Catholic Church bankrolling opposition to biz-backed LGBTQ rights expansion

FILE UNDER: Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

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The Michigan Catholic Conference has contributed nearly $240,000 to a campaign committee opposing a business-backed initiative to expand Michigan’s civil rights law to include protections for LGBTQ individuals.

Campaign finance reports filed on Monday show the Lansing-based Michigan Catholic Conference, which bills itself as “the official voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan on matters of public policy,” has made $238,874.80 in direct and in-kind contributions to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice, an organization formed in April that has actively opposed the LGBTQ initiative. The MCC made up nearly all of the committee’s $204,175 in direct contributions this funding cycle.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign launched the ballot initiative to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 to enshrine protections in employment and public accommodations for LGBTQ individuals and ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted unanimously on Monday to reject Fair and Equal Michigan’s petition signatures, claiming the campaign didn’t have enough valid signatures to advance the proposal.

Fair and Equal Michigan officials have vowed to appeal the Board of Canvassers’ vote to the state Court of Appeals.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign has received widespread support from some of Michigan’s largest employers, including Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and General Motors, to name a few. Executives have said expanding the civil rights law is not only a human rights issue, but also a key component to attracting and retaining talent to the state.

Earlier this year, Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice filed a challenge against Fair and Equal Michigan before the Board of State Canvassers, as Michigan Advance previously reported. The newly formed committee had ties to attorneys who had previously fought LGBTQ measures, but it was unclear at the time who was funding the organization.

Campaign finance reports show the Michigan Catholic Conference directly contributed $200,000 to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice on July 2, and gave another $38,874.80 in in-kind donations on July 7. The committee has also received $3,000 from issue advocacy group Michigan Future First, and $1,000 from the Lansing-based Michigan Family Forum. The committee reported $80,389.55 in expenditures, leaving nearly $124,000 in cash on hand.

Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice Treasurer Daniel Wholihan declined to comment for this story, referring questions to committee spokesperson and Republican political strategist Patrick Meyers.

Meyers said in an emailed statement to MiBiz: “The Board of State Canvassers got it right: the so-called “Fair and Equal” petition clearly submitted an inadequate number of signatures for their initiative. They got a fair and equal review by the Bureau of Elections, but fell well short, and we’re pleased that their poorly drafted, misleading proposal is now off the table for 2022.”

Officials with the Michigan Catholic Conference did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The organization issued a press release Monday about its effort to support challenges to Fair and Equal Michigan.

“The Fair and Equal Michigan proposal includes an unprecedented and likely unconstitutional provision to define religion only as a person’s individual beliefs and would restrict the ability for religious organizations to provide humanitarian aid and social services in the public square,” MCC Vice President for Communications David Maluchnik said in a statement. “The proposal would have a crushing impact on the poor of Michigan by harming many Catholic and Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations who daily and outwardly express their faith as a way of life out of love for their neighbor.”

Fair and Equal Michigan Spokesperson Josh Hovey told MiBiz: “When we have every major business group in the state … endorsing us, it’s not necessarily suprising but it’s transparent to see who’s out there funding the opposition. And unfortunately it’s the opposition.”

Complete Article HERE!

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!

Former Rapid City priest sentenced to 7.75 years in prison for stealing from diocese

Marcin Garbacz

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A former Rapid City priest will serve 7.75 years in federal prison and owes more than $300,000 in restitution after being convicted of 65 felony financial crimes related to stealing donations from the diocese.

Marcin Garbacz “exploited his position as a priest” and “continues to play the victim,” prosecutor Benjamin Patterson said Monday at the federal courthouse in Rapid City.

Garbacz, 42, was sentenced after a jury convicted him of 50 counts of wire fraud, nine counts of money laundering, five counts of filing false tax returns, and one count of transporting stolen money between 2012 and 2018.

Garbacz apologized to parishioners, saying he unfairly harmed them while he was angry with the Diocese of Rapid City and the Catholic Church. Among other complaints, he said he was upset that church doctrine considers gay men like him “intrinsically disordered.”

Your crimes were serious, deliberate and show evidence of a “sophisticated criminal mind,” Judge Jeffrey Viken told Garbacz.

Viken said 4.75 years of the sentence is for the crimes related to stealing from the diocese while the remaining three years is for stealing from the IRS and American people by filing false tax returns. Viken also sentenced Garbacz to three years of supervised release once he’s completed his prison term.

Garbacz owes $258,696 to the diocese that will be equally divided among the three Rapid City churches he stole from, Viken said. He also owes $46,008 to the IRS for the tax crimes for a total of $304,704 in restitution.

“The diocese trusts in the judicial system and appreciates its dedication in making sure that justice is served in this case,” the diocese said in an emailed statement.

About a dozen community members and a half-dozen priests attended the hearing. None of them gave victim impact statements during the hearing and the priests declined interviews.

However, priests from the three victimized churches — the Cathedral, Saint Therese and Blessed Sacrament — submitted sealed victim impact statements to Viken. Father Michel Mulloy, the former diocesan administrator, sent a statement before the diocese announced this fall that he is under investigation after being accused of sexually abusing a child in the early 1980s.

Garbacz received 11 letters of support from the community that were written before it was announced last Friday that he’s facing new child sexual abuse charges.

Garbacz made an unusually long statement compared to other defendants who chose to speak during their sentencing hearing.

“I’m really sorry for what I did … I know that I violated their trust,” he said.

Garbacz said he harmed parishioners who donated to the church and those who could have been helped with the funds. He did not directly apologize to his fellow priests, the former bishop he served under or the diocese.

“I disagreed with the institution” and was treated as a “second-class citizen,” he said.

Garbacz said he was at odds with the Catholic Church over its teachings on same-sex attraction. He also said the diocese discouraged priests from showing any signs of weakness and gave them unrealistic and unclear goals.

“I felt I needed to leave the job,” he said of why he moved to Washington and started working at FedEx after completing a treatment program in St. Louis instead of returning to his priestly duties in Rapid City.

Garbacz said the steps former Bishop Robert Gruss said he needed to take to be un-suspended were unrealistic. He also said he realized he already lost credibility in the diocese and wanted to work on taking care of himself.

Garbacz said he wants to continue therapy and find a new career so he can pay his restitution.

“I can’t explain it away,” defense lawyer Jennifer Albertson said of her client’s crimes.

Albertson said Garbacz differed from many of her clients in that he had a good upbringing. However it was probably “psychologically damaging” to be gay while growing up in Poland and then becoming a Catholic priest, she said.

She said the diocese had questioned whether it was a good idea to bring Garbacz to the diocese but did not explain what she meant by that. The diocese did not immediately respond to a message about this.

Albertson said Garbacz ultimately committed a “crime of opportunity” since he had access to where the donations were stored and the diocese did a poor job accounting for the cash. It then “got out of control.”

She asked for a prison term that would let Garbacz return to work and pay restitution while he’s still young and healthy.

“Those people deserve that money back,” Albertson said of the parishioners who donated. “Those are the people he really hurt.”

Patterson asked for a seven-year sentence.

Monday was the first time Garbacz apologized and expressed that he knew he hurt people, Patterson said. He said Garbacz recently said he went to trial to show how the church was bad at tracking money and that the expensive items he bought — which included a $10,000 diamond ring, a grand piano and a Cadillac — were all used for church purposes.

“He can’t see past himself,” Patterson said.

He said Garbacz committed “multiple acts in multiple states,” caused parishioners to stop donating to the church, harmed priests who were his friends, and made the diocese lose credibility.

Garbacz’s crimes and concealment were complex, Patterson added. Among other acts, Garbacz repeatedly stole money, committed his thefts during the night, bought tamper proof bags, forged signatures, lied about how he paid for expensive items, made multiple deposits to avoid IRS suspicion, took out his money once he was caught and prepared to flee to Poland.

The fact that $40,000 of Garbacz’s stolen money remains missing shows how he covered up his crimes, Patterson said.

Garbacz will not be headed directly to prison because he’s now facing the separate indictment related to child sexual abuse.

He’s charged with possessing child porn between July 2011 and May 2019 and “engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place” by traveling to another country and having sexual conduct with a boy under the age of 18.

Garbacz used to work as a parish priest but became a teacher and chaplain at the Rapid City Catholic School System by July 2012, Patterson said during the trial. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. ​

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic diocese paid paltry sums to two poor, black abuse victims

A SURVIVOR of clerical abuse, and now the Mississippi coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), has blasted the Jackson Diocese and a Franciscan order over paltry compensation payments made to two black men who were abused by a friar in the 1990s.

Mark Belenchia

by Barry Duke

Mark Belenchia, above, was commenting on the settlements made to La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love who suffered abuse at the hands of Paul A West.

The former Franciscan friar and fourth-grade teacher has been extradited from Wisconsin to Mississippi to faces sexual battery charges.

Belenchia, whose abuse by a Catholic priest began when he was around 13 and lasted for three years, said of the settlements:

They were harmed as children and they were harmed as adults. The Diocese of Jackson and the Franciscan order ought to be ashamed of their performance.

Reporting for Religion News Service, Michael Rezendes wrote:

The men making the allegations, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love, both 37, are cousins who grew up together and encountered West in the 1990s, when he was a teacher and later the principal at the St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Three years ago, the cousins reported that West sexually assaulted them on school grounds and on road trips, including one to a New York summer camp established by the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic religious order.

As The Associated Press first reported, nearly two years ago La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love each agreed to settle their claims for $15,000 – far less than most clergy abuse victims receive.

A third man, Joshua’s younger brother, Raphael, also alleged West sexually abused him and reported the abuse to church authorities in 1998, after which West returned to Wisconsin. Raphael Love rejected a settlement similar to those signed by his brother and cousin.

In November, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love filed a lawsuit in federal district court in New York, claiming the Franciscans pressured them into signing low-ball settlements that required their silence about their allegations. At the time they signed the settlements, they were not represented by an attorney.

“They felt they could treat us that way because we’re poor and we’re Black,” Joshua Love told the AP.

Father James Gannon, the leader of a Wisconsin-based group of Franciscan Friars, negotiated the settlements. Last summer, he denied that racism or the Loves’ poverty were factors in the amount of money offered . “Absolutely not,” he told the AP.

In 2006, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, which includes Greenwood, settled lawsuits covering 19 victims — 17 of whom were white – for $5 million. That average payout of $263,000 for each survivor is 17 times that offered to each of the Loves. Payments in more recent settlements nationally have ranged far higher.

Gannon also attempted to negotiate a similar agreement with Raphael Love, Joshua Love’s younger brother, who is serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed as a juvenile. Raphael Love refused Gannon’s offer because, he said, the amount was not enough to hire a criminal attorney willing to argue that he deserves a new trial.

West, 60, did not contest his extradition at a hearing in Outagamie Country, Wisconsin on August 17. He arrived at the Leflore County Jail in Greenwood, Mississippi, earlier this week following an investigation by the Mississippi Attorney General’s public integrity division.

West also has been charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child in Wisconsin.

Complete Article HERE!

Disgraced West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield was told a year ago to make restitution.

His successor says Bransfield has gone incommunicado.

Michael J. Bransfield, then-bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., in 2015.

By Michelle Boorstein

More than a year after Pope Francis ordered ousted West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield to make personal amends for alleged sexual and financial misconduct, his successor bishop says he has yet to hear from Bransfield about a restitution proposal.

Last Tuesday, MetroNews, a West Virginia news site, quoted Bishop Mark Brennan as saying that he had not heard from Bransfield in “many months, and I would not expect to. … Whatever he is doing, he is doing and is in a dark hole. We do not know exactly what he is up to; we have not been in communication.”

In July 2019, Francis forbade Bransfield, a well-connected Philadelphian who had held prominent national spots in the Catholic Church, from celebrating Mass and from living in West Virginia. Bransfield had led the church there for 13 years. In November, Brennan had proposed, per Francis’s demand, a specific proposal for Bransfield’s restitution.

Some experts say the restitution package was a first for a bishop. Brennan called for his predecessor, now 76, to pay the diocese nearly $800,000, to apologize to victims, to lose his place in the diocesan cemetery, and to lose the normal bishop retirement package and instead receive a lower stipend equal to that of someone who had been a priest for 13 years.

Diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop on Monday referred The Washington Post to a July 28 letter Brennan wrote to the diocese. The letter only briefly mentioned Bransfield, saying that neither Brennan nor the papal nuncio — the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States — had heard back from Rome since November “on the plan of amends I submitted.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Brennan in the MetroNews report is saying Rome needs to approve of Brennan’s plan, Bransfield’s response or both.

Bransfield declined to comment Monday, and his lawyers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Post in 2019 obtained an internal church investigation that found Bransfield, as bishop in one of the country’s poorest states, spent millions of dollars of diocesan money on chartered jets, lavish furnishings at his official residence and nearly 600 cash gifts to fellow clergymen. The Post also found that $21 million was moved from a church-owned hospital in Wheeling, W.Va., to be used at Bransfield’s discretion. The money was moved into the Bishop’s Fund, a charity Bransfield created with the stated purpose of helping residents of West Virginia, tax filings showed.

MetroNews quoted Brennan last week as saying Bransfield “would not come up with his own plan and did not admit to his actions. Brennan previously told MetroNews that Bransfield told him he did not know who he needed to apologize to.”

Francis was the one who initially called for Bransfield to make amends, Brennan said told MetroNews.

“I wasn’t sent in to demand that. They demanded that. They asked me to work with him, and let me tell you, that was not easy to do,” Brennan said.

Bransfield has denied wrongdoing, saying that his staff in Wheeling was responsible for diocesan finances and which accounts checks came from. He has told The Post that he thinks he greatly improved the financial health of the diocese during his tenure and that gifts and lavish perks were within church culture norm. He has denied the claims of seminarians and priests who said he sexually harassed them.

Complete Article HERE!