Cardinal among 10 indicted by Vatican for financial crimes

Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who has been caught up in a real estate scandal, speaks to the media a day after he resigned suddenly and gave up his right to take part in an eventual conclave to elect a pope, near the Vatican, in Rome, Italy, September 25, 2020.

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  • Pope approved move against cardinal, who says he is innocent
  • Former head of Vatican Financial Intelligence denies charges
  • Becciu most senior Vatican official charged with financial crime
  • Trial to start July 27

A prominent Italian cardinal was among 10 people sent to trial in the Vatican on Saturday charged with financial crimes including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, extortion and abuse of office.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, formerly a senior official in the Vatican administration, as well as two top officials at the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Unit will go on trial on July 27 over a multi-million euro scandal involving the Vatican’s purchase of a building in one of London’s smartest districts.

The trial will inevitably bring a swirl of media interest to the tiny city-state surrounded by Rome, and appears to underscore Pope Francis’ determination to cure the rot in Vatican finances, even if it involves messy public hearings.

Becciu, 73, whom the pope fired from his senior clerical post last year for alleged nepotism, and who has always maintained his innocence during a two-year investigation, becomes the most senior Vatican official to be charged with financial crimes.

The pope personally gave the required approval last week for Becciu to be indicted, according to a 487-page indictment request seen by Reuters. The Vatican announced the indictments in a two-page statement.

The charges against Becciu include embezzlement and abuse of office. An Italian woman who worked for him was charged with embezzlement and the cardinal’s former secretary, a priest, was accused of extortion.

Becciu said in a statement that he was a victim of a “machination” and reaffirmed his “absolute innocence”.

Two Italian brokers, Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione, were charged with embezzlement, fraud and money laundering. Torzi, for whom Italian magistrates issued an arrest warrant in April, was also charged with extortion.

There was no immediate response to attempts to reach their lawyers, but both men have consistently denied wrongdoing.
Four companies associated with individual defendants, two in Switzerland, one in the United States and one in Slovenia, were also indicted, according to the document.

POLICE RAID

The investigation into the purchase of the building became public on Oct. 1, 2019, when Vatican police raided the offices of the Secretariat of State, the administrative heart of the Catholic Church, and those of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF).

The then-president of the AIF, Rene Bruelhart, a 48-year-old Swiss, and AIF’s former Italian director, Tommaso Di Ruzza, 46, were charged with abuse of office for allegedly failing to adequately protect the Vatican’s interests and giving Torzi what the indictment request called an “undue advantage”.

Di Ruzza was also accused of embezzlement related to alleged inappropriate use of his official credit card, and of divulging confidential information.

Bruelhart said in a text message that he had “always carried out my functions and duties with correctness” and that “the truth about my innocence will emerge.”

Di Ruzza did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.

In 2014, the Secretariat of State invested more than 200 million euros, much of it from contributions from the faithful, in a fund run by Mincione, securing about 45% of a commercial and residential building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London’s South Kensington district.

The indictment request said Mincione had tried to deceive the Vatican, which in 2018 tried to end the relationship.
It turned to Torzi for help in buying up the rest of the building, but later accused him of extortion.

‘ENORMOUS LOSSES’

At the time, Becciu was in the last year of his post as deputy secretary of state for general affairs, a powerful administrative position that handles hundreds of millions of euros.

All told, the Secretariat of State sank more than 350 million euros into the investment, according to Vatican media, and suffered what Cardinal George Pell, the former Vatican treasurer, told Reuters last year were “enormous losses”.

Torzi was arrested in the Vatican in June 2020, and spent a week in custody.

According to the indictment request, Becciu is charged with five counts of embezzlement, two of abuse of office, and one count of inducing a witness to perjury. About 75 pages of the document are dedicated to Becciu.

It says Becciu tried to “heavily deflect” the inquiry into Vatican investments, including the London building, and tried to discredit the investigating magistrates via the Italian media.

Becciu continued to have influence over money transfers at the Secretariat even after he left the post, the document said.

The main charges against Becciu involve the alleged funnelling of money and contracts to companies or charitable organisations controlled by his brothers on their native island of Sardinia.

Another Sardinian, Cecilia Maronga, 40, who worked for Becciu, was charged with embezzlement. Her cellphone was not connected.

The indictment request said she had received about 575,000 euros from the Secretariat of State in 2018-2019.

She has said on Italian television that the money, sent to her company in Slovenia, was to ransom kidnapped missionaries in Africa. But the indictment request said much of it was used for “personal benefit”, including the purchase of luxury goods.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican moves to tamp down spat with Italy over LGBT rights

In this Oct. 4, 2020 file photo, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin talks to journalists during a press conference at the Vatican. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, attempted to tamp down controversy Thursday, May 24, 2021, over a Vatican diplomatic communication to Italy, saying that the Holy See’s intention was not to block passage of a law that would extend additional protections from discrimination to the LGBT community.

by COLLEEN BARRY

The Vatican’s Secretary of State attempted to tamp down controversy Thursday over a Vatican diplomatic communication to Italy, saying the Holy See was not trying to block passage of a law that would extend additional protections from discrimination to the LGBT community.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s No. 2, told Vatican News that he personally approved the diplomatic communication, which was intended to express concerns over the proposed Italian legislation. The Vatican is against any “attitude or gesture of intolerance or hatred toward people motivated by sexual orientations,” he added.

The chief concern, Parolin said, is that “vagaries” in the text of the proposed law could expose anyone expressing an opinion about “any possible distinction between man and woman” to prosecution.

The letter, which has been published by Italian media, claims specifically that the law would violate a landmark treaty establishing diplomatic ties between Italy and the Vatican by putting at risk the right of Roman Catholics to freely express themselves. It cited as an example a clause that would require Catholic schools, along with their public counterparts, to run activities on a designated day against homophobia and transphobia.

The law would add women, people who are homosexual, transsexual or with disabilities, to those protected by a law banning discrimination and punishing hate crimes. The lower house of parliament passed the legislation in November, but it has been stalled in the Senate by right-wing concerns that it would limit freedom of expression.

Right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, for example, has complained that anyone saying that a family is formed with a man and a woman would be exposed to possible prosecution.

Backers of the law have dismissed such concerns, saying that the threshold for prosecution is inciting hatred or violence against the protected classes.

Premier Mario Draghi on Wednesday rebuffed the Vatican’s attempt at influencing the legislative process, telling parliament: “Italy is a secular state.”

But the controversy has ignited outrage over Vatican meddling, with many calling for the cancellation of the so-called Lateran Treaty, originally established under fascism and revised in the 1980s, establishing diplomatic ties between the Vatican and predominantly Roman Catholic Italy.

LGBT activists have vowed to transform Gay Pride events in Rome and Milan on Saturday into protests against what they say is the Vatican’s unprecedented interference in the Italian legislative process.

In decades past, the Vatican objected to Italian laws legalizing abortion and divorce and backed unsuccessful referendums after the fact to try to repeal them.

Complete Article HERE!

Amid calls for Catholic Church to take responsibility for residential schools, Pope meets with Canadian Cardinals

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran about 47 per cent of Canada’s residential schools, including the one in Kamloops. They have refused to release their records to help identify the remains

In this file photo, Pope Francis arrives to lead Holy Rosary prayer in Vatican gardens to end the month of May, at the Vatican, May 31, 2021.

By Sarah Smellie

Pope Francis met with two Canadian Cardinals on Saturday amid mounting pressure on the Catholic Church to take responsibility for Canada’s residential school system, though it’s not known what was discussed.

No information was immediately available about why the Pope met with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Michael Czerny, a top official in the Vatican’s migrants and refugees portfolio.

The meetings were disclosed in the Vatican’s daily roster of papal audiences.

Past appointment listings show Pope Francis meets with Oulette every Saturday, but meetings with Czerny are rare. The two last met on May 10, but Czerny’s name does not appear in previous agendas.

The Vatican did not respond to request for comment on the meeting, and attempts to reach the cardinals were unsuccessful.

The appointments came a day after nine United Nations human rights experts implored the Catholic Church, as well as Canadian authorities, “to conduct prompt and thorough investigations” into an unmarked burial site believed to contain the remains of 215 Indigenous children found at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced last week that ground-penetrating radar confirmed the findings.

“Large scale human rights violations have been committed against children belonging to Indigenous communities, it is inconceivable that Canada and the Holy See would leave such heinous crimes unaccounted for and without full redress,” said a Friday release from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and ran it as a day school until it closed in 1978.

Some 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly sent to residential schools, where many suffered abuse and even death.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran about 47 per cent of Canada’s residential schools, including the one in Kamloops. The Oblates have refused to release their records to help identify the remains.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also put pressure on the Catholic Church Friday, calling on officials to “step up” and take responsibility for its role in the system and urging the release of records related to the schools.

It is inconceivable that Canada and the Holy See would leave such heinous crimes unaccounted for and without full redress
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Trudeau said he was “deeply disappointed” by the position the Catholic Church has taken, adding that he personally asked Pope Francis in 2017 to consider apologizing for the institution’s part in the government-sponsored, church-run schools.

“It’s something we are all still waiting for the Catholic Church to do,” Trudeau said.

Ouellet is originally from La Motte, Que., and was said to be a frontrunner to succeed Pope Benedict XVI as head of the Church in 2013. He plays a key role in the selection of bishops and archbishops around the world.

Czerny is a Czech-born Canadian whose family settled in Montreal. He is the Vatican’s under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Friday’s release from the nine independent experts from the UN’s human rights office said they expect the church to provide judicial authorities with “full access …. to the archives of the residential schools run by the institution,” as well as thoroughly investigate allegations concerning the schools and publicly disclose the results of their efforts.

The release also took aim at Ottawa, saying Canada’s Indigenous people have been waiting “for too many years” for the federal government to implement the recommendations in the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, released in 2015.

Ottawa must investigate the sites of all other residential schools in Canada, the release said.

“The judiciary should conduct criminal investigations into all suspicious death and allegations of torture and sexual violence against children hosted in residential schools, and prosecute and sanction the perpetrators and concealers who may still be alive,” the experts said in the release.

The signatories to the release included Mama Fatima Singhateh, an expert on the sexual exploitation of children, and Francisco Cali Tzay, an expert on the rights of Indigenous people.

Complete Article HERE!

So what went wrong in Rome over same-sex blessings?

An analysis by Christopher Lamb following Bishop Johan Bonny’s comments at The Tablet webinar.

by Christopher Lamb

The high cost of the Vatican’s ruling against same-sex blessings has been laid out in stark terms by the Bishop of Antwerp. During a discussion with The Tablet, Bishop Johan Bonny explained that in his diocese large numbers of young people had cancelled their baptismal registrations because of the ruling. Across the traditionally Catholic heartlands of Belgium’s Flemish dioceses, he believed the number who have disaffiliated from the Church stands at around 2,000. Similar findings are likely to be found in other places.

So what might be done to retrieve the flock who are leaving? During the 28 April webinar hosted by The Tablet, Bishop Bonny and a panel of theologians explored how the Church could include and recognise same-sex couples and LGBT Catholics. Yet this question goes deeper than whether or not it is possible to bless gay unions. Instead, it raises profoundly important ecclesiological issues including how to live the “Catholicity” of the Church differently.

Three areas of discussion are emerging as crucial to the debate.

First, is the process the church adopts when making decisions on contentious topics. It is now crucial for time and space to be given for discernment rather than Rome panicking and issuing premature judgements. This is where synodality, which Pope Francis wants to see at every level of the Church, comes in.

Some voices argue that synodal processes such as the one in Germany will result in “schism” because it will lead local churches into divergent stances on questions of sexuality or that challenge official teaching. But Bishop Bonny, who once worked at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, pointed out the threat to unity is in the other direction.

“You cannot have real unity or communion unless local churches can find the best solutions for their problems,” he said during the webinar. “There are basic lines, that’s clear, but for so many questions like ministry in the Church or moral theology, we need more differentiated solutions since the questions are not the same.”

On same-sex blessings, Bonny said there would have been “a different outcome” if Rome had invited bishops from a group of countries where gay marriage is the law to “sit together and make a common proposal”.

He went on: “We could have gone to Rome to discuss [the matter] with the Pope, not with all the cardinals, but the Pope himself, to find the best way possible, according to the Gospel, and what Jesus is teaching us, in the general interests of the Church and the Salus Animarum [good of souls]…That would be real collegiality.”

This requires a different role for Rome and a reimagined relationship between the papacy and local churches. Just issuing a repetition of old formulas to complex pastoral questions is inadequate. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, which said same-sex blessings are impossible because “God cannot bless sin”, was issued without consultation with bishops or the relevant Vatican departments.

By contrast, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s family life teaching, emerged after two synod gatherings on the family. Synodality offers ways for a discerned judgment to be reached. Rather than issuing condemnations, Amoris Laetitia focussed on accompaniment, integration and discernment and the positive elements in so-called “irregular” relationships. Fr James Alison, another of the webinar panellists, sees this as the magisterium of the Church walking alongside people. The learning process, he said, happens “sideways” and through “dialogue”. He explained: “It is sideways that we learn who we are. It is from and who each other.”

The second area is how Catholic teaching on homosexuality could be updated. Fr Alison, who is openly gay, argued that the stumbling block on the Church’s ministry to LGBT Catholics remains the definition in the Catechism that same-sex orientation “is objectively disordered” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”.

He added: “Until someone lets them off having to treat us as a negative definition from the heterosexual act, we are never going to move on. That is at the root of this.” A proposed amendment to the catechism could be to change the phrase “objectively disordered” to “differently ordered”, something which Jesuit priest Fr James Martin has called for.

Bishop Bonny pointed out that the catechism can be updated, adding: “I think there are paragraphs that in a very reasonable, collegial way could be changed for the good of the Church and for the pastoral work we have to do.”

Moral theologian Professor Lisa Sowle Cahill, another panellist, argued that change is more likely to come from the “bottom-up” in the Church, and less from top-down changes.

“I think it’s a mistake to keep trying to work out the reality of same-sex couples or gay and lesbian people within this older terminology which is so concerned with tying everyone down into very careful definitions so that we know exactly where to put everyone and how to set boundaries around them,” she said.

“The Catholic Church never changes its teaching by rejecting or revising what is from the past. Instead, we allow it to die a decent death.”

Professor Cahill, who teaches at Boston College, Massachusetts, said the Pope was offering a Gospel-based morality of “care, compassion and closeness” which should be at the centre of decision making. Amoris Laetitia, she points out, draws from the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the application of the natural law and the way it takes into account different factors even in “what is objectively true and right.” Professor Cahill pointed out that Amoris Laetitia states that even couples in “irregular” situations are not deprived of “sanctifying grace”.

The third area is which model of the Church people are using. Bishop Bonny says he likes to see the Church as a family seeing his role as a father or grandfather. It is his responsibility, he said, to make LGBT Catholics “feel part of the family that is the church, not only by welcoming them, but also by giving them a responsibility.” He also recommended that bishops take the time to meet with same-sex couples in their homes.

“Invite your bishop for an evening meal at home and talk with him. It will be a conversion for him”, he advised gay Catholics.

“Once I was invited by two women in a civil marriage with two children, that evening changed my ideas about what it means to live together as a homosexual couple, even having children. I can have many questions, but it changed my ideas.”

If the Church is a family, then it cannot adopt the characteristics of a sect. Sects tend to see themselves as a club and are willing to exclude or throw out people who don’t conform. If the Church is a family then it will always be distressing to hear of people leaving.

Sr Gemma Simmonds of the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge said the Church cannot operate a system of “you don’t have a ticket” so you are not welcome.

“We are losing people, we are bleeding people…who find that the reality in which they live no longer finds a response within the church of acceptance and blessing,” she said. She offered 1 John 4:16 as encouragement for same-sex couples: “God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in them.”

The Vatican’s doctrine office may have thought that issuing a ruling against same-sex blessings would be enough to close down further discussion about the topic. In fact, it has had the opposite effect, only sparking more debate which go to the heart of what it means to be the Church.

Complete Article HERE!

After Vatican said ‘God cannot bless sin,’ some LGBTQ people leave Catholic identity behind

By Alejandra Molina

For the past three years, Eder Díaz Santillan has hosted a podcast on which he interviews LGBTQ people on how they’ve coped with their gender and sexual identities while being raised in traditional Catholic upbringings. He also openly discusses his own identity as a Latino and gay Catholic man.

To Santillan, being gay and Catholic has meant reconciling with the reality the church has never fully accepted his LGBTQ identity. However, he’s recognized there’s a difference between his own relationship with God and the priests who have condemned homosexuality from the altar. It took years, but Santillan realized he could maintain his faith and his LGBTQ identity.

That’s why it may have been a surprise to his listeners when he announced in mid-March he would no longer identify as Catholic. The announcement came just days after the Vatican’s decree it wouldn’t allow priests to bless same-sex unions, saying “God cannot bless sin.”

“It took me this long to recognize that I can let go of anything that hurts me,” said Santillan, 35, on Instagram.

Pope Francis’ rejection of proposals that would allow priests to bless same-sex couples has left many LGBTQ Catholics feeling disappointed and demoralized by an institution they felt recently represented a softening toward LGBTQ marriages within the church. As a result, some have decided to leave their Catholic identities behind, while others remain hopeful the church will eventually become more accepting. Though some have said Francis later distanced himself from that decision, some, like Santillan, say “that’s not enough.”

After the Vatican’s statement, Santillan felt an urgent need to break from his Catholic identity. He realized he could no longer “normalize being Catholic and gay to my audience,” adding that he had become accustomed to the church’s “condemning narrative.”

The fact the church would not bless same-sex unions was nothing new to Santillan, but what struck him was the Vatican felt the need to “be so explicit” about it.

It was shocking,” he said.

To Santillan, the church’s stance is more than just an opinion of what is right and wrong; it fuels faith-based conversion therapy and the backing of laws that discriminate and criminalize LGBTQ people in Latin American countries. It has repercussions, he said. The Vatican’s “God cannot bless sin” statement took him back to his childhood, when he considered himself a sin due to the church’s rhetoric. He feared he was going to hell.

While Santillan figures out what it means to no longer identify as a Catholic, he said, he will always work to help those “who like me have to live with the trauma of the Catholic Church.”

Since the Vatican’s declaration over same-sex unions, the Rev. James Martin, an American Jesuit priest, said he’s heard from a number of LGBTQ Catholics whose reactions have “ranged from anger to hurt to frustration to disgust to despair.”

He said about a dozen have explicitly told him they were leaving the church as a result.

“Among that group the general response was, ‘I’m done.’ Or ‘This was the last straw,’” Martin told Religion News Service via email.

“The main reason that LGBTQ people felt hurt was not simply that priests were forbidden from blessing same-sex unions, a decision that many people may have expected, but that the statement went beyond that and talked about their love as ‘sin,’” said Martin, an advocate of the LGBTQ community.

As he listens to LGBTQ Catholics, Martin said he reminds them “they are, by virtue of the sacrament of baptism, as much a part of the church as their pastor, their bishop or the Pope.”

He also invites LGBTQ people to see the church “in its totality,” noting Francis’ appointment of Juan Carlos Cruz, an openly gay man, to a papal commission, as well as the number of European bishops who criticized the Vatican’s language.

“I invite them to see themselves as full members of the church, even a church that seems not to know how to welcome them,” Martin said.

For queer Catholics like Xorje Olivares, 32, it’s about making individual choices around what their Catholicism looks like. Spirituality, he said, doesn’t need to be a “one size fits all.”

“Everybody’s journey toward their acceptance of the Catholic faith or the role of the Catholic Church in their lives is their own, very much like everyone’s journey to their queerness is their own,” Olivares said.

Olivares, a former altar boy, hosts the podcast  “Queer I am, Lord,” where he talks with LGBTQ Catholics about why they’ve stayed in or left the church.

While Olivares said many queer Catholics grew up conditioned to fear God and to believe they are going to hell, “we’ve gone past that.” Meanwhile, he also acknowledged many still find it difficult figuring out “what to believe, when they have a church saying one thing and their bodies telling them another.”

“I sympathize with their struggles because those are very real,” he said.

Olivares often thinks about the kind of message they would send to the Catholic institution if every single LGBTQ person decided to leave the church, but he remains grounded by the Bible verse “knock and the door shall be open to you.”

“Here I am, me and all my queer friends. We’ve been knocking on the door over, and over, and over again, and I would be so upset with myself if the door finally opens and the church becomes a little more welcoming, and I’m not there because I decided to walk away,” he said.

“I don’t know if the church will be the safe space that I need it to be, or if it ever will be, but I know that I still find some joy referring to myself as a Catholic,” Olivares said.

Complete Article HERE!