Vatican paper brands leakers irresponsible “wolves”

The Vatican newspaper on Wednesday suggested those responsible for revealing sensitive internal documents alleging corruption and a cover-up were irresponsible, undignified “wolves,” the latest twist in what has become known as “Vatileaks.”

But an editorial in the Osservatore Romano, while renewing criticism of some media handling of the scandal, also said that the Catholic Church should see the current image crisis as a chance to purify itself.

It was the latest chapter in a saga in which the Vatican has had to scramble to deal with what one spokesman called its own version of “Wikileaks” and what the Italian media have dubbed “Vatileaks.” It also coincided with the publication of new leaks about the Vatican bank.

The editorial was ostensibly to mark the 30th anniversary of the arrival in Rome from Germany of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected pope in 2005, to take up the powerful post as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal enforcer.

But in a section about current events, it described the pope as a man who “is not stopped by wolves” and that he was ready to stand up to “irresponsible and undignified behavior.”

A senior Vatican official familiar with the newspaper’s editorial line, asked if that part of the editorial which referred to wolves was criticizing those who have leaked the documents, said “even them” and added: “They certainly are not boy scouts.”

From leaked letters by an archbishop who was transferred after he blew the whistle on what he saw as a web of corruption and cronyism, to a leaked poison pen memo which puts a number of cardinals in a bad light, to new suspicions about its bank, Vatican spokesmen have had their work cut out responding.

But the editorial said the Church should see the entire episode, which some say is part of a power struggle inside the Vatican, as an opportunity for renewal.

The “irresponsible and undignified behavior,” the editorial said, “winds up becoming intertwined with the noise of the media, which is inevitable and certainly not disinterested, but which we need to see as an occasion for purification in the Church.”

EMBARRASSING LEAKS

The flurry of leaks has come at an embarrassing time – just before a usually joyful ceremony this week known as a consistory, when Benedict will admit more prelates into the College of Cardinals, the exclusive men’s club that will one day pick the next Roman Catholic leader from among their own ranks.

The latest image crisis began last month when an Italian television investigative show broadcast private letters to Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the pope from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former deputy governor of Vatican City and currently the Vatican ambassador in Washington.

The letters showed that Vigano was transferred after he exposed what he argued was a web of corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to contractors at inflated prices.

Other leaks centre on the Vatican bank, which is trying to put past scandals behind it. They include the collapse 30 years ago of Banco Ambrosiano in a tangle of lurid allegations about money-laundering, freemasons, mafias and the mysterious 1982 death of Ambrosiano chairman Roberto Calvi – “God’s banker.”

The Vatican bank, formally known at the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), aims to comply fully with EU standards on financial transparency in order to make Europe’s “white list” by June.

But the Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper which has published most of the leaked documents about the Vatican bank, ran more confidential letters on Wednesday which it said pointed to an internal clash over just how transparent the bank should be about its past dealings.

Complete Article HERE!

More dirty laundry

Incoming Fresno Bishop Armando Ochoa has been sued by five parishioners from an El Paso, Texas, parish who say the bishop converted funds they donated specifically for construction of a chapel for the traditional Latin Mass to other uses — and they want their money back.

A Mass of Installation for Bishop Ochoa is scheduled tomorrow in Fresno. Pope Benedict XVI named him as the new Fresno bishop on Dec. 1. Before leaving El Paso, where he had been bishop since 1996, Bishop Ochoa took the extraordinary step of suing one of his priests, Fr. Michael Rodriguez. The bishop’s lawsuit alleges that Fr. Rodriguez, a problematic and outspoken priest, committed financial irregularities and violations of diocesan policy on the handling of parish funds.

The parishioners’ lawsuit, announced in a Jan. 30 press release, is the latest development in the ongoing legal battle. The five parishioners say that more than six weeks ago they asked for a meeting with Bishop Ochoa “to resolve this situation in private and in a spirit of Christian charity,” but never received a response from the chancery.

“We did not donate our money in order for it to be seized by the diocese or San Juan Bautista Parish and used for other purposes,” said the news release. “We simply asked that our money be used for the specific intention for which it had been donated or that it be returned to the rightful owners.”

In a Jan. 11 press release, Bishop Ochoa said Fr. Rodriguez had been removed as administrator of San Juan Bautista Parish on Sept. 20, 2011 “based on credible information and documents that show that he intentionally and materially failed to comply with the Manual of Policies and Procedures of Parish Finances of the Roman Catholic Diocese of El Paso.”

“Fr. Rodriguez’s handling and use of donated funds has compromised the financial integrity of San Juan Bautista,” Bishop Ochoa said in the press release. “I have appealed repeatedly to Fr. Rodriguez to make a complete disclosure and a thorough accounting of his financial administration of the parish but he has refused to do so.”

The bishop said Fr. Rodriguez’s refusal to provide financial information left him with no alternative but to file a lawsuit against the priest and his brother, David Rodriguez.
The parishioners’ lawsuit sheds new light on the conflict between Fr. Rodriguez and Bishop Ochoa. According to the suit, beginning in 2007, parishioners
“expressed a desire to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in accordance with the Usus Antiquior of the Roman Rite and to do so with the installation of an altar and sanctuary designed for such Mass.”

Their donations, said the parishioners, “were not to be used for any other purpose.” Fr. Rodriguez, they said, collected the money and moved forward with plans for the altar and sanctuary, including the approval of architectural plans.

Parishioners James Herget and Marie Celeste Herget allege in the suit they contributed $32,820; parishioners Mario A. Macias and Francella Macias estimate their donations at $6200; and parishioner Aurora L. Alvarado alleges she contributed $1070. All of them ask that their money either be used to complete the traditional altar and sanctuary — or be returned to them.

Bishop Ochoa and Fr. Rodriguez have been at odds since 2010, when the priest began attending city council meetings to speak out against homosexuality. Fr. Rodriguez also authored several opinion pieces in the El Paso Times critical of the El Paso City Council for extending health insurance to all employees regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

When Fr. Rodriguez became involved in a recall campaign against some in city government responsible for that policy, Bishop Ochoa removed him as parish administrator. “This type of intervention in the political process by religious organizations such as the Diocese of El Paso and San Juan Bautista Church is not permitted under Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code,” said Bishop Ochoa in a statement issued at the time.

Fr. Rodriguez has adamantly denied any wrongdoing, saying that Bishop Ochoa’s allegations that he improperly handled donated funds were not true.

“I have always honored, respected, and made good use of the financial patrimony of San Juan Bautista,” said Fr. Rodriguez in a Jan. 12 statement. “I stake my entire reputation on this claim.”

According to Fr. Rodriguez, he met with Bishop Ochoa on Sept. 20, 2011, and “opened my heart to my bishop, like a son to a father, and was completely honest and forthcoming with him as to the financial affairs of San Juan Bautista. I told him everything. He chose not to believe me… I have never misappropriated or misused parish funds.”

Fr. Rodriguez said “the real reason” for Bishop Ochoa’s lawsuit against him “is due to my defense of the Catholic Church’s teaching with regard to homosexuality as well as my adherence to the Roman Liturgy of 1962.” He said he would “continue to proclaim and teach the truths of the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the area of sexual morality, no matter the cost” and would also “continue to adhere to the Ancient Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, no matter the cost.”

True to his word, Fr. Rodriguez was back before the El Paso City Council yesterday with a statement attempting to explain the Church’s teachings regarding homosexuality to his elected representatives.

Complete Article HERE!

More Bad News for the Catholic Church

Elderly caretakers of a home for Catholic priests claim the church wrongfully fired them for complaining about priests’ penchant for pornography and misuse of church funds.

John Slonimski, 75, and his wife Margaret, 65, sued the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in Riverside County Court, alleging wrongful firing, discrimination, breach of contract, failure to pay overtime and other charges.

The Slonimskis say the church hired them in 2002 to live on and oversee the 80-acre property in Hemet, and attend to the needs of the tenant priests.

Fast-growing Hemet, pop. 71,800, is in central Riverside County, not quite in the western shadows of the San Jacinto Mountains, on the eastern side of which lies Palm Springs.

The Slonimskis say the church’s Hemet property “is, in essence, currently a housing organization used for priests, including those who have had legal problems wherein there have been accusations and claims of sexual abuse”.

The Slonimskis say they provided services as required, to the church and its priests, until they were unlawfully fired in July this year.

The Slominskis say they moved to Hemet from Idaho based on verbal assurances that they could live on the property for the rest of their lives. But when they got there, they say, they found the property largely uninhabitable.

“Consequently, plaintiffs spent the following months repairing and cleaning the real property,” according to the complaint. “Approximately forty acres of weed were removed by the plaintiffs a multitude of times, as well as the clean-up of the two mobile homes. Plaintiffs worked twelve hours a day during this period to make the property habitable and ready for the many retreats that the Congregation planned at the property.”

After the rocky start, the Slominskis say, their duties expanded to include booking and conducting retreats on the property and managing its archives.

Because their duties had changed, the Slonimskis say, the church agreed to modify their employment contract. From 2004 on, in addition to room and board, they were paid salaries. They say the church also agreed that they could be terminated only for cause, and that regardless of their job performance they would be allowed to live on the property.

But the Slominskis say they became concerned about the behavior of the priests, all of whom were essentially the couple’s supervisors.

The Slominskis say their complaints included, but were not limited to, members of the congregation “engaging in unlawful financial practices … regarding the handling of donations and priests’ salaries and other matters; … unlawful and inappropriate conduct … regarding sexual abuse of third persons; … and inappropriate practice of reviewing inappropriate and/or pornographic material on congregation’s premises.”

They say they also complained that they were being underpaid, and “were being required to conceal nor discuss with third persons the fact that [the] Congregation were engaging in unlawful (and/or which plaintiffs perceived to be unlawful) activities, including various financial improprieties.”

The Slonimskis say: “On a repeated basis throughout plaintiffs’ employment, plaintiffs repeatedly advised congregation of the fact that [the] Congregation were engaging in unlawful conduct and behavior and/or conduct that plaintiffs reasonably believed was unlawful conduct … which resulted in plaintiff, and each of them, being ostracized, receiving the cold shoulder from Congregation, being retaliated against and harassed and ultimately resulting in the termination of each plaintiffs’ employment, which included their right to continu[e] living on the Hemet property of Congregation for the remainder of plaintiffs’ lives.”

John Slonimski claims that in June 2004, while attending a financial meeting in Massachusetts with treasurers from congregations, he disclosed that he believed the defendants were violating state and federal law in their improper handling of donated funds and other financial matters.

The Slominskis say they took these matters to their supervising priests, but were repeatedly rebuffed and told no action would be taken.

They say matters escalated in January 2011, when a priest named Fr. Jerry Holland arrived on the scene. The Slominskis say Holland repeatedly engaged in conduct they considered at best inappropriate and potentially unlawful. They say the behavior included the routine use of profanity in the workplace and reading of inappropriate and/or obscene materials at work.

Then, “In February 2011, an article surfaced in the Los Angeles Times and New York times featuring the defendants’ representative, Father Martin O’Loghlen. He had been accused of trying to contract a woman that he had abused when she was a minor,” the Slominskis say. “Plaintiffs, over defendants’ objections, criticized and complained about Father Martin O’Loghlen’s conduct to third persons for which plaintiffs, and each of them, were further ostracized, criticized and retaliated against.”

On July 22 this year, the Slonimskis say, the defendants, through legal counsel, met with them at their home and fired them and offered them a severance agreement.

The Slominskis say that when they balked at signing the agreement without reading it, they were “rudely told that, in essence, they were lucky to even have anything at all offered to them.”

The Slominskis say they were booted from the property. When they objected, they say they were told that if they had no written employment contract, then they had no agreement.

The Slonimskis said they asked whether they had a right to rely on a priest’s word, but got no response from the attorneys.

They say the entire exchange came just two days after they had told the congregation that their daughter, who suffers from encephalitis, was coming to live with them while she underwent and recovered from life-threatening brain surgery.

They claim the defendants subsequently violated their rights to privacy “by disclosing to third persons who were not in a need-to-know position, confidential and private information about plaintiffs’ employment and the cessation thereof … and certain terms and conditions of said employment.”

The Slominskis seek lost wages with prejudgment interest, and punitive damages for unpaid overtime and benefits, wrongful termination, retaliation, breach of contract, failure to provide rest and meal periods, failure to timely pay wages, violation of right to privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Pell under attack from within over bishops’ grand house in Rome

A LEADING Catholic priest has criticised Cardinal George Pell for reserving a “grand apartment” for himself at the Australian church’s new guest house in Rome, saying “the ethics of our secular state are higher than those of our church”.

Father Eric Hodgens, of Melbourne, an elder statesman among the clergy, also savaged Australia’s Catholic bishops for what he regards as an abject performance during their five-yearly visit to Rome last month, particularly in failing to stand up for Bill Morris, sacked earlier this year as bishop of Toowoomba.

“They eat their own when fingered by Rome,” Father Hodgens wrote of the bishops in The Swag, the national journal of Catholic priests. “How can you trust them?

”They are reckless with our patrimony. They seem incapable of protecting their own rights, let alone ours, in a system which is corrupt by today’s secular standards. No wonder the attitude of so many priests and observant laity is moving from disappointment to disgust,” he wrote.

Father Hodgens said the Domus Australia guest house in Rome – a beautifully refurbished old religious house with 33 rooms for paying visitors, a richly restored grand chapel and organ and a 150-seat auditorium opened by Pope Benedict XVI last month – cost between $30 million and $85 million, according to different estimates.

He said Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, had hoped all Australian dioceses would pay for it, but only Melbourne, Perth and Lismore had made contributions and the Sydney Archdiocese had paid the bulk.

He said Catholics of the four dioceses were not consulted, there was no prospect of a reasonable financial return and no accountability. “What does it say of us who trust bishops?
The ethics of our secular state are higher than those of our church.”

Secrecy also surrounded the sacking of Bishop Morris, who never saw the charges against him or the report by an “inquisitorial visitor”, Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, he said.

“And the Australian bishops simply rolled over … . they thanked their humiliators for being generous with their time,” Father Hodgens wrote.

“Thank God we live in a secular state and not in a Catholic theocracy,” he said.

Cardinal Pell is overseas but a Sydney Archdiocese spokeswoman said the total cost to develop the Australian pilgrim centre in Rome was similar to that of a new parish or school, ”not the excessive amounts quoted by some ill-informed sources”, and the investment was expected to pay its way.

”Domus Australia was funded by the transfer of an underutilised property investment to this purpose and by borrowings and donations,” she said.

”No money raised through parish collections has been used in this initiative.”

Complete Article HERE!

The fantastic wealth of Irish Catholic religious orders revealed

When the Irish Government negotiated a settlement of the compensation due to the tens of thousands of people abused and traumatised in institutions run by the Catholic Church, the total came to €1.36 billion.

The Government wanted the Church to pay half of this, but during negotiations in 2002, the Church managed to wangle its way into contributing only €120 million (£107m) – a pitifully small fraction of what was needed.

This deal was struck on the hypothesis that there would be 2,000 claimants, something the Church was uniquely qualified to know would not be the case.

In the event there were 14,000.

Only after a great deal of public pressure, the amount the Church will pay is now to be renegotiated, with the Government having carried out a review of the assets of the religious orders that abused, over many years, those in their care.

The review has revealed the staggering wealth of these religious orders. It showed between 1999 and 2009, the orders made €667 million in property deals.

Almost all of these sales were made while the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was investigating the years of suffering endured by children in their care.

The properties included land banks, houses, farmyards, a swimming pool, a warehouse, sports grounds and convents.

A quarter of all these trades involved the 2,088-member Sisters of Mercy.

Its four provinces sold 195 properties, including a €32m deal for 16 acres in Killarney.

The order still retained over €1 billion in land assets after these deals.

The 250-member Christian Brothers made €79m in the decade under review and the smaller Oblates of Mary Immaculate featured prominently because of the €105m it made by selling its Belcamp campus in north Dublin.

The top 13 trades by the orders brought in a combined €409m, while the remaining 313 units were sold for €81m.

The €667m total contributed to the revenue of 17 of the 18 orders which, in 2009, agreed to renegotiate the controversial 2002 indemnity deal.

The subsequent sales returns consisted of over 395 properties in the Republic, the North, Britain and America.

The details were released to an Irish newspaper with the orders’ agreement.

Some properties were transferred to community, public and diocesan bodies for nominal fees. Others were bought at peak prices by speculators and developers.

The asset review took place after a public backlash following the Ryan Report two years ago.

The report’s contents forced the Government and the orders to revisit the deal which capped the liability of the orders at €128m.

On the basis of the review, the orders raised their offer to €476m.

This was to go towards compensating victims, building the new National Children’s Hospital and erecting a memorial.

However, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn says he is disappointed by the offer from the various orders – they are still several hundred million short of what is needed.

He is now seeking further property transfers and says he will use bailiffs to seize more property if necessary to make up the shortfall.

But, as Dearbhail McDonald, the legal editor of the Irish Independent, pointed out, much of the money is tied up in charitable trusts for a specific purpose.

He maintains it will be difficult — even impossible — for the Government to access it.

“The chances of the Government sending in the bailiffs to the religious orders is about as likely as the sisters and brothers footing their half of an estimated €1.36bn abuse bill: negligible.”

Ruairi Quinn wants the orders’ overall contribution to be raised to €680m.

He says that if the Church does not pay its fair share of the settlement it will mean further cuts in public spending in a country already suffering mightily in the recession.

The Government is to re-open discussions with the clergy shortly.

“I’m going to enter into these negotiations with an open mind,” said Minister Quinn, although he told reporters that he is “not confident” that the Church will stump up its share.

“This is about recouping for the distressed Irish taxpayer a vast amount of money, the alternative which is that we have to reduce further expenditure and introduce saving in areas that we would otherwise not want to do.”

Despite the sales, the various religious orders retained a bank of property assets worth €3.07bn and financial assets of €704m.

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