In recent days, Pope Francis presented the Apostolic Letter – motu proprio – in which he decidedly sharpened the issue of financial transparency of high officials and Vatican institutions. Commentators describe this decisive step of the pope as important in the fight against the so-called The “culture of the envelope” in the Church. Transparency of the Holy See’s finances was one of the main goals of Francis’ activities from the beginning of his pontificate. – The behavior of all people involved in financial activities in the Vatican and holding positions must be impeccable and exemplary in the present and future – the Holy Father said a few weeks ago.
“Whoever is faithful in a little thing will be faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a little thing will be dishonest also in much” – with this passage from the Gospel of St. Luke begins with the Apostolic Letter on “the provisions regarding transparency in the management of public finances.”
Pope Francis emphasizes that one of the reasons for the need to regulate the issue of financial transparency is the so-called the Merida Convention (United Nations Convention against Corruption, adopted in 2003).
“All those who work in the departments of the Roman Curia, in institutions associated with the Holy See and in the administration of the Governorate of the Vatican City State, have a duty to implement the fidelity mentioned in the Gospel, acting in accordance with the principle of transparency and in the absence of any conflict of interests,” wrote the Pope.
The employees mentioned by Franciszek were obliged to submit, upon taking up the office and renew every two years, declarations concerning, inter alia, the fact that they have not been convicted of intentional offenses by a final judgment, are not subject to pending criminal proceedings or investigations concerning participation in a criminal organization, corruption, fraud, terrorism, trafficking or exploitation of people or evasion of taxes and other financial obligations.
In addition, Holy See employees must declare that they do not “even through a third party” have funds, investments or interests in “countries on the ML / TF risk list” or in so-called tax havens. They are also required to make a declaration that all their property comes from lawful actions.
According to the teaching of the Church
Another point of importance is that of declaring that you do not have “shares of any kind in companies or enterprises that operate in purposes and sectors contrary to the social teaching of the Church.”
Catholic portal “Crux” on the list of the above-mentioned “sectors” mentions, inter alia, the armaments industry, pornography and pharmaceutical companies producing products “related to artificial pregnancy prevention or abortion”. Crux describes here the case of Libero Milone, who was the auditor of the Vatican Curia in 2015-2017. In an interview with Rai3, Milone informed about the discovery of the investment of the Holy See’s Estate Administration in a pharmaceutical company that produced tablets “day after”. The shares in the Vatican company were to be held for nearly 20 years.
Milone was forced to resign as an auditor after the then official of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, Card. Giovanni Angelo Becciu accused him of “spying” on his superiors. Becciu was to threaten the auditor with “indictment” if the auditor did not resign. Milone, speaking to journalists after his resignation, was convinced that there are people in the Vatican who “wanted to slow down Pope Francis’ efforts to reform finances. Both sides argued their allegations in a veiled manner.
The Secretariat of State and the controversial Cardinal Angelo Becciu also appears in the background of other investment decisions of the Holy See.
The purchase of real estate in London in 2014 raised the most doubts. The Holy See paid about 200 million euros for a tenement house in the city center through the Secretariat of State. In this case, several Vatican employees were suspended from their duties, and the main suspicion was that the funds for the purchase of real estate were supposed to come from the sanctum. Świętopietrze is a fund supported by donations from the faithful, the purpose of which is, among others helping those in need and covering the administrative costs of the Holy See.
Nunzio Galantino, chairman of the Holy See’s Property Administration, said in the fall of 2020 in Avvenire that losses related to the purchase of real estate in central London could reach up to 166 million euros. However, he denied that they were related to the sand-floor. However, Galantino pointed to insufficient reporting and control of expenditure by the Secretariat of State
Bloomberg recently announced that the Vatican is considering selling a luxury building on Sloane Avenue in London. It reports that its value fluctuates around EUR 270 million.
The Financial Times in the fall of 2020 also informed about a number of other purchases in London, which were to be supervised by Card. Becciu. According to the editorial office, the hierarch “invested Vatican funds in a portfolio of luxury apartments in Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge, one of the most expensive districts in London.” Although – as emphasized by the Financial Times – the documents do not prove abuses, they shed more light on the activities of Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
Becciu was dismissed in the second half of September 2020 by Pope Francis from the office of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Becciu also renounced all the privileges resulting from the cardinal’s dignity, which means that he cannot, inter alia, take part in a conclave.
At the time, the Vatican unanimously admitted that the decision on the hierarchy had fallen like a “bolt from the blue,” and saw its reasons mainly in the financial matters of abuses related to the activities of the Secretariat of State. The media also informed about transfers from the church coffers to speculative funds, as well as – topping up the account of a charity cooperative run by brother Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Tonino.
Becciu refused allegations of abuse, pointing out that his dismissal could be caused by hostile people in the Holy See. The hierarch has announced that some Italian press titles will be brought to trial.
The media also wrote about the thread of Cardinal George Pell, charged and convicted of sexual abuse against minors, then acquitted. “Corriera della Sera” determined that up to 700,000 the euro from the Vatican coffers could have been transferred to Australia and used to discredit Pell. Becciu denied interfering with the Australian hierarch’s trial, though the media reported on “friction” between cardinals when Pell served as prefect of the Holy See’s Economic Secretariat.
In the context of Vatican spending on initiatives not necessarily in line with the teachings of the Church, a lot of attention was drawn to the recent thread of the alleged co-financing by the Holy See of the film “Rocketman” about the life of Elton John and, among others, his relationship with men (the musician was homosexual). The Vatican did not officially respond to these suggestions, and Corriera della Sera in the investigation showed that about 1 million euros were invested from the Vatican’s cash register in the production of the film. The investment was also confirmed by other media.
“The culture of the envelope”
Particular media attention in the motu proprio announced on Thursday at noon was attracted by the provision prohibiting the acceptance by Vatican employees – in connection with their work – of gifts whose nominal value exceeds 40 euros.
There were opinions that this provision is an attempt to fight the “envelope culture”, which was to influence the decisions made, including those concerning gross and scandalous abuses.
The Catholic News Agency describes the practice of corruption, which consists in giving gifts to high church officials in order to gain their favor on a given cause, including in the case of Card. Theodore McCarrick. His generosity was to help him avoid punishment for sexual abuse, and the mere fact of giving expensive gifts is also noted in a Vatican report on the McCarrick case.
The example of bp is also cited. Michael J. Bransfeld from the state of Virginia, who handed over to the clergy, including two cardinals, checks for a total amount of PLN 350,000. dollars. Bransfield was found to be suspected of sexual and financial abuse. He pleaded not guilty. As indicated by the catholicculture.org portal, one of the beneficiaries of Bransfield’s checks was to be the aforementioned Theodore McCarrick.
The Associated Press also draws attention to the case of the founder of the so-called Christ’s Legion, Marcial Maciel, who allegedly made generous donations to influential cardinals. Maciel is suspected of numerous sexual abuse against minors.
Francis at the front
The Apostolic Letter issued a few days ago is the next step of Pope Francis in the fight against fraud and efforts to ensure the highest possible transparency of the Vatican coffers. The motu proprio also includes a reminder of the document from May 2020, which concerned the regulation of the Vatican’s public contracts. The last Letter complements the May motu proprio on “corruption in other forms”.
Already in the first years of his pontificate, Francis began the reorganization of financial supervision in the Vatican. Financial Security Committee. In 2020, he expanded the competences of the Supervisory and Financial Information Office, established 10 years earlier by Benedict XVI. Its task is, among others guarantee of transparency of the financial system of the Holy See, and above all – the fight against money laundering.
In December last year, the Pope – after scandals over the administration of funds in the Secretariat of State – removed the Vatican diplomacy’s right to manage its finances, and the Holy See’s Property Administration will deal with them with the Secretariat for Economics as the oversight body.
As Mauro Magatti of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan points out, quoted by the New York Times, in the last motu proprio the Pope “apparently wanted to restrict the behavior of individuals in a more direct and explicit way.”
In March, Pope Francis, during the inauguration of the 92nd judicial year in the Vatican, in a word to the representatives of the Vatican judiciary, appealed that “all initiatives for the transparency of the institutional activity of the Vatican City, especially in the field of economy and finance, should be inspired by the fundamental principles of ecclesiastical life, took into account good international practices and were exemplary ”.