel, one from Turkey and even one from Kenya. The donations currently amount to about €13,300 , roughly $14,500.  The apparition of the Virgin Mary to Siluva has been one of the first apparitions of Mary recognized in Europe. The apparition took place in 1608, at the end of a century of religious turmoil. During that period, Lithuania had become a Protestant country.  Siluva is a shrine where people go to pray for healings, for the fixing of family issues or the conversion of sons and spouses, as happens in the more famous Marian shrines at Lourdes and Fatima. The only difference is that Siluva is much older than either Lourdes or Fatima. Devotion to Mary helped Lithuania to overcome the Protestant period, but it was also a sort of “lifeline to faith” during the Nazi and Soviet occupations.  The Popes recognized the importance of Siluva. St. John Paul II included a visit to Siluva during his trip to the Baltic States in 1993. Benedict XVI blessed new golden crowns for a miraculous painting of the Madonna and Child in Siluva.  Marian veneration in Siluva dates back to the beginning of Christianity in Lithuania. In 1387, Grand Duke Jogaila converted to Catholicism, was baptized, and spread the Catholic faith in the country. Among his successors, Vytautas the Great particularly distinguished in the spread of Catholic faith. The church in Siluva was built during Vytautas the Great rule in 1457. The church was dedicated to Mary, and soon became a reference point for the people nearby. In 1517, the Protestant Reformation spread in Lithuania quickly and powerfully. Churches were confiscated. The owner of the church of Siluva converted to Lutheranism in 1532. A parish priest hid the documents about the foundation of the church and sacred items in an iron box and buried it, to avoid profanations. In 1555, Calvinists took over and replaced the Lutherans. The Calvinists shut down the Siluva’s church and send the clergy in exile. The church was left unused until the end of the 16th century, and later torn down. A period of religious confusion followed. The Calvinists leaned toward a form of Arianism that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. Many nobles found that drift unacceptable. As a consequence, Protestantism lost traction. On the other hand, a bunch of Jesuit missionaries who just got to those lands gave strength to Catholics to fight and win back their churches. This was the period right after the Council of Trent, which took place between 1545 and 1563 as a response to the Protestant reformation. This is the context of the apparition of the Virgin in Siluva in 1608. The first account of the apparition dates back to 1651. The report says that some shepherds who were grazing their flock in the territory where the church used to stand. There they saw, on the top of a large stone, a young woman with a beautiful head of hair, who was crying while holding a baby in her arms. The shepherds alerted the Calvinist catechist of Siluva, who went to the place of the apparition along with the rector of the local seminary. Both the catechist and the rector saw the young woman and asked her why she was weeping. “I weep,” the woman said, “because the people used to worship my Son in this place, but now they just plow and sow.” She then disappeared. The news of the apparition quickly spread. The bishop sent an envoy to investigate the issue. The envoy also looked for the exact place where the ancient church was built, and for the documents of its foundation. There was only one man who still knew where the iron box with the documents was buried. By the way, that man was old and blind. He was brought to the place of the apparition, and there he miraculously regained his sight and was able to indicate the exact location where the documents were. Thanks to these documents, the Catholic church could initiate and eventually win a lawsuit to regain its lands in Siluva. A chapel was built on the place of the apparition, while the church was rebuilt in the same place as the old one. The new church promptly attracted many pilgrims, which was unusual, since it was still a Protestant territory. The pilgrims were so many that in 1677 there were 12 priests taking care of them in Siluva. The church was rebuilt in late-Baroque style between 1760 and 1773. It has been a minor basilica since 1974, when  St. Paul VI  decided to elevate it to that status. On the stone of the apparition, there is the chapel of Our Lady Health of the Sick. The chapel is shaped as a 144,3 -foot tall tower. The construction of the tower began at the beginning of the 20th century, intended to be the commemoration of the 3rd centenary of the apparition. However, the chapel was completed only after the First World War, in 1924. The painting of Our Lady with the Child Jesus is quite recent. For years, it was thought that the picture was one of the remnants of the 15th-century church. It turned out it was painted in the 17th  century by a local artist. The painting is a copy of the icon Maria Salus Populi Romani (Mary, the Salvation of the Roman People), worshipped in the St. Mary the Major Basilica in Rome. For most of the year, the painting is covered by a golden and silver cover, except for the faces and the hands of Mary and Jesus. In the 18th century, the Holy See granted permission to crown Siluva’s painting solemnly. Before the coronation, bishop Steponas Giedraitis established a commission to investigate the apparition and the miracles that took place thanks to the intercession of the Virgin of Siluva. The bishop concluded that “since 1622, the Eternal and Omnipotent God, through graces granted, really wanted to operate miracles through that painting of the noblest Virgin Mary of Siluva.” The celebration of the coronation took place on Sep. 8, 1786, in the day of the liturgical feast of the shrine, and about 30,000 people took part in the celebration. The first century of the coronation was celebrated in 1886 and attracted some 40,000 people. The number is noteworthy since Lithuania had been annexed to the Czarist Russia in 1796, and Russian authority made every effort to prevent people from going to the shrine. When Lithuania gained independence between the two world wars, Siluva became the destination for some 150,00 pilgrims, who gathered there mostly during the octave of the feast of the Nativity of Mary. The pilgrimages also continued during the Soviet domination, although the Communist authorities closed the streets that led to the city and even sent people in exile or to prison when caught taking part in religious processions. Despite being the first Marian apparition recognized in Europe, the Virgin of Siluva’s characteristic is that her message was directed to non-Catholic Christians. Through her, the followers of the Protestant Reformation were called to return to the Church founded by Jesus Christ. This is the history that stands in the background of the prayer initiative launched from the Shrine of Siluva. So, we can shine a light for the most ancient Marian apparition in Europe and pray for the end of the pandemic. We are trusting that Mary Health of the Sick will hear our prayer.

Vatican's revamped financial watchdog: where it's come from and what's in store

Apr 16, 2020 / 00:00 am

The appointment of  a new director of the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) moves the Vatican path toward financial transparency toward a fourth season. Giuseppe Schlitzer, the new director of the Vatican financial monitoring outfit. Schlitzer replaces Tommaso Di  Ruzza, who served as director from 2015 to 2020 and worled in the AIF ranks since 2011, coming from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Di Ruzza's mandate expired on Jan. 20 and was not renewed. Di Ruzza was suspended from service  in November of last year, following an investigation into the purchase of  luxury real estate in London by the Secretariat of State. Along with Giuseppe Schlitzer, the AIF got a deputy director, Federico Antellini Russo. If the appointment of Schlitzer from outside the Vatican ranks might give the impression the Vatican authorities have felt the need for change and fresh blood, the appointment of Antellini Russo says that the Holy See wants to preserve the work done until now. Antellini Russo has been working with the AIF since 2015. He is an insider, he knows how the job has been done, and he will be able to support the new director in keeping with  Di Ruzza. On his side, Tommaso Di Ruzza said hethanks the Holy Father, “who allowed me to serve the Holy See. During these years, the AIF worked at its best to build a sound and internationally credible anti-money laundering system. It  was my commitment and service on both technical and moral level.” The new director, Schlitzer, studied Economics at the Federico II University in Naples and had advanced training in the United States at the University of Chicago and George Washington University. He worked for the Bank of Italy, the International Monetary Fund, and the Italian Industrial Union. He is the vice president of the International Jacques Maritain Institute. Federico Antellini Russo graduated with a degree in Political Economics from the prestigious LUISS university in Rome. From 2008 to 2013, he worked in research and  development area at the Consip, a joint-stock company held by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance. From 2013 to 2015, he worked in the research and studies service of the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti – an Italian investment fund – 83 percent of which  is owned by the Italian Ministry for Economy and Finances. With Schlitzer and Antellini Russo's appointments, then, the top ranks of the Financial Intelligence Authority are complete. Pope Francis had already appointed Carmelo Barbagallo as the AIF president after he decided not to renew the mandate of René Bruelhart, who served as president from 2014 to 2019. There are still two vacant positions, though. Marc Odendal and Juan Zarate, two members of the board of directors, resigned after Bruelhart’s exit. At the same time, the Holy See was suspended from the Egmont Group’s secure network because of the investigation. The AIF then was re-admitted to Egmont’s  secure network after the Vatican Tribunal and the AIF clarified their positions in a memorandum of understanding. The new AIF director inherits the remarkable work done by Di Ruzza. The Vatican Secretariat and many international counterparts credited Di Ruzza for a great job, that can be fully documented. Pope Francis himself, in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia in 2018, praised the efforts of the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority. Di Ruzza joined the Financial Intelligence Authority in 2011, coming from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Under his direction, the Holy See position in international relations was strengthened. Among the biggest successes of Di Ruzza’s term are the  admittance of the AIF into the Egmont Group, which gathers 150 financial intelligence units from all over the world; the Holy See’s admittance in the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), which allowed the Holy See to have a Vatican  IBAN for the first time; and, the strengthening of international cooperation in terms of countering money laundering, with more than 60 memoranda of understanding signed with counterparts from all over the world. Di Ruzza was among the drafters of the new Vatican anti-money-laundering law issued in January 2012. Thanks to that law, the Holy See got a generally positive evaluation of its anti-money-laundering system by the Council of Europe's committee, Moneyval. The adoption of the new law marked the beginning of the “second phase” in the building of the Vatican system for financial transparency. During the first stage, the anti-money-laundering law was drafted in a hurry, following the Italian model and under the pressure of the seizure of funds from the Institute for Religious Works (commonly but inaccurately styled the “Vatican Bank”). The money was later unfrozen, once the law was improved. The second phase was rather characterized by the adoption of a sustainable, long term approach. After the first reform of the Vatican’s anti-money-laundering framework, there was a second reform in July 2013. The law had been substantially re-written, further improving the Holy See's anti-money-laundering system. The third phase began after the new anti-money-laundering law was in place. In November 2013, the AIF got  new statutes, which Di Ruzza contributed to sketch down. The Council of Europe’s Moneyval has recognized the Holy See progress. The Holy See adhered to the Moneyval program in 2011. Since then, the committee has issued four reports on the Holy See. The first report, published in 2012, was about the overall anti-money laundering system. Then, there were three progress reports in 2013, 2015 and 2017. All of them highlighted the Holy See’s steps forward in setting up a sound anti-money-laundering system that met international standards. The next progress report will be about the effectiveness of the anti-money laundering system. Moneyval will look into the Vatican judicial activity of the last five years, to assess if the Vatican prosecutor has followed Moneyval recommendations and how. The Holy See was supposed to undergo a Moneyval evaluation again in 2020. The COVID-19 outbreak postponed the evaluation, and the Holy See will now have more time to prepare the papers. All this to say that we are, in effect, entered upon a  fourth phase of reform. Time will tell if the new AIF director will carry forward the work done according to an international mentality, or if he will go back to a bilateral mindset based on a privileged relationship with Italy.  

Pope Francis and the discussion on women deacons: looking for a lateral way of thinking

Apr 9, 2020 / 00:00 am

Pope Francis promised it at the end of the Special Synod on the Amazon: he would create a commission on the diaconate for women – again – and he’s kept his promise. The new commission was established on Apr. 8, with a completely new lineup. The president is Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi, archbishop of L’Aquila, and the secretary is Msgr. Denis Dupont-Fauville, an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Along with them, the commission is composed of ten members (five men and five women).  The commission replaces the earlier one, which Pope Francis established in 2016 and placed in the hands of his erstwhile confrere, Cardinal Luis Ladaria SJ, now Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith CDF. At the time Francis’s first commission was created, however, Ladaria was archbishop and secretary of the CDF. That commission was composed of theologians who held a range of opinions on the question: some strongly in favor of the ordination of women deacons, and others equally strong in opposition.  The commission drafted a document given to Pope Francis in 2018, which contained no hard conclusions, nor even any real agreements. The Pope asked the members to keep on studying the issue. Pope Francis never proved to be a fan of the proposal. Speaking to the members of the Union of the Sisters Superior General in 2019, the Pope said: “We need to look back at the beginning of the revelation. If there was something (concerning the women deacons, editor note), we should let it grow. If there was not anything, it means that the Lord did not want the ministry. The sacramental ministry is not fit for women.”  Despite his perplexity on the matter, Pope Francis established another commission. This is the third time the issue goes under study: the International Theological Commission dedicated a paper to the challenges of the diaconate, published in 2003. What does Pope Francis want to get with this new commission? There is the impression that Pope Francis is looking fora a “creative” way to solve the issue, not to consent the ordination of women deacons, and at the same time to meet expectations. The composition of the new commission itself suggests this scenario. The first commission was born in a split: the progressives wanted to overturn the 2003 ITC document, while the conservatives wanted to keep the ITC’s conclusions and – if possible – close the door. The stalemate and stall-out of Francis’s first commission was almost an inevitable consequence of its composition, but this second commission is a game-changer. Pope Francis chose as chairman Cardinal Petrocchi, who is not even a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The secretary is the Congregation's representative: he is Denis Dupont-Fauville, a Frenchman who has been a diocesan delegate in Paris for the permanent diaconate.  Looking at the members, none of them took strong stances to back the ordination of women deacons.  The theologian Anne Marie Pellettier is the most prominent member. She is the recipient of the 2014 Ratzinger Prize for Theology and the author of the meditation for the 2017 Way of the Cross at the Colosseum.  Her last book is titled The Church, some women with some men (L’Eglise, des femmes aves des hommes). Although a feminist advocate, she does not advocate for women’s ordination. She has said that the magisterium already said what it had to say on the issue.  Pellettier aims instead of forming a Church “less male” in mentality. The women in the Church – she says – already work in the Church, in many areas of service. So, there is no need for ordination, since this would “clericalize” the problem. Pellettier asks for a way somehow to institutionalize women’s service in the Church. Another member of the commission is Msgr. Angelo Laneri, vice-dean of Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University. Before, he was director of the Italian Bishops Conference’s Liturgical office. He wrote just one paper on the issues of the diaconate, in 2008. He is a professor of “Ordained Ministries in the Church.” He is very much appreciated for his understatement. He does not seem to be progressive in his theology.  Pope Francis also tapped two US permanent deacons int he commission. Deacon James Keating recently published a book, The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ”. He proposed to include, in the path towards priesthood, a step as a permanent deacon.  Dominic Cerrato is also a permanent deacon, married 36 years, father of seven and grandfather of many. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Theology from Franciscan University, a Master’s in Theology from Duquesne University where he also completed his PhD course work with a concentration in healthcare ethics. None of that leads one to think Keating is going to take ultra-progressive positions in the coming discussions. He also published a book recently, titled, In the Person of Christ the Servant, A Theology of the Diaconate Based on the Personalist Thought of Pope John Paul II. Fr. Manfred Hauke is another member with a profile that cannot be labeled as progressive. He has published monographs about the Priesthood of Women (doctorate), the doctrine of original sin in the Greek Fathers (habilitation),  Confirmation, and Feminist Theology.  In 1988, he published “Observations on the Ordination of Women to the Diaconate” – a paper contained in The Church and Women, edited by Msgr. Helmut Moll. Barbara Hallensblen, Caroline Farey, Rosalba Manes, and Catherine Brown Tacz are also part of the commission. The last is an expert on Eastern Churches' issues, while Barbara Hallensblen teaches at the University of Freiburg and has also had experience in the field as a pastoral assistant. Caroline Farey works for the Shrewsbury diocese as a mission catechist. In 2012, she contributed to a working group chaired by Cardinal George Pell at the Synod on New Evangelisation. The youngest member of the commission, Rosalba Manes, teaches at the Pontifical Gregorian University and is a Sacred Scripture scholar. Fr. Santiago del Cura Elena hails from Spain. A renewed theologian, member of the International Theological Commission from 1997 to 2009. He is one of the drafters of the 2003 document on the diaconate. He will likely stand to defend the conclusions of the paper on which he worked.   The commission has many characteristics worth highlighting. First of all, not all the members have any background studying in Rome. Secondly, the Pope appointed no historian to the commission, which makes one think that the Pope wants the commission to approach the issue from the pastoral, rather than the historical-theological point-of-view. Third, none of the members is an advocate for any real revolution in the Church. At the same time, however, the commission as a whole is not invested in past discussions. Perhaps they will be able to set up a proposal that might fit the mind of the pope, who has said no to women’s ordination to the priesthood, and has shown himself to be skeptical about women deacons. None of that is to say Pope Francis is not slowly working to carve out a more visible and more important role for women in the Vatican. Pope Francis tapped a woman – Francesca Di Giovanni – as undersecretary for the multilateral issues at the Secretariat of State, making of her the first woman “vice-minister” for foreign affairs. It is no secret that the Pope was thinking about appointing a woman as head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy. There are other, similar steps, to which one could point. These appointments tend to suggest that Pope Francis does not care about ordination. He has also made statements in harmony with Pellettier’s opinion that ordination would be a clerical solution.  Hence, the new commission: To respond to the requests of the Synod, and to look for a creative way out of the discussion. 

Coronavirus: the response of Caritas Internationalis

Apr 7, 2020 / 00:00 am

In countering the Coronavirus, Pope Francis can count on the effort of the Caritas agencies spread all over the continent, all placed under the umbrella and the coordination of Caritas Internationalis. On April 4th, Aloysius John, general secretary of Caritas Internationalis, met Pope Francis in a private audience. John provided Pope Francis an update of the initiatives coordinated by Caritas Internationalis all over the world to counter the coronavirus threat. Both of the meetings are part of the “strategy of charity” that the Holy See is setting up to assist the people during the coronavirus emergency. Caritas Internationalis is the “umbrella” organization that coordinates and gathers 165 local charities all over the world. The Caritas umbrella is held by the Vatican’s dicastery for Integral Human Development, which must act in coordination with the Secretariat of State. It was no surprise, therefore, that Caritas Internationalis made an appeal to the international community. Aloysius John listed what Caritas Internationalis asks the international community: to keep focusing on the Global South; to lift the sanctions on Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iran so that humanitarian aid can reach people most in need without having to overcome international bureaucratic hurdles; to cancel the debt of developing nations; to support the plea for a global ceasefire launched by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. The Caritas Federation is working in the field through countless initiatives to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the initiatives, Caritas has launched a virtual platform to exchange specific scientific data on the pandemic. The platform is for internal use only, but the information shared on it is intended for broad sharing and consultation. In short: they mean for their information to be shared with anyone who has a legitimate need or use for it. The Caritas Internationalis general secretary stressed that “our main concern today is to prepare the poorer countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, to confront such massive emergency due to a sudden outbreak of the pandemic. We are taking this challenge very seriously and working closely with our Member organizations by providing technical and financial support.” Aloysius John added that “the people on the move, the migrants, the asylum seekers and the displaced are also in highly unsafe conditions and are already affected by the loss of means of livelihood, precarious living conditions and also lack of basic needs. Caritas has a special concern for those living in the refugee and IDP camps, who are displaced.” Among the many activities on the ground, Aloysius John mentioned the Kindness Stations in the Philipinnes, established during the COVID-19 threat to share information on the virus and leave no one behind; care for the elderly, on which Caritas Armenia is focusing; distribution of supplies and food in difficult areas like the West Bank and Gaza in Israel, where Caritas Jerusalem is operating; aid delivered in poorest countries like Venezuela, where the local Caritas is organizing a series of ‘kitchen soups’ to feed the poorest ones. Caritas Internationalis is also committed to raising awareness, especially in countries unable to implement security measures needed to avoid the spread of the pandemic. In Rwanda, already before the first case of COVID 19 infection was found in the country, the local Caritas spread messages of awareness through the diocesan radio. Aloysius John stressed that Africa “is the main concern because they are getting ready only now. The local bishops' conferences delivered much information. We are trying to integrate what we learned in contrasting the Ebola outbreak.” At the moment, Caritas is hiring physicians in Kenya. Caritas South Sudan is one of the most important actors in that country, and works along with six other local Caritas organizations to face the COVID-19 outbreak. Every country has different tasks. In India, for example, “the people are not afraid because of the coronavirus, but because of the lack of employment that will follow the lockdown.” Even Caritas Italy is on the front line in addressing the emergency, and  Pope Francis personally donated 100,000 euros for the expenses. Along with the commitment of Caritas, it is also expected that the Dicastery for the Integral Human Development will set up a sort of control room to find out which are the most effective measures and supports to give to the local Churches. Pope Francis met with Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect, and the top-ranking of the Dicastery on Apr. 6 and likely discussed the initiatives to set up.

Will religious freedom be safeguarded in Europe?

Mar 24, 2020 / 00:00 am

Despite major successes, the EU let the office of the Special Envoy for the promotion of Religious Freedom and Belief outside of Europe expire, and haven't renewed yet its highly successful envoy - who secured the liberation of Asia Bibi and safe passage to Canada for the Pakistani Christian woman wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. All this is unfolding within a broader international context in which religious freedom is increasingly under attack, and religious persons and institutions are under increasing pressure to bring their beliefs in line with a prevailing Western secular orthodoxy. A signal was the report on religious freedom presented on March 2 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva was a signal. In particular, the report underscored that all religions had to be open to these new rights. These new rights have not an international consensus, and they cannot be in any way considered on a par with the human rights listed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Report was based on fighting "worldwide religious precepts (that) underlie laws and state-sanctioned practices that constitute violations of the right to non-discrimination of women, girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+)" One of the goals of the Report is "emphasizing the responsibility of States in creating enabling environments to advance the non-discrimination and freedom of religion or belief rights of women, girls and LGBT+ persons." The report also attacked religious beliefs when they were opposed to the so-called “new rights,” especially “LGBT rights”. The Holy See and several NGOs sharply criticized the report, which they argued was based on a twisted interpretation of religious freedom, one that ultimately came to a sort of freedom from religion. The Holy See lamented that "the Report seems to focus less on the protection of men and women, of any faith or personal belief, that are persecuted or discriminated against (a still too vivid reality for millions of persons worldwide), and more on pushing a vision of human society that is not shared by all and does not reflect the social, cultural and religious reality of many peoples." The UN report can be interpreted as a signal that religious freedom will not be at the top of the international agenda. The situation becomes more worrisome when you focus you eyes on Europe. On May 6, 2016, the European Commission established the position of an EU Special Envoy for the promotion of Freedom of Religion and Belief outside of Europe. The Juncker Commission announced the establishment of the envoy on the very day Pope Francis was awarded the Charlemagne Prize. The new position set religious freedom issues among the priorities of the EU foreign policy. Jan Figel was tapped for the position of special envoy. In three years, Figel traveled a lot, established bridges of dialogue, and achieved some remarkable successes, notably the liberation of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. The woman won her final appeal, but she was in danger in her country. It was also thanks to Jan Figel that Bibi and her family were able to leave Pakistan and find a haven in Canada. The commission headed by Figel did not address threats to religious liberty inside of Europe, but Asia Bibi’s acquittal and liberation showed that the European Union could act as a soft power in defending religious freedom.   This is one reason why there were expectations that EU leadership would confirm Figel in the envoy’s position, once the Juncker commission ended its mandate and following the  EU elections,. This was especially the case in view of the new EU policy priorities that focus on Africa, a continent where religion plays a great role. An EU official championing religious freedom in diplomatic talks would have been a natural choice.  However, more than 100 days into the mandate, the EU commission chaired by Ursula van der Leyan has not decided yet. The question is: who is going to take care of the religious freedom issues in EU foreign policy? There are three possibilities. First: the Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outisde the EU is re-established. This seems to be the more natural option.   Second: EU institutions can rely on the European External Action Service (EEAS). Within the EEAS, there is also the position of consultant of the EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore. Merete Bilde was tapped at the post, with a particular focus on Religious Freedom and Freedom of Faith. In this case, the option might be a downgrade of the portfolio of Freedom of Religion or Belief. In fact, there would not be a dedicated envoy, but just a consultant to a wider human rights portfolio. Also, this option would be much weaker than what was initially called for by the European Parliament in the resolution recognising the atrocities perpetrated by ISIS as genocide in 2016, where it called for the establishment of an EU Special Representative on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Third: the EU Commission might establish a special consultant on religious freedom issues. The fact that there are no decisions yet might suggest that religious freedom is lower on the list of EU priorities. Adina Portaru, legal counsel for ADF International in Brussels, voiced with CNA the preoccupation of the advocates of religious freedom. “Nobody, said Portaru, should be persecuted because of their faith. At a time when religious persecution is on the rise, the EU should strengthen its international response, not weaken it”. For this reason, she added, “the EU should take the steps necessary to become a champion for religious freedom worldwide. Failing to continue the mandate of the Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU is clearly a step in the wrong direction.  We urge the EU to make good on its promise to defend victims of violence based on religion or belief worldwide.” The UN Report presented in Geneva might be an alert. Without a firm policy on religious freedom, there is the risk that there will always be more papers like that one. Papers that – in the Holy See’s words – “seemingly defend religious freedom, while in fact, they attack it.”

Coronavirus in the Holy Land: How Catholics in the Jerusalem patriarchate are coping

Mar 20, 2020 / 10:30 am

As Easter is approaching, the Holy Land is enduring tough times: the sacred sites are shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, and pilgrimages have come to an end.

What does Pope Francis’s reform of the Vatican judicial system mean?

Mar 17, 2020 / 00:00 am

Pope Francis' reform of the Vatican City State judicial system is mostly insider stuff. A look under the hood of the reform law could help understand some trends of change the pontificate is riding – and driving. The reform has been under study for a long while. A committee composed of members from the Vatican City State administration, the Secretariat of State, the Vatican Tribunal, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the counselors of Vatican City State had meetings and discussions on the matter. All agreed that the judicial system had to be reformed. There were, however, different approaches. On the one hand, those who wanted to preserve the particularity of the Vatican City State system, since it is not a State like any other. On the other hand, those who pushed for a "statalization" of the Vatican City State system. The basic question was: must the Holy See have unique relations with its neighbor, Italy, or must the Holy See be an international player? Under Benedict XVI and until now, the international option was preferred, at least for the Vatican financial system. The Tribunal was, in fact, the only exception, as it is not composed of international staff, and has no full-time officers. The Vatican Tribunal is a Tribunal of Italians. The mentality of the Tribunal clashed with the international mindset. No wonder that the Tribunal felt under attack when the Moneyval report, in 2017, lamented that it was not correctly working since it was not following the disseminations of suspicious transaction reports. However, in October, a financial scandal over the purchase of luxury real estate in London by the Secretariat of State led to searches and seizures in the Secretariat of State and the Financial Intelligence Authority, as well as to the suspension of five Vatican officials. Things changed after those events. Pope Francis appointed a new president of the Financial Intelligence Authority, Carmelo Barbagallo, coming from the ranks of the Bank of Italy. It is ironic, considering that the Holy See had pointedly jettisoned the Bank of Italy model a long time ago. It is worth noting that the first board of the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority was entirely composed of Italians, and most of them came from the Bank of Italy milieu. After that, the Holy See has shifted toward the international model, substantially re-wrote the anti-money laundering law, and carried forward reforms that received the praise of the international observers. Shortly before the Barbagallo's appointment, Pope Francis chose the Italian prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone as president of the Vatican Tribunal. Those appointments strongly suggested the Vatican was moving back to the “Italian option”. This new law might be another element in favor of this reading. The new law does not change a great many particulars One of them is that the Vatican tribunal will have a full-time judge, and the office of the Promoter of Justice, i.e., the Vatican prosecutor, will have a full-time magistrate, too. The other piece of news concerns the final appeal tribunal, the Supreme Court of Appeal. This court has always been the Apostolic Signatura, and a college of Cardinals must issue judgments. The new law allows for  other so-called “applied justices” — experts in the specific areas of fact or law under consideration in specific cases — to be integrated pro hoc vice into the judicial college. Another critical new piece is the total autonomy of the Tribunal, both in terms of budget and salaries. This is an important detail. Along with the Institute for Religious Works, the Tribunal’s statutory regulations and salary policies exist outside of the general Curia rules. The new centralized office of personnel to be established in the Secretariat of State, by the way, was going to contrast both of these autonomies. The issue was likely spun to the Pope, and the Pope held up the establishment of the centralized office of personnel. According to the Holy See Press Office, the new law has five key points: it better guarantees the independence of the judicial bodies; it provides specific requirements for the choosing of the justices; it simplifies the legal system, and also strengthen the Tribunal, who has now five judges total – they were four before; it distinguishes the office of the Promotor of Justice from the Tribunal; it clarifies the disciplinary charges for the registered lawyer in case of misbehavior. The main change in the selection of the justices lies in the fact that now they can be either university professors or jurists of clear fame. Vatican justices have usually been university professors. According to Giuseppe dalla Torre, former president of the Vatican Tribunal, a professor “is by nature culturally independent, before he is juridically independent,” and this is a guarantee that there will be no entanglement with the apparatus of the Italian State or any other State.” The college of justices of the Tribunal will be composed of 5 people instead of 4, including the president, and one of them must be “an expert in Canon law.” It is noteworthy that Canon law is still the first source of the Vatican City State law. The question is then: why must only one of the justices be an expert in Canon Law? Must not all of the judges be well educated in canon law? The increase in the number of justices, and the inclusion of a full-time judge in the Tribunal and a full-time prosecutor in the office of the Promotor of Justice, are provisions made to face an increasing number of prosecutions, especially of financial crimes. The promulgation of the law came on the eve of the Council of Europe’s Moneyval inspection. Moneyval evaluates how well the financial system of a party state meets international anti-money laundering requirements. In the 2017 progress report, Moneyval praised the Vatican path to reforms but lamented that the Tribunal’s lack of activity. Moneyval is supposed to operate an onsite inspection in the Vatican in a short time (although coronavirus outbreak can change every schedule), and the progress report of this year will be on effectiveness, that is, how well the Vatican financial system actually works to counter money laundering. Effectiveness is measured based on the Tribunal activity. The increase in the number of justices will thus help to carry forward the cases. By the way, the inclusion of external justices in the college of cardinals justices of the Signatura, as well as the requirements for the judges, show that the Vatican is seemingly acting ever more more like a State. Another development:  the justice retirement age passes from 74 to 75, like every other Curia office. Pope Francis said that the law looks carefully at the particularity of the Vatican City State. The hidden rationale seems, however, that of having a Vatican more modeled on a State like Italy. So, there is a Vatican judicial system, but it does not look like one that provides a “Vatican” answer. It is mostly following the path of other States. Only time will tell if it works.

Pope Francis back and forth reform: the centralized personnel office

Mar 10, 2020 / 00:00 am

It turns out, a motu proprio by Pope Francis will be needed after all, to make effective the General Directorate for Personnel — essentially a supercharged human resources department within the General Affairs section of the Secretariat of State. The establishment of the office was announced on March 6, 2020, as a ”highly relevant step in the path of reforms initiated by Pope Francis.” On March 7, however, the press office released a statement “specifying” that the thing announced as a fait accompli  was really only  a ”proposal” currently under Pope Francis’s consideration, and that The pope has yet to decide whether to establish it. If he does, it will be by means of a motu proprio. The announcement and the very quick walk-back raise several questions. The first and most important one is also the simplest one: why was the statement released in the first place? If the decision had not been made yet, there was no reason to say it had been. We should look at the impact of the new office to ponder on the possible answer to the questions. The centralized personnel office was going to be included in the First Section for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State. According to the March 6 Holy See Press Office release, the centralized personnel office was going to replace the Personnel office of the Vatican Secretariat of State. The former staff office was only competent for dicasteries and entities of the Holy See. The new centralized office was also going to take responsibility – the release read – for “Institutes (like the IOR), Fabrics, Capitols, Administrations, Bodies, and Foundations that are currently not under a central oversight.” The decision represented a further concentration of Vatican power within a single entity: the Secretariat of State. The reform was in line with the reform of the Vatican penal code, as well as the general rationale of the Curia reform. For example, the reform of the regulation of the General Auditor of the Vatican City State was made on February 9. The new regulation aimed at harmonizing the office of the auditor with the General Regulation of the Curia, and so with all the Holy See bodies.   According to the new regulation, the general auditor is now the equivalent to an “Anti-Corruption office” for the Vatican, and included a procedure to submit procurements. The establishment of the new personnel office did not require a Papal motu proprio, as it was not the establishment of a new office. It was instead the enhancement of an existing office. The centralized personnel office was supposed to be under the sostituto of the Vatican State Secretariat. The March 6 release stressed that the new office was going to be “given strategic, inspection, and operational power, and will be tasked withcoordination, control, and oversight.”The release also read that the new office was going to be fully equipped to “meet, in good time, the several requests it will receive.” None of this will happen, for now. On March 7, the Holy See Press Office declared that the establishment of the office is “only a proposal advanced to the Holy Father by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Council for the Economy, and by Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, coordinator of the Council of Cardinals.” The release read that “the Holy Father will address the proposal and, if he deems it convenient, he will establish the office in the way he will decide via a motu proprio.” No office, then. The whole thing is a brain-child of Cardinals Maradiaga and Marx. The proposal was one to which the Vatican Secretariat of State was broadly amenable. The office would formalize the fact that the central power was in the Secretariat of State’s hands, as it is now de facto. The establishment of the office would fit with the Curia reform under discussion. According to the draft leaked of the new Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, the Secretariat of State stays as the center of the Curia, as St. Paul VI wanted. Several steps have already been taken toward consolidation of power within the Secretariat of State and toward streamlining State to make it ready to take on more power. Some of them are the creation of a Third Section — for diplomats — and the creation of a separate Undersecretary for multilateral relations A centralized office for personnel would be a logical next step. However, the establishment of such an office office leaves some issues open. For example, full control over personnel attached to the  Institute for Religious Works, the so-called Vatican bank, would appear to be at loggerheads with the IOR new statutes, published in Aug. 2019. Article 28 of the new IOR statute stresses that “concerning the hiring and the contracting of personnel, principles, and norms established by the Regulation of the Personnel of the Institute time by time are applied, valid for the discipline, salaries, pensions, and health care issues." In short:  the IOR has its own internal regulations that differ from the General Regulation of the Curia. Article 29 of the Statute included the clause of exclusivity: no IOR official could have other positions outside. This way, the IOR intended to protect itself from of the appearance of conflicts of interest, which were not unheard-of in the season of  greater reliance on external consultants. The new centralized personnel office would break this autonomy. The issue was likely spun to the Pope. The debate can also be framed in a broader institutional context, linked to the financial scandal for the purchase of a luxury real estate in London. Although the media focused on the financial details of the purchase, the bigger issue was institutional. The Promotor of Justice, i.e. the Vatican prosecutor, had received two complaints, one initiated by the IOR and one by the Vatican’s Auditor General . Once he got the green light, the prosecutor launched the raids in the Secretariat of State and Financial Intelligence Authority, which led to the suspension of a top-ranking official, a chief of office and three Holy See's employees.  Among these, Monsignor Mauro Carlino, former Secretary to the Cardinal Angelo Becciu (who served as Vatican Secretariat of State's 'sostituto' from 2011 to 2018) and since Septemeber 2019 chief of the Office for Information and Documentation of the Secretariat of State. According to the leaks that made it to the press, the IOR filed its complaint after it refused to concede to the Secretariat of State a loan for the purchase of the real estate.  So, it appears there is a sort of protracted institutional arm-wrestling match still underway. All the Vatican dicasteries and entities want to keep autonomy of management. The reforms tend to centralize control.  In the beginning, the centralization of management was directed toward the Secretariat for the Economy. It was, in the end, a non-sustainable model for the Holy See. It did not leverage on the particularity of the Vatican City State. It instead operated considering the Holy See as a business concern rather than as a sovereign entity.  This is the reason why the reforms were adjusted. Some history will help.  The Secretariat for the Economy was initially launched on July 18, 2013, essentially as the “arm” of the Council for the Economy. The office of the general auditor was also announced. It seemed there was a wrong initial perception of the situation, which also led Cardinal Pell to take unfortunate steps: for example, the announcement of secret accounts that were just not part of the revenue sources for the regular budget because they were meant to be at the Pope’s disposal; the continuous and expensive involvement of international agencies, as prestigious as they were unfit for the Vatican complexity; and the high salaries and expenses for collaborators and offices. About a year and a half after  its establishment, on February 22, 2015, the statutes of the Secretariat for the Economy were revised, and its wings effectively clipped. The motu proprio “The temporal goods” issued July 9, 2016, provided a further separation between oversight and administration duties. After the clarification of the role of the Secretariat of State, the second step was to understand how to tailor the Vatican City State. At the moment, there are periodic meetings among all the entities interested in reforming the Vatican City State’s fundamental law. The discussion s mostly about considering the Vatican as a State like the other or keeping the current Vatican model, which emphasizes the peculiarity of the Vatican City State.  So, the arm wrestling is no longer between the Secretariat of State and the Secretariat for the Economy, but between the Secretariat of State and other entities. Entities that enjoy financial independence are going to fight to keep it. There is a pressure on the Secretariat of State, to take its control over.  The London real estate scandal shed light on the fact that the unacceptable thing wasn’t a lousy investment on the part of the Secretariat of State. It was considered unacceptable that the Secretariat of State tried to involve the IOR, which wants to keep its independence, and also likely does not want to get involved in investing a considerable amount of money, while profits fall.  The setback on the General Directorate for Personnel must also be read through these lenses. Seen from this perspective, the setback validates the thesis of institutional confusion in the Vatican and interdicasterial infighting.. It also shows that there is no awareness of who makes the final decision. The story also strongly suggests that the Pope himself does not have a perfectly clear picture of the business afoot.             

The Holy See slams UN Report on religious freedom

Mar 4, 2020 / 00:00 am

The Holy See has attacked the latest UN report on religious freedom. Decrying particularly the document's many references to gender ideology, the Holy See called the language a sort of "ideological colonization on the part of some States and international institution." The Holy See said the Report is an "attack to religious freedom." "Particularly unacceptable and offensive are the numerous references that recommend that freedom of religion or belief and the conscientious objection must be surrendered for the promotion of other so-called 'human rights', which certainly do not enjoy consensus;" the Holy See statement remarks. The Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief was discussed on March 2 at the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. The Holy See delegation was led by Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Holy See Permanent Observer to the international organization in Geneva. The Report is based on fighting "worldwide religious precepts (that) underlie laws and state-sanctioned practices that constitute violations of the right to non-discrimination of women, girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+)" One of the goals of the Report is "emphasizing the responsibility of States in creating enabling environments to advance the non-discrimination and freedom of religion or belief rights of women, girls and LGBT+ persons." In the end, the Report advocates a concept of freedom "from" and within" religion to protect the so-called new human rights; questions the existence of a right to conscientious objection; and also implicitly pushes doctrinal changes in religions on the basis of international law requirements. In addition to that, the Report was made available only at the last moment, not leaving States the possibility to look in-depth into it before the session. Speaking at the Human Rights Council on March 2, Archbishop Jurkovic stressed that "the Report, at least in part, is an attack on freedom of religion or belief as well as freedom of conscience." Archbishop Jurkovic reiterated that "the Holy See has always understood 'gender' and related terms according to the ordinary, generally accepted usage of the word 'gender,' based on the biological identity that is male and female." The Holy See delegation lamented that "the Report seems to focus less on the protection of men and women, of any faith or personal belief, that are persecuted or discriminated against (a still too vivid reality for millions of persons worldwide), and more on pushing a vision of human society that is not shared by all and does not reflect the social, cultural and religious reality of many peoples." Archbishop Jurkovic noted that the Special Rapporteur made "no reference to the efforts made by religious leaders to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars." This silence, the Holy See noted, is "ironic," considering that the Report falls "in the year of the landmark Declaration on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together issued, on February 4, 2019, by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and Pope Francis." The declaration, Archbishop Jurkovic added, "called on world leaders to work towards spreading a culture of tolerance and living together in peace." The Holy See also addressed the issue of ideological colonization. Quoting the 2019 Pope Francis' speech to the diplomatic corps, the Holy See underscored "[t]he growing influence within the international Organizations of powers and interest groups that impose their own visions and ideas, sparking new forms of ideological colonization, often in disregard for the identity, dignity, and sensitivities of peoples." Archbishop Jurkovic added that "it is rather unfortunate, yet increasingly less surprising given its frequency, that a UN Report, which should defend the fundamental and universal human right of freedom of religion or belief as well as the right to conscientious objection, is now attacking the very reality it is called to defend." The Holy See mainly reacted to the frame of the Report, which builds on a twisted interpretation of the right to religious freedom to advocate LGBT rights, which are now considered on a par of human rights. The Holy See has always noted that the so-called "new human rights" have never gotten an international consensus, as the human rights of the Human Rights Charter did 70 years ago. In particular, the Report targeted religions for preventing the States from defending gender ideology and LGBT rights. "In all regions of the world, the Report read, actors citing religious justifications for their actions have advocated to governments and to the broader public for the preservation or imposition of laws and policies that directly or indirectly discriminate against women, girls and LGBT+ persons." The Special Rapporteur underscored "that States that maintain laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relations have occasionally referred to religious 'justifications' for maintaining them," and that "many governments maintain legal provisions that discriminate against LGBT+ persons, including in healthcare, housing, social security, employment, marriage and parental rights, often on religious grounds." The Report also attacked the religious sentiment by saying that "laws criminalizing adultery are often rooted in patriarchal interpretations of religious doctrine and have a disparate impact on women", while "discriminatory religious edicts inform laws and policies that restrict sexual and reproductive rights ...., including, but not limited to, partial or total bans on access to abortion and contraception, prohibitions on assisted reproductive technologies and gender reassignment surgery, and limits on the provision of evidence-based sexuality education." The Report targeted religious institutions for "promoting and perpetuating interpretations of religious tenets to promote gender-based violence and discrimination against women, girls and LGBT+ persons; including physical, sexual and psychological harm." The Rapporteur underscored a misuse of "freedom of religion or belief across continents in the media, through litigation and political campaigns to counter human rights in the name of religion or belief." The Report even noted that "in three States, religious interest groups have attempted to change the constitution to define 'the family' according to religiously grounded heterosexual norms. Interest groups are also reportedly misusing freedom of religion or belief to oppose self-determination rights for gender diverse persons". Hence, the strong reaction of the Holy See. As Archbishop Jurkovic noted, it is not the first time that a UN report advocated for LGBT rights. For instance, the Report of the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child on the Holy See, issued in February 2014, did not focus on how the convention was applied in Vatican City State, as it should, but rather asked the Holy See to change its teaching. At that time, the Committee "regretted that the Holy See continues to place emphasis on the promotion of complementarity and equality in dignity," which it claimed, "are often used to justify discriminatory legislation and policies." The committee asked "the Holy See to review its position on abortion … identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted;" said that the Holy See should "assess … its position" regarding adolescents' access to contraception;" urged the Holy See to "remove gender stereotypes from Catholic school textbooks … which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities." The Report, in the end, is nothing new under the sun. The Holy See strong stances against, by the way, shed light on how dangerous this position is for religious freedom. It is hoped that the Holy See's words will not fall on deaf ears.

Will Pius XII's archives shed light on origins of Vatican Ostpolitik?

Mar 2, 2020 / 00:00 am

The opening of the archives on Pius XII’s pontificate could show that the Vatican's so-called Ostpolitik began much earlier than previously thought. Vatican Ostpolitik was a Vatican diplomatic policy of rapprochement to the countries on the Soviet bloc. A long-standing diplomat and Secretary of State during the first decade of John Paul II’s pontificate, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli initiated his brand of Ostpolitik on September 15, 1964, when – in his capacity as Vatican vice foreign minister, a post then named Undersecretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs – he went to Budapest to sign an agreement with the Hungarian government. It was the first of a series of agreements between the Holy See and the Communist regimes in the East. The dialogue had started in 1961, and some historians even say that the Ostpolitik began with talks that took place in 1958. Pius XII had initiated an exchange toward the Soviet Union already in 1946-1947.  Johann Ickx, head of the archives of the Second Section of the Secretariat of State, shed light on this possibility in a paper published in the book, The Church of Silence and Pontifical Diplomacy 1945 – 1965, curated by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences.  Ickx based his report on known sources, and in particular on a book published by Sandor Tohotom Nagy, a former Jesuit who was involved in the talks with the Soviet Union between 1946 and 1948. Nagy later fled to Argentina, left the Jesuit order and the priesthood, married, and joined the Freemasonry. In 1963, he wrote his memoir, Jesuitas y masones, and also an open letter to Pope Paul VI. Fr. Nagy’s mission must be framed in the post-Second World War scenario, and in particular, in the situation that followed the Yalta conference to discuss the post-war order. Jesuits have been among the most active participants in the dialogue with the Soviet Union. The position of the society of Jesus passed from a hard line against Communism to the possibility of entertaining some sort of dialogue with the Communist countries. Ickx also analyzed the papers archived in the Jesuits’ General Curia. These papers are not open for consultation yet, but were published in an essay on Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty by Margit Balogh. There are 25 discrete reports, mostly written by three Hungarian Jesuits: the aforementioned Sandor Töhötöm Nagy, Josef Janosi, and Istvan Borbely. Balogh focused on the information disseminated by Nagy in his autobiography. In the book Jesuitas y masones, Nagy reports on five trips he took to Rome between 1945 and 1946, and his actions as a Vatican mediator with the Soviet Hungarians. The first trip takes place from Apr. 1945 to Aug. 1945. During the journey, Nagy writes a report for Fr. Norbert de Boynes, general vicar of the Jesuits. The report is later sent to Pius XII. Nagy is summoned by Fr. Leiber, Pius XII's secretary, to discuss the report. Fr. Leiber also says that the Holy See will financially support the Hungarian KALOT youth movement. Nagy also has a meeting with the nuncio Angelo Rotta, who was the last Holy See representative in Hungary shuttering of the nunciature, and Monsignor Silvio Sericano. Msgr. Sericano and Nagy have a conversation about the appointment of bishops in Hungary, especially about the selection of the Primate of Hungary. The see of Esztergom - Budapest is then vacant. Following the meeting, Nagy writes a lengthy report on sixteen possible candidates for the position of the Primate of Hungary, including Mindszenty, who would later selected for the post.  On Aug. 4, 1945, Pius XII receives Nagy in a private audience for about one hour. During the meeting, Nagy reports the issue of the relations between the Soviets and the Holy See. According to Nagy, Pius XII says, “The Church would be available to grant some concessions if Russians were going to take some positive step.” Pius XII’s words are the anticipation of the so-called policy of the modus vivendi, which was later nicknamed by Cardinal Casaroli as modus non moriendi: literally, “a way of not dying.” The modus vivendi that was at the basis of the Vatican Ostpolitik is in essence an appeasement policy of the Church aimed at creating conditions amenable to the Church’s continued life and operation in countries opposed to religion. When Nagy returns to Hungary after that first trip, he holds many meetings. He also meets with then-Bishop Mindszenty. Nagy has the mistaken impression that Mindszenty backs the modus vivendi option. When Mindszenty is later appointed Primate of Hungary, Mindszenty interprets his role not only or even primarily from a political perspective, but from a “constitutional” perspective: he thinks of the Primate’s office as that of a prince. Many times, Nagy reports about Mindszenty’s lack of prudence. Nagy also mentions that also Pius XII and the then sostituto to the Secretariat of State, Giovambattista Montini (later Pope Paul VI) has the same consideration of Mindszenty. Nagy’s second trip to Rome takes place between October and November 1945. During his stay, he meets with monsignor Domenico Tardini, secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs. Nagy and Tardini talk about the issue of the large estates owned by the Church in Hungary. The Holy See believes that large ecclesiastical estates cannot be defended in the current situation. Msgr. Tardini also adds that “Mindszenty is looking for an old way, looking for the support of the aristocrats and not of the people.” Msgr. Tardini also noted that the Slavic people are going to be there for a long time, and Russia is considered the next and most crucial mission territory. Nagy later asks Fr. Leiber about the mission in Russia. Fr. Leiber explains to him that the Vatican “has no confidence in the conversion of bolshevism, but rather trusts in a conversion of the Soviet people.” During another conversation, Fr. Leiber says, “Moscow did not take steps, while we let Moscow know that we are available to entertain relations.” The Vatican messages pass through Ankara and the United States. During his second stay in Rome, Nagy also meets with Giovambattista Montini, who reassures him that the Holy See is seeking relations with the Soviet Union. Ickx recalls that the Soviets promised Nagy, “If he was able to return from Rome [with] a positive declaration from the Vatican, ambassador Puskin might have worked to set up a confidential talk in Moscow.” Nagy’s third trip to Rome takes place between February and March 1946. Nagy is supposed to take part in the consistory that created Mindszenty a cardinal, but he arrives too late. He succeeds, however, in meeting with Pius XII, who gives Nagy a written procurement to initiate the negotiations with the Russians. The procurement reads that Fr. Nagy “can present to his ‘contractors’ the certainty that the Holy See is available to begin a full consultation with the Moscow government, if this last wishes so, as it was agreed during the years of the war.” With this procurement in his pocket and a diplomatic passport, Nagy gets back to Budapest. There he meets with Ostjukin, the head of the NKVD section, that is the Soviet secret services. Ostjukin was the NKVD officer responsible for central Europe. Nagy tells him about the Holy See’s willingness to have diplomatic ties. Ostjukin replies that the Holy See shows hostility, especially since the Cardinal Mindszenty is “all in all on terms of enmity with us.” Nagy explains that the Holy See does not determine the political opinion of a Cardinal. Nagy also asks to reopen the nunciature in Budapest to show the Soviet Union’s new attitude toward religion. Ostjukin takes time and adjourns the issue to the competent bodies in Moscow. After this dialogue, Nagy is more prudent in acting in Hungary. The divergence of views with Mindszenty grows ever more substantial. On June 24, 1946, Nagy sends a document to Cardinal Mindsznety to explain the modus vivendi model, which could not be further from the Cardinal’s view of things. Nagy goes a fourth time to Rome from July 1946 to August 1946. The main topics of his conversations are the modus vivendi, the position of the KALOT movement, and the role of Cardinal Mindsznety. He drafts a “Report on the internal struggles of the Hungarian Catholicism (until July 10, 1946, included)”. In that report, Nagy also highlights some aspects of Mindszenty’s character, which could impede or endanger the lives of the faithful and of priests. In particular, Nagy laments that the nunciature to Hungary could not be reopened because of Mindszenty's positions.  In particular, Ickx underscores the chapter on Modus Vivendi Tactics. In that chapter, Nagy explains, “Those who want to make room for life, do so because they are ready for martyrdom, and want to save from martyrdom the whole nation with all the means.” Nagy says, “Compared with a death sentence, life prison is preferable,” and concludes, “today, the wise man is not the one who can stay angry with Russians. He can become for a certain time a national hero, but nothing more. The wise man is who can bring the Russians on his side.” Nagy concludes that the modus vivendi is not a negotiation of principles, nor can it be considered as fraternizing with the communist. It is instead a "tolerable vicinity." When Nagy returns to Budapest, he finds an awkward situation, since, after the assassination of a Soviet official, the KALOT movement has been abolished. Nagy does not give up. He tries to re-establish KALOT and also asks Ostjukin to reopen the nunciature, to counterbalance the abolishment of Kalot. Ostjukin rejects the possibility of opening the nunciature, as Mindszenty would consider it “his victory.” Nagy leaves for his last trip to Rome at the end of 1947 and will stay there until January 1948. The climate in the Vatican is changed; the modus vivendi is not considered an option anymore. Nagy does not even succeed in having an audience with the Pope. Nagy cannot return to Hungary, and so, under orders from his superiors, he leaves for Argentina on Jan. 4, 1947. It seems that Pius XII is never informed of this decision. Ickx says that Nagy’s memoirs shed light on the fact that the notion of the modus vivendi applied to the countries on the other side of the iron curtain was already “articulated and explained in 1946.” Based on these facts, there are according to Ickx, “valid reasons to backdate the Ostpolitik,” as well as for considering that “the beginning of Ostpolitik in 1961 represented a turning point for the Communists, rather than for the Holy See.” Ickx also rejects the possibility that the modus vivendi was pursued only by Jesuits simply because the papers are in the Jesuits’ curial archive. Still, “it is also true that those documents are drafted to inform the Secretariat of State.” Ickx stresses that “the considerable number of documents, 25, make one think that behind the Jesuits’ activity, there was the plan to develop a political project.” Ickx also adds that “the insistence on connecting the modus vivendi to the opening of the nunciature and the contrast with Cardinal Mindszenty” shows that the Jesuits were working following the Secretariat of State. Another clue is given by one of the procurement letters Fr. Leiber gave to Nagy. The letter reads: “The Holy See is always available to entertain relations with the Moscow government. [Nagy] can communicate with the Russians involved in the issue. After what happened and is still happening daily, it is a difficult challenge for the Holy See to trust the good intentions of the counterpart. If instead the government of Moscow wished to reach out and dialogue with the Holy See, the Holy See is available to that in any way, as it did in times of war. This is what Pius XII thinks.”

Lithuanian Ateitis Federation shows how a group of young people can have an impact on society

Feb 20, 2020 / 00:00 am

Five principles, a motto, a name — which means  ”future” in Lithuanian — and 110 years of history: on Feb. 19, 2020, Lithuania’s Ateitis Federation of Catholic youth celebrated its 110th anniversary — years that have marked the history of the country. The history of Ateitis shows how Catholics committed in society can actually have an impact in society. The history of Ateitis also reminds that on the other side of the Iron Curtain, there was a Catholic heart beating, despite the desire and the efforts of the Soviet regime to sweep religion away from the life of people.  Ateitis was originally the name of a handwritten magazine issued by young university students determined to oppose the secularized model of instruction of the Russian Empire.  Quite soon, Ateitis turned into a group of intellectuals that poured their faith into the project of rebuilding Lithuanian nationhood, and then into preserving the tradition of the country while it languished under the Soviet Union.  It is worth recalling that Lithuania existed on the political map for six hundred years — from the 13th to the 18th century — before being subjected to the Russian Empire. Ateitis passed through the restored Lithuanian independence, the Soviet dominion and the reconstruction of the nation. The five Ateitis guiding principles are Catholicism, nationality, family, presence in the public life and education. The motto is: Visa atnaujinti Kristuje, “To Renew All Things in Christ.”  The way Ateitis applied these principles shows that the Christian culture, when well-formed and active in public life, can build a civilization Pope Pius X was well aware of this. His first encyclical was issued on Oct. 4, 1903, under the title E Supreme Apostolatus. In the encyclical, Pius X called the faithful from all over the world to a religious and moral renewal in the spirit of Christ.  Omnia Instaurare in Christo. To Renew All Things in Christ. Ateitis is the first organization in the world to take this passage from the letter of Peter and make it its official motto. An early, embryonic organization of young people began meeting in 1908. In 1910 they issued a magazine, Ateitis, handwritten. This magazine would give the organization its name. In 1911, Ateitis magazine began being printed and delivered.  In the beginning, Ateitis was a clandestine organization, and Lithuania was under the Russian Empire. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, Ateitis members supported the organizations that were working to restore Lithuanian independence. Some of the members were among those who signed the Lithuanian declaration of independence on Feb. 16, 1918.  Under the restored State of Lithuania between the First and Second World War, Ateitis became a major academic organization. There were about 10,000 students in the Ateitis secondary school association. At the Kaunas University, 596 students out of 4,500 belonged to Ateitis.This is in a country with a total population of  about 2,5 million inhabitants.  During the Second World, members of Ateitis took part in the Lithuanian national resistance movement. Some of them were deported to Siberia, tortured, or sent to Nazi or Communist concentration camps.  Ateitis reorganized in 1946, but, when the Soviet regime came, the governing body of the Ateitis Federation moved to the United States. There, they continued the tradition of Ateitis Congresses, which took place in Chicago, Cleveland, and Toronto.  After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ateitis could organize its first meeting in almost 50 years in Vilnius in 1989. In 1990, the governing body of the organization returned to Lithuania. The organization has also renewed itself: during the years of exile, it was necessary to preserve the Lithuanian national identity and culture, and so this became a central item in the work of Ateitis.  Last Feb. 15, in a grand celebration on the eve of Lithuania’s indepence day celebrations, Ateitis members gathered in Kaunas. Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, himself a member of the organization, recalled  in his address that the organization was born when God was going to be set outside of the history. By the way, ”God was very important to the people.” Archbishop Grusas reminded that Pranas Dovydaitis, the  intellectual father of the organization, emphasized in a piece penned one hundred years ago that ”The life of Ateitis circles must be based on Eucharist.”  According to the archbishop of Vilnius, Ateitis has been so far an antidote to ideology, though the ideologies of the 21st century are different from that faced one hundred years ago. In particular, Archbishop Grusas mentions liberalism. This latter, in the name of freedom, always requires more restriction to the freedom of expression and “tries to send religion out of the public discourse with the notions of tolerance or discrimination.”  Beyond liberalism, there are other ideologies today, and Archbishop Grusas mentioned in particular relativism, nationalism, globalism. All of these ideologies spread more quickly than other, earlier ones, thanks to technological progress.  The Archbishop of Vilnius said that the antidote to these ideologies is “to witness Christ with our lives.” Archbishop Grusas explained how Ateitis' five principles work: Catholicism is the antidote to religious relativism and atheism; nationality prevents globalism from surfacing; the family is the antidote against individualism; excellence to  relativism; while participation in public life is a way to resist to the ideology of liberalism.  The Ateitis ideals are still carried forward 110 years on. The story of the federation is a story of resistance against a world that wanted to get rid of God. Celebrating Ateitis also means celebrating a model of committed public Catholicism in society. In an age that seems often to be resigned  to living in the shadow of God’s eclipse from history, organizations like Ateitis inject into society a fundamental spirit of faith.