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New York bishops to vote remotely in Rome for USCCB elections

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2019 / 04:45 am (CNA).- New York bishops will be voting remotely from Rome Tuesday for the election of the next leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The 21 bishops from New York State will vote by paper ballot at the North American College in Rome and tune into the video livestream of U.S. bishops’ General Assembly taking place in Baltimore Nov. 10-13.

A vote in Baltimore on a proposed increase in diocesan payments to the USCCB was declared inconclusive Nov. 11 because 28 of the eligible voting bishops were not present. Once the results of the bishops’ remote votes are called in to Baltimore, the final voting outcome will be able to be announced.

The New York bishops are in Rome for their ad limina apostolorum visit in which they will meet with Pope Francis and curial officials this week while making a pilgrimage to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. These visits are required for all diocesan bishops approximately every 5 years.

For the first time, the ad limina visit coincides with the U.S. bishops’ General Assembly in Baltimore at which presidential and vice-presidential elections will occur Nov. 12.

The nominated candidates on the ballot in these elections is Archbishops Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Services, Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee,  Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield (IL), and Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The first round of voting will elect the president by a simple majority of the bishops. If a candidate does not receive 50%-plus-one of the votes, an additional ballot is taken. If there is still no winner, a run-off between the two bishops with the most votes is held until a winner is determined.

The elected president and vice-president will each serve a term of three years.

In addition to the presidential and vice-presidential elections, the members of the USCCB will be voting for the new chairmen of six conference committees: the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, Committee on International Justice and Peace, Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, and the Committee for Religious Liberty.

Following the Nov. 12 vote, the U.S. bishops in Rome will visit the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls where Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo is scheduled to celebrate Mass.

The Diocese of Buffalo recently underwent an Apostolic Visitation -- a canonical inspection and fact-finding mission ordered by the Vatican -- after a year of controversy surrounded the bishop’s handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse in the northern New York state diocese.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan will celebrate Mass with the New York bishops in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 14.

“I’m being called into the principal’s office! … next week I’ll be examined by the Pope and his closest collaborators in the pastoring of the Church universal,” the cardinal wrote on the Archdiocese of New York website Nov. 6, about the ad limina visit to Rome.

“While, at the tombs of the apostle Peter and Paul, I’ll pray an act of faith, an act of hope for my continued ministry, and an act of contrition for my multiple failings and I’ll also pray for you,” Dolan said.


Cardinal O'Malley: Pope Francis will publish Vatican McCarrick report 'soon'

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 03:41 pm (CNA).- The results of the Vatican’s investigation of Theodore McCarrick should be published by early 2020, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told U.S. bishops on Monday.

“The intention is to publish the Holy See’s response soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the new year,” Cardinal O’Malley said on Monday afternoon

O’Malley presented a brief update on the status of the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation during the annual fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, held from Nov. 11-13.

Earlier on Monday morning, Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Michigan, had requested that an update on the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation to be added to the agenda of the bishops’ meeting. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, seconded the motion and the bishops approved it by a voice vote.

The Vatican announced that it would conduct a review of files on McCarrick in October 2018.

In March 2019, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said the Vatican was still engaged in its investigation into McCarrick and that the Holy See would issue a declaration once it was finished.

On Monday, O’Malley provided the update on the Vatican’s investigation shortly after he and other bishops from New England arrived back in the U.S. from a visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

“We were not afraid to bring up the question of the report on Theodore McCarrick, and we insisted on the importance of publishing a response to the many serious questions of this case,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley sad the New England delegation made it clear to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin that bishops, priests, religious and the lay faithful in the U.S. were all anxiously awaiting the results of the investigation, of how McCarrick “could become an archbishop and cardinal, who knew what and when.”

“The long wait has resulted in great frustration on the part of bishops and our people, and indeed a harsh and even cynical interpretation of the seeming silence,” O’Malley added Monday.

Cardinal Parolin “assured” the U.S. delegation of the Vatican’s original intent to publish its response to the investigation before the U.S. bishops’ November meeting in Baltimore, but the scope of the investigation and quantity of the information discovered in the process necessitated a later publishing date.

“There is a desire, a commitment, to be thorough and transparent so as to answer peoples’ questions and not simply to create more questions,” O’Malley said of the Vatican.

The cardinal said he shown a “hefty document” by the Vatican, which is being translated into Italian for a presentation to Pope Francis, with an intended publication by early 2020.

Reports of McCarrick’s history of sexual abuse were initially made public in June of 2018, when the Archdiocese of New York had announced that a sexual abuse allegation against then-retired Cardinal McCarrick was “credible and substantiated.”

Subsequent reports of sexual abuse or harassment of children and seminarians by McCarrick surfaced, and Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals and assigned him to a life of prayer and penance, in July of 2018.

In August 2018, former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Carlo Maria Vigano claimed that Pope Francis knew about existing sanctions on McCarrick but chose to repeal them.

At their November 2018 meeting, just months after settlements of the Archdioceses of New York and Newark of abuse cases involving McCarrick were made public, the bishops were set to vote on a number of measures to deal with the clergy sex abuse crisis including a call for the Vatican to release all documents about McCarrick in accord with canon and civil law.

However, after the Vatican requested shortly before the meeting that the bishops not take action on the abuse crisis until an international summit of bishops in Rome in early 2019, the bishops did not end up voting on the McCarrick measure because of fears they could be viewed at odds with Rome.

Pope Francis laicized McCarrick in February 2019, shortly before convening a summit of bishops from around the world on clergy sexual abuse. The Vatican’s accelerated investigation into McCarrick’s case was reportedly an “administrative penal process,” not a full juridical process but one used when the evidence in the case is overwhelming.

In June, the U.S. bishops’ National Advisory Council unanimously requested the bishops to urge the Holy See to “make public the results of diocesan and archdiocesan investigations of Theodore McCarrick.”

Pope Francis: Inclusive capitalism leaves no one behind

Vatican City, Nov 11, 2019 / 07:01 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Monday called for the renewal and purification of existing economic models to be fair, trustworthy, and capable of extending opportunities to all, not only a few.

“An inclusive capitalism that leaves no one behind, that discards none of our brothers or sisters, is a noble aspiration,” Pope Francis said Nov. 11 in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

“A glance at recent history, in particular the financial crisis of 2008, shows us that a healthy economic system cannot be based on short-term profit at the expense of long-term productive, sustainable and socially responsible development and investment,” he said.

The pope met with members of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, whose vision he said involves “overcoming an economy of exclusion and reducing the gap separating the majority of people from the prosperity enjoyed by the few.”

“You have set before yourselves the goal of extending the opportunities and benefits of our economic system to all people,” he said. “An economic system that is fair, trustworthy and capable of addressing the most profound challenges facing humanity and our planet is urgently needed.”

Pope Francis said that those who engage in business and economic life have “a noble vocation” to serve the common good by creating jobs, increasing prosperity, and working to make the goods of this world more accessible to all.

“When we recognize the moral dimension of economic life, which is one of the many aspects of Catholic social doctrine that must be integrally respected, we are able to act with fraternal charity, desiring, seeking and protecting the good of others and their integral development,” he explained.

The pope warned that “an economic system detached from ethical concerns” leads to a “throw away” culture of consumption and waste.

Pope Francis recalled his meeting in 2016 with participants in the Fortune-Time Global Forum in which he called for “more inclusive and equitable economic models that would permit each person to share in the resources of this world and have opportunities to realize his or her potential.” The pope said that the Council for Inclusive Capitalism was born out of that forum.

“Rising levels of poverty on a global scale bear witness to the prevalence of inequality rather than a harmonious integration of persons and nations … I encourage you to persevere along the path of generous solidarity and to work for the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings,” the pope said.

“As my predecessor St. Paul VI reminded us, authentic development cannot be restricted to economic growth alone, but must foster the growth of each person and of the whole person,” he said. “This means more than balancing budgets, improving infrastructures or offering a wider variety of consumer goods."

“What is needed is a fundamental renewal of hearts and minds so that the human person may always be placed at the centre of social, cultural and economic life,” Pope Francis said.

Catholic couple brings the love of family to young people with mental illness

Vatican City, Nov 10, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- For Catholic couple Austin and Catherine Mardon, mental illness is personal.

Austin has schizophrenia, Catherine has PTSD, and together they foster children and young adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Austin and Catherine have been married since 2003. Both are writers, and their experiences have led them to devote themselves to working on behalf of people with mental illnesses, many of whom, they said, end up without a family and living on the street.

The Mardons met Pope Francis after the general audience Nov. 6. They were inducted, in 2017, into the Pontifical Order of Pope Saint Sylvester, a papal Order of Knighthood, for their work on behalf of the disabled.

A native of Oklahoma, Catherine told CNA she has always remembered what one of her childhood teachers, a Carmelite nun, once said: “We don’t help people because they’re Catholic, we help people because we’re Catholic and we're called to do it.”

“Look around,” she said. There are people in need of love and support all around, but “don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid” to reach out.

Austin, a Canadian, is an assistant adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta.

A scientist by education, Austin was part of a NASA meteorite recovery expedition to the Antarctic in the 1980s at the age of 24. Unfortunately, the extreme difficulties of the expedition affected him mentally and physically.

Despite these challenges, he earned master’s degrees in science and education and published more articles and books, before being diagnosed at age 30 with schizophrenia, which he manages with medication.

He has since also obtained a PhD in geography and continued to publish and speak extensively in the fields of science, mental illness and disability.

Catherine was previously a lawyer focused on social justice issues, including death row appeals. She also helped the homeless and people with AIDs, and her work brought her into contact with many people struggling with mental illness.

“I have helped people that most other ordinary people didn’t want to be in the same room with,” she said.

After testifying in a case, Catherine was brutally attacked, leaving her with physical injuries, a traumatic brain injury, and PTSD. She was no longer able to practice law.

But Austin and Catherine have taken their sufferings and transformed into an opportunity to help others.

“When I got hurt and couldn’t practice law anymore, I didn’t just sit on a beach or curl up in a corner somewhere. I started taking care of people. Because that was something I could do, including [helping] a couple of kids who had Fetal Alcohol [Syndrome],” Catherine said.

The difference between Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and other severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, they said, is that there is no treatment, because it is caused by permanent brain damage before birth.

The best thing for someone in this situation is early identification and intervention, Austin said, “to give them coping mechanisms to manage it, teach them techniques.”

“It’s almost like teaching someone who is blind or deaf how to maneuver around a world that they can’t quite perceive,” he said.

Catherine and Austin discovered, however, that many children and young adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome do not get early intervention. In many cases, due to poor family situations or a loss of their parents, they end up in foster care, and then, when they age out of the system, on the streets.

So, the Mardons started taking some of these teenagers and young adults into their home. They also reach out to other young adults suffering from mental illness. They throw parties for them and invite them over for the holidays.

“The most important thing when it comes to dealing with the disenfranchised is first you have to recognize their equal human dignity. And secondly, you have to take them where they are,” Catherine said.

People automatically expect the mentally ill to be scary, she said. “They’re humans.”

“They want to be invited to Sunday dinner... They want somebody to remember their birthday. They want somebody to invite them to Christmas.”

The Mardons encourage others to find ways to support young people with mental illness, especially, they said, older adults who either do not have children or whose children are grown.

Young adults leaving the foster care system are in need of the kind of support a family would offer, they said. While there are charities to provide financial support and resources, these individuals often miss out on the practical advice of a loved one and the chance to form healthy relationships with others.

“Somebody’s got to take care of them,” Catherine said.

Austin said what he would like Catholics - both priests and laity - to understand about mental illness is “that today there are effective treatments,” through both medication and therapy.

He added that some Catholics think mental illness is a character flaw that can be solved by prayer. This is a dangerous misconception, he warned.

“We don’t say that you should pray instead of take medication for your heart, but many Christians and Catholics believe that [mental illness] is a character flaw…It’s not a character flaw,” he emphasized.

Austin often speaks on the topic, and he said his faith always informs his advice for people with mental illness or for their family members.

“I think that faith without action can be very hollow,” he added, “but then action without faith can sometimes be misguided.

Francis prays for reconciliation as South Sudan struggles to form coalition government

Vatican City, Nov 10, 2019 / 05:08 am (CNA).- During the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis led Catholics in praying a ‘Hail Mary’ for peace and reconciliation for South Sudan, whose leaders are locked in disagreement as they try to form a government after a peace deal was struck last year.

“I address a special thought to the dear people of South Sudan, whom I will have to visit this year,” he said Nov. 10. “The South Sudanese people have suffered too much in recent years and await with great hope a better future, especially the definitive end of conflicts and lasting peace.”

“I invite you all to pray together for this country, for which I have a special affection,” he added, leading Catholics in praying a ‘Hail Mary’ for the intention.

Formerly warring South Sudanese leaders, President Salva Kiir Mayardit and opposition leader Riek Machar, are in the midst of trying to form a power-sharing government in the country after signing a peace deal in September 2018.

The coalition government was supposed to be formed by Nov. 12, but a 100-day extension was granted Nov. 8, because of ongoing disagreement on key issues.

The country’s Catholic bishops have called the tenuous peace accord in South Sudan “fatally flawed,” because it does not address the root causes of the conflict. The deal was signed following a five-year civil war which took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

South Sudan’s civil war also left 2.1 million people internally displaced, and caused another 2.5 million refugees, according to the United Nations.

In his Angelus address, Pope Francis recalled a spiritual retreat he held at the Vatican in April for the South Sudan political leaders, including Mayardit and Machar.

During the retreat, the pope made headlines when he performed the unprecedented gesture of kneeling down and kissing the feet of several of the South Sudanese leaders.

The pope said Nov. 10 he wishes to renew his “invitation to all the actors of the national political process to seek what unites and to overcome what divides, in a spirit of true brotherhood.”

“I therefore urge those responsible to continue, without tiring, their commitment to an inclusive dialogue in the search for consensus for the good of the nation,” he continued, adding that he hopes the international community will also help South Sudan on the path to national reconciliation.

Pope Francis also asked for prayers for Bolivia, whose national election, held last month, is being reviewed for irregularities.

“I urge all Bolivians, especially political and social actors, to await the results of the election review process, which is currently underway, with a constructive spirit of peace and serenity,” he stated.

In his message before the Angelus, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading. In the passage from Luke, a group of Sadducees question Jesus about whose wife a woman will be after death if she was married, consecutively, to seven brothers, bearing no children by them.

But “Jesus does not fall into the trap,” Francis said. Jesus explains to the Sadducees that “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.”

With this answer, Jesus invites us to think about how the earthly dimension we live in now is not the only dimension, the pope said. “There is another, no longer subject to death, in which it will be fully manifested that we are children of God.”

“It gives great consolation and hope to hear this simple and clear word of Jesus about life beyond death; we need it so much especially in our time, so rich in knowledge of the universe but so poor in wisdom about eternal life,” he added. “Life belongs to God, who loves us and cares so much about us.”

“May the Virgin Mary help us to live every day in the perspective of what we affirm in the final part of the Creed: ‘I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,’” he concluded.

After the Angelus, Pope Francis noted the Nov. 9 beatification of Maria Emilia Riquelme y Zayas in Granada, Spain.

She was the founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and of Mary Immaculate, he said, adding that she “was exemplary in the fervor of Eucharistic adoration and generous in service to the most needy.”

He asked for a round of applause for the new blessed and for St. Bartholomew Fernandes of Braga, who was canonized in July through an “equivalent canonization,” also sometimes called “equipollent” or “confirmation of cultus,” which is when a pope chooses to waive the usual requirement of a miracle for canonization, because of the holy person’s established life of virtue and their long-standing veneration as a saint.

Pope urges Catholics to meet the poor and speak to them with love

Rome, Italy, Nov 9, 2019 / 10:54 am (CNA).- Go out to meet the poor, listen to them, and speak to them with the heart of Jesus, Pope Francis said Saturday at Mass in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.

The Mass, celebrated on the Feast of the Dedication of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, opened a special week dedicated to the poor, which will culminate in the commemoration of the World Day of the Poor Nov. 17.

“May the Lord rejoice in seeing us on the move, ready to listen with his heart to his poor who cry to Him,” the pope said Nov. 9.

“Meet others, enter into dialogue with them, listen to them with humility, gratuitousness and poverty of heart.”

“I invite you all to live all this not as a heavy effort, but with a spiritual lightness,” he said. “Instead of getting caught up in anxieties of performance, it is more important to widen the perception to grasp the presence and action of God in the city. It is a contemplation that comes from love.”

Addressing the people of Rome in particular, Francis said: “May the Mother Church of Rome experience the consolation of seeing once again the obedience and courage of her children, full of enthusiasm for this new season of evangelization.”

Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the feast day with the bishops, priests, religious, and lay people of Rome. The Nov. 9 feast, celebrated by the entire Church, marks the day the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran was dedicated as the cathedral church of Rome by Pope Sylvester I in 324.

A Latin inscription in the Church reads: “omnium ecclesiarum Urbis et Orbis mater et caput,” meaning, “The mother and head of all churches of the city and of the world.”

Before Mass, the pope stopped briefly outside the church at a plaque which honors victims of poverty.

In his homily, Pope Francis entrusted pastoral workers with helping their communities to reach those in the city who are far from the faith and far from the Church.

“But, in doing this service, bring this awareness, this trust, into it: there is no human heart in which Christ does not want and cannot be reborn,” he said.

“In our lives as sinners, we often find ourselves turning away from the Lord and extinguishing the Spirit. We destroy the temple of God that is each of us. Yet this is never a definitive situation: it takes the Lord three days to rebuild his temple within us!”

He said it is the “heart of the ministry” of a priest to help his community “to always be at the feet of the Lord to listen to the Word; to keep it away from all worldliness, from bad compromises; to guard the foundation and the holy  root of the spiritual building; to defend it from rapacious wolves, from those who would like to make it deviate from the way of the Gospel.”

The Gospel and Jesus Christ must be the foundation of the Church, he said, pointing out that priests, in wisdom, know that while something else could probably bring more worldly success or quicker gratification, it would “inevitably involve the collapse, the collapse of the whole spiritual building.”

He encouraged Rome’s priests and bishops to “know the neighborhoods of the city like no other” and to “cherish the faces, smiles, and tears of so many people in your heart.”

Addressing pastoral workers, the pope said sometimes one has to act strongly and make radical changes, like many saints have done.

“Some of [the saints’] behaviors, incomprehensible through human logic, were the result of intuitions aroused by the Spirit and intended to provoke their contemporaries and help them understand that ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts,’ [as] God says through the prophet Isaiah,” he said.


Theology in 'dialogue with cultures' renews humanity, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Nov 9, 2019 / 06:40 am (CNA).- When theology and philosophy engage with cultures in creative ways, they become a powerful tool for renewing humanity with the Word of God, Pope Francis said Saturday, during the awarding of the 2019 Ratzinger Prize.

“This is true for all cultures: access to redemption for humanity in all of its dimensions should be sought with creativity and imagination,” the pope said Nov 9.

He quoted St. Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, which says, “Evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.”

“It is a duty for theology to be and remain in active dialogue with cultures, even as they change over time and evolve differently in various parts of the world,” he said. “It is a condition necessary for the vitality of Christian faith, for the Church’s mission of evangelization.”

“All the arts and disciplines,” Francis said, “thus cooperate in contributing to the full growth of the human person, which is to be found ultimately in the encounter with the living person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos, the revelation of the God who is love.”

Pope Francis addressed members of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation in the Vatican's apostolic palace during the award ceremony for the 2019 edition of the prestigious Ratzinger Prize.

The Ratzinger Prize was begun in 2011 to recognize scholars whose work demonstrates a meaningful contribution to theology or philosophy in the spirit of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Bavarian theologian who became Benedict XVI.

The winners of the 2019 prize are Catholic intellectual Charles Taylor and Jesuit priest and theologian, Fr. Paul Béré.

Béré is the first African to win the prestigious Ratzinger Prize. A lecturer at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, he received the prize for his work on the figure of the prophet Joshua.

From Burkina Faso, Béré spoke in September on the need for an “Africanness” within the Catholic approach to addressing regional problems.

“Africa can find a solution to all its problems within, what we [Africans] simply need is the slightest desire to share the solutions across the continent,” Beré told ACI Africa Sept. 28 at the Nairobi tri-party conference on the status of the evangelization mission in Africa.

Beré is a member of several African theological associations and of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). He has also participated as an expert in several synods of bishops.

After the announcement that he had won the prize, he told Vatican News: “I think this is an encouragement for all theological work done in Africa.”

Pope Francis Nov. 9 praised Beré as a “renowned scholar of Sacred Scripture” and he expressed his appreciation and encouragement for all those who are “committed to inculturation of the faith in Africa through their original and deepened study.”

Contemporary African theology is still young, but it is “dynamic and full of promise,” the pope said. “Father Béré provides an example of this by his work on the interpretation of Old Testament texts in a context of oral culture, thus bringing to fruition the experience of African culture.”

Dr. Charles Taylor, 88, is an award-winning Canadian Catholic philosopher, who has taught at Oxford and at the University of Montreal and McGill University.

His focus has been in the areas of history of philosophy, most especially political philosophy and the philosophy of social science. One of Taylor’s many notable contributions was to the topics of religion, modernity, and secularization.

“During his years of active research and teaching, Professor Taylor has covered many fields, but he has particularly devoted his mind and heart to understanding the phenomenon of secularization in our time,” Francis noted.

“Secularization effectively poses a significant challenge for the Catholic Church, indeed for all Christians, and for all believers in God,” he said, adding that a priority of Benedict XVI’s pontificate was to “proclaim God anew” during a time “when that proclamation seems to be on the wane for a large part of humanity.”

The pope said, “few scholars in the present day have posed the problem of secularization with the breadth of vision as has Professor Taylor.”

“We are indebted to him for the profound manner in which he has treated the problem, carefully analyzing the development of Western culture, the movements of the human mind and heart over time, identifying the characteristics of modernity in their complex relationships, in their shadows and lights.”

Taylor’s work invites Catholics to seek “new ways to live and express the transcendent dimensions of the human soul,” he continued, which allows them to engage with secularization in the West “in a way that is neither superficial nor given to fatalistic discouragement.”

“This is needed not only for a reflection on contemporary culture, but also for an in-depth dialogue and discernment in order to adopt the spiritual attitudes suitable for living, witnessing, expressing, and proclaiming the faith in our time,” he stated.

Despite coming from very different backgrounds and continents, the two honorees of the 2019 Ratzinger Prize have dedicated themselves to seeking “the way to God and the encounter with Christ,” Francis said.

“This,” he added, “is the mission of all who follow the teaching of Joseph Ratzinger as theologian and Pope, to be “‘co-workers of the truth.’”

The honorees of the Ratzinger Prize are chosen by Pope Francis, based upon the recommendations of a committee composed of Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg and Cardinals Angelo Amato, Kurt Koch, Gianfranco Ravasi, and Luis Ladaria, who are heads of offices in the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis said Nov. 9, that “we are all grateful” for the teaching of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “and for his exemplary service to the Church, demonstrated by his reflections, his thought and study, his listening, dialogue and prayer.”

“His aim was that we might consciously retain a lively faith despite the changing times and situations; and that believers could give an account of their faith in a language that can be understood by their contemporaries, entering into dialogue with them, together seeking pathways of authentic encounter with God in our time,” he said.

“This has always been a keen desire of Joseph Ratzinger the theologian and pastor, who never closed himself off in a disembodied culture of pure concepts, but gave us the example of seeking truth where reason and faith, intelligence and spirituality, are constantly integrated.”

Prison ministry includes helping people after incarceration, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Nov 8, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- In addition to looking after the physical and spiritual needs of those in prison, Catholics have an obligation to recognize the humanity of those who have left the prison system and to help them get back on their feet, Pope Francis said Friday.

“As Christian communities, we must ask ourselves a question” about those who have been released from prison, the pope said Nov. 8, addressing Catholics involved in prison ministry around the world.

“If these brothers and sisters have already paid the penalty for the wrongdoing, why is a new social punishment placed on their shoulders with rejection and indifference? On many occasions, this social aversion is one more reason they run the risk of repeating their own faults,” he said.

Often when a person leaves prison, he or she finds themselves in a world which is foreign to them and which, at the same time, does not trust them, the pope continued. This can make it very difficult for them to find work and to make a decent living.

“By preventing people from regaining the full exercise of their dignity, they are once again exposed to the dangers that accompany the lack of development opportunity, in the middle of violence and insecurity,” Francis stated.

“True social reintegration,” he argued, begins with access to decent work, education, self-development opportunities, and health care.

But it is often easier and more comfortable to ignore or deny the injustices present in society than to try to create equal opportunities for all citizens, he said, calling it “a way of discarding.”

He said this is the same reason many places choose incarceration as a solution over trying to fix the root societal problems which lead people to crime.

Especially today, he said, societies are called to overcome the stigmatization of people who have served time in prison for their mistakes.

“Because instead of offering the right help and resources to live a dignified life, we have become accustomed to rejecting,” he underlined, and people do this instead of looking for and noticing what effort a person might be making to respond to the love of God in his or her life.

Pope Francis spoke about ministering to the imprisoned during an audience with participants in a two-day conference on Catholic prison ministry, organized by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The pope said he entrusted to the dicastery the task of making evident the Church’s concern for those in situations of suffering, including the imprisoned, but added that “it is not a task indicated only for the dicastery, but it is for the whole Church in fidelity to the mission received from Christ.”

The Church “is called to act permanently the mercy of God in favor of the most vulnerable and helpless in whom Jesus himself is present,” he said. “We will be judged on this.”

The conference took place at the Vatican Nov. 7-8 and was held to learn more about diocesan and local prison ministry in countries around the world, so that they can strengthen and improve through sharing ideas and experiences.

Pope Francis argued that prisons themselves also fail to properly reintegrate people into society, because they lack the resources to address the social, psychological, and relational problems imprisoned people often face.

Prison verpopulation is also a problem, he noted.

Pope Francis thanked those who serve the incarcerated, noting Christ's words that “what they did to one of the least of my brothers, they did to me.”

“With the inspiration of God, each Church community is taking its own path to present the Father’s mercy to all these brothers, and to make resonate a permanent call, so that every man and society seeks to act firmly and decisively in favor of peace and justice,” he said.

Cardinal O’Malley to US bishops: Ask for grace at St. Peter’s tomb

Vatican City, Nov 7, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- In St. Peter’s Basilica Thursday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley asked American bishops to pray for the grace to make a profession of faith, hope, and love at the tomb of St. Peter before meeting with Pope Francis.

Cardinal O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, and the other bishops from New England are in Rome for an ad limina apostolorum visit — a pilgrimage to “the threshold of the apostles” — in which they are meeting the pope and curial officials to discuss the state of their dioceses.

In his homily in the crypt of the basilica, O’Malley touched upon some of the problems currently affecting American Catholics.

“Today many people have lost hope. It is one of the reasons that people are not having children, turning to drugs, and seeking thrills,” he said.

The American cardinal said that bishops need to be evangelizers: “Jesus is our hope. He is reason we trust in his promises.”

He connected a recent Pew survey on American Catholics’ belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the decline in Mass attendance in the U.S.

“In today’s world, too many Catholics are quick to dismiss the hard saying about the Eucharist. and as the Pew poll indicates they do not accept the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Hence the diminished Mass attendance, and no sense of urgency to confess our sins to receive worthily,” O’Malley said.

He related this to the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ bread of life discourse in the Gospel of John chapter 6. After many left because “this saying is hard,” Jesus turned to Peter and asked, “Are you going to abandon me too?”

Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

Cardinal O’Malley highlighted this as one of three key questions Christ asked Peter in the Gospels. He said that Christ’s three questions to Peter: “Who do you say that I am?”, “Are you going to abandon me too?”, and  “Do you love me?” correspond to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love respectively.

“Today before Peter’s tomb, let us bishops ask for the grace to answer those questions as Peter did with a profession of faith, a profession of hope, a  profession of love,” he said.

McCarrick: Foundation ‘irresponsible’ to question controversial Vatican grant

Washington D.C., Nov 6, 2019 / 03:40 pm (CNA).- Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick intervened to pressure members of the U.S. Papal Foundation to support a controversial grant request, intended to repay an illicit loan from APSA, the Vatican’s central bank. McCarrick met privately with the leadership of the bank in the months leading up to his intervention. 

McCarrick made the intervention in December 2017, after objections were raised to the Vatican’s request of $25 million from the Papal Foundation, for a bankrupt Italian hospital, the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI). 

The grant request from the Vatican Secretariat of State was, according to the minutes of a December Papal Foundation board meeting, first made in June 2017 as “an emergency request” from the pope, and was said to be intended to cover a short term cash crunch at the IDI.

The Papal Foundation is a charity that confers grants to charities at the request of the Holy See. Grants do not ordinarily exceed $300,000, which made the request for $25 million unusual. In autumn 2017, several board members objected to the request because they had discovered that the hospital was financially insolvent, and not merely in a short term cash crunch, as Vatican officials had led them to believe.

Among those who objected was James Longon, chairman of the foundation’s audit committee, who described the request in a memo to board members as a “disaster for the Papal Foundation. Not only is the decision process flawed, but the recipient has a dubious past.”

In early December 2017, another board member sent a letter to the entire board, raising objections to the grant request and outlining the financial problems of the IDI.

McCarrick responded to that board member by letter Dec. 14, 2017. He copied his letter to the cardinals on the foundation’s board. 

“Some of your own recent actions may have caused harmful injury to the Foundation itself,” the cardinal wrote to the board member, mentioning previous incidents of “unfortunate publicity” and “division” at the foundation, and suggesting that criticism of the grant request might cause more of the same. 

“The assertions and allegations that are mentioned in your letter were unfortunately based on anonymous sources ‘inside and around’ the Vatican. It is a shame that they do contain material that is demonstrably false, irresponsible, and seriously harmful to The Papal Foundation,” McCarrick wrote. 

“Many of the assertions supposedly supported by ‘an anonymous source” can be disproved by documentation that is readily available and public. It was unfortunate that you were not able to verify the information from your anonymous source before you disseminated it.”

“My objection is not to your disagreement with the grant request, but rather that your disagreement seemed to call into question the very integrity of the Papal Foundation itself,” McCarrick wrote, apparently suggesting that raising questions about the Vatican request was inappropriate.

Several sources close to the Papal Foundation told CNA that the “demonstrably false assertions” to which McCarrick referred included the claim that the IDI, which was declared bankrupt in 2013, had millions of euros of debt and liabilities. Those debts were in fact a matter of public record.

CNA has reported that the grant funds were never intended to go to the hospital but instead meant to partially repay a 50 million euro loan made by APSA, the Vatican’s central reserve bank, to fund the purchase of the IDI out of bankruptcy by a partnership established by the Secretariat of State and the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception – the religious order that originally owned and operated the hospital, which had assumed the bulk of the IDI’s outstanding debts. That information was not disclosed to Papal Foundation board members.

It is not clear if McCarrick was aware of the actual intended purpose of the grant funds at the time of his letter. However, CNA has learned that, in July 2017, APSA’s secretary, Fr. Mauro Rivella, met personally with McCarrick in Washington DC – shortly after the Papal Foundation grant request was first sent, and two months after the first accusation of sexual abuse was made against McCarrick to the Independent Reconciliation & Compensation Program in New York.

At the time McCarrick sent his letter, allegations of sexual abuse of minors made against him had already been forwarded to the Vatican. Cardinals Donald Wuerl and Timothy Dolan, both members of the board, were aware of the allegations.

McCarrick served on APSA’s board until 2010, when he was required to retire after turning 80. After 2010, McCarrick continued to serve as the U.S. representative for the Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice, a non-profit group controlled by APSA, a role he maintained until his public disgrace following the publication of allegations of sexual abuse in 2018.

CNA has reported that the APSA loan was coordinated by Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then the sostituto at the Secretariat of State, and contravened internal policies and international regulatory agreements. CNA has also reported that APSA eventually wrote off 30 million of the 50 million euro loan.

The loan from APSA came after the same proposal was denied by IOR, the Vatican’s custodial  bank which provides banking services to religious orders and curial employees, after its president, Jean-Baptiste Douville de Franssu, along with Cardinal George Pell vetoed the plan, concluding that the IDI would be incapable of repaying the loan.

McCarrick’s letter said that information concerning the IDI’s outstanding debts, and history of fraud and embezzlement was “unverified” and had “caused serious damage to the Foundation.”

McCarrick suggested that lay board members defer to the foundation’s cardinal members to “repair any damages that may have been done” to the credibility of the Papal Foundation and the grant request, and “clarifying your position.” 

While lay members of the foundation’s board were nearly unanimous in opposing the grant request, the bishop and cardinal members of the board outvoted them, and in December 2017, the grant request was approved.

Two initial installments of the grant were sent to Rome in late 2017 and early 2018, totaling $13 million. After internal disagreements about the grant went public, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, charged with presenting the proposal, said he would ask the Vatican to cancel the request and return the funds. 

In early 2019, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State said the $13 million would be reclassified as a loan, rather than a grant, and would be repaid through "discounts" applied each year to the list of grants requested of the Papal Foundation by Vatican offices and Catholic apostolates.

“The poor will end up paying the debt,” a source close to the Papal Foundation told CNA.

One senior APSA source blamed the breakdown of the Papal Foundation grant on what he believed to be anti-Francis sentiment among Papal Foundation board members.

“All these objections raised about IDI not being like the normal grant recipients are just justifications,” he told CNA. “If this had been a request from Benedict or John Paul II, they would have sent the money without thinking about it.”

Asked if the grant request had actually come from Pope Francis, if the pope had endorsed the request, or if he knew of the undisclosed purpose of offsetting the APSA loan, the official said it was “immaterial.”

“So far as the Papal Foundation should be concerned, if the Secretariat of State asks, it is the pope asking, refusing is to refuse the pope.”

McCarrick was convicted by the Holy See of sexually abusing minors and seminarians and laicized earlier this year. McCarrick is living in seclusion at a friary in Kansas and is unavailable for comment.

Pope Francis: St. Paul announced Christ to 'idol worshippers' without attacking them

Vatican City, Nov 6, 2019 / 08:15 am (CNA).- St. Paul announced Jesus Christ to “idol worshippers” in Athens without attacking them, but by building bridges, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

“We also ask the Holy Spirit today to teach us to build bridges with culture, with those who do not believe or with those who have a creed different from ours. Always build bridges, always reach out, never aggression,” Pope Francis said Nov. 6 in St. Peter’s Square.

“Let us ask him for his ability to delicately inculturate the message of faith, placing on those who are in ignorance of Christ, a contemplative gaze, moved by a love that warms even the most hardened hearts,” he said at the general audience.

In his weekly catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Francis described St. Paul’s discourse on the Areopagus as an example of inculturation of the Catholic faith in Athens.

“In the heart of one of the most famous institutions of the ancient world, the Areopagus, he achieved an extraordinary example of inculturation of the message of faith: he announces Jesus Christ to idol worshipers, and he does not do so by attacking them, but by becoming … a builder of bridges,” Pope Francis said.

Paul “shudders inside to see a city full of idols,” the pope said, quoting Acts 17:16. He added that this encounter with paganism pushed St. Paul to “build a bridge of dialogue with the culture.”

Looking upon Athens with the eyes of faith, “drives him [Paul]  to open a path between the Gospel and the pagan world.”

“In this way Paul observes culture, observes the environment of Athens starting from a contemplative gaze which discovers that it is God who lives in their houses, in their streets and in their squares,” he said.

Francis added: “This makes us wonder about our way of looking at our cities: Do we observe with indifference? With contempt? Or with the faith that recognizes the children of God in the midst of anonymous crowds?”

The pope explained that St. Paul revealed the true identity of the Athenian’s “unknown god” by beginning with creation. “That is, from biblical faith in the God of revelation, leading to redemption and judgment, that is, to the properly Christian message,” he said.

St. Paul “shows the disproportion between the greatness of the Creator and the temples made by man,” Francis said.

“In this way Paul, according to a beautiful expression of Pope Benedict XVI, ‘announces the One whom men ignore, yet they know: the Unknown-Known,’” he said.

Pope Francis said that Paul then invites the Athenians to “go beyond ‘the times of ignorance’ and to decide to convert in view of imminent judgement.”

The pope said that Paul’s announcement of the kerygma “arouses ridicule and derision” and “seems to have failed.” However, some adhered to his word and opened themselves to faith, among them, he said. “Among these is a man, Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, and a woman, Damaris.”

“Even in Athens the Gospel takes root and can run with two voices: that of man and that of woman,” he said.

When bombs fell on the Vatican

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- It was a dark autumn night in Rome, which was suffering under the occupation of Nazi Germany and was the target of bombing raids by Allied and Axis forces.

The Vatican City State was a neutral territory in World War II, but shortly after 8:00 pm on Nov. 5, 1943, a small non-descript plane dropped five bombs onto the Vatican.

Only four detonated -- the first went off near the Vatican train station, a second exploded on the mosaic workshop of the Vatican Museums destroying some of the pieces inside, a third damaged offices within the building of the governorate, and a fourth exploded in the ground outside the Santa Marta guesthouse, causing glass in a rear window of St. Peter’s Basilica to shatter.

No one was hurt, but until the last decade the bombing was shrouded in mystery, because there was not a lot of information about who carried out the attack and why.

At the time, Rome was occupied by German forces and was part of the Italian Social Republic, a German puppet state nominally led by Benito Mussolini.

Mussolini’s government accused the United States of having dropped the bombs, and the fascist press accused the Allies.

In a 2010 book, author Augusto Ferrara published documentation which showed that immediately following the bombing, the Secretariat of State convened an inquiry into the source of the attack, sending letters requesting explanation to Germany, the U.S., and Great Britain. Blame for the raid was denied by all three.

But the investigation uncovered that the bombs were dropped from a S.79 aircraft supplied by the Italian Social Republic, which had departed from the airport of Viterbo, about 50 miles north of Rome.

Documentation in the Italian-language book, titled “1943. Bombe sul Vaticano,” shows the bombing was ordered by Roberto Farinacci, a fascist politician and advisor to Mussolini who wanted to destroy Vatican Radio because he thought it was transmitting military information to the “enemy.”

The Sunday immediately following the attack, Venerable Pius XII addressed people in St. Peter’s Square, explaining what happened and that an investigation was underway. But when it was revealed that it was likely done by a fascist leader, he asked for it to be kept out of the newspapers, since Italy was still at war.  

After the Nov. 5 raid, the Vatican was hit once again, on March 1, 1944, when a British plane accidentally dropped its bombs too nearby and hit the Vatican wall, killing a Vatican workman and injuring a religious, as well as shattering the windows of the building of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In May 1943, after the first bombs were dropped on Rome by Allied forces, Ven. Pius XII had written to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt asking him as much as possible to spare Rome “further pain and devastation” and to keep Rome’s treasured shrines “from irreparable ruin.”

Roosevelt replied June 16, 1943, saying, “attacks against Italy are limited, to the extent humanly possible, to military objectives.”

“In the event it should be found necessary for Allied planes to operate over Rome, our aviators are thoroughly informed as to the location of the Vatican and have been specifically instructed to prevent bombs from falling within Vatican City.”

Despite this, heavy raids were carried out on Rome before it was captured by the Allies June 4, 1944. Among these was the devastating bombing of July 19, 1943, in which thousands of civilians were killed.

The same day, after the raid ended, Ven. Pius XII and the future Pope Paul VI (then Secretariat of State Archbishop Giovanni Montini) traveled to the area most-affected, the San Lorenzo neighborhood, to hand out money to the crowds gathered in front of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura.

US bishops arrive in Rome for ad limina visit with Pope Francis

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Every American diocesan bishop will travel to Rome over the next four months for meetings with Pope Francis assessing the state of the Church in the U.S.

The U.S. ad limina visit will be not only the first with Pope Francis, but the first since the Church in the US was shaken by a crisis of mistrust in episcopal leadership due to mishandling of sexual abuse allegations against Theodore McCarrick and others.

An “ad limina apostolorum” visit is a papal meeting required for every diocesan bishop in the world to provide an update on the state of one’s diocese. The trip to Rome, usually made together with all the bishops from a country or region, also serves as a pilgrimage to “the threshold of the apostles,” giving the bishops, who are the successors of the apostles, the opportunity to pray at the tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Ad limina visits typically take place every five years, as the world’s more than 5,300 bishops rotate through Rome. However, some countries have gone 10 years without an ad limina visit, as was the case with Taiwan. During Benedict XVI’s pontificate, bishops from nearly every diocese in the world visited within seven years.

The last U.S. ad limina was with Benedict XVI in 2011-2012. Since then much has changed in the American landscape, from the Obergefell U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in 2015 to the heightened tension over immigration debates under President Donald Trump.

The Catholic environment in the US has itself undergone considerable transformation since Pope Francis’ trip to the United States in the fall of 2015.

In the last two years alone, Catholics in the US have reeled from the public revelations of McCarrick’s sexual abuse, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, letters from Archbishop Carlo Vigano, Bishop Michael Bransfield’s serious financial misconduct, and the resulting crisis of mistrust in episcopal leadership.

The first rounds of U.S. bishops to come to Rome come from dioceses in the northeast U.S., the hardest hit by these scandals.

The American ad limina visits are divided into 15 regions. Pope Francis will meet with bishops from New England Nov. 4-8, New York Nov. 11-15, and New Jersey and Pennsylvania Nov. 25-29.

Bishops from New England began the first round of visits Nov. 4 with a Mass in Santa Maria Maggiore. They are also celebrating a Mass Nov. 5 in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and Nov. 7 in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“We feel very keenly today, all of us, the weight of human sinfulness, of infidelity, of scandal, of the sin that weighs down the Church,” Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford said in his homily during the Mass in Santa Maria Maggiore, according to CNS.

Before meeting the pope, bishops on an ad limina trip also typically visit all of the Vatican dicasteries and can schedule personal meetings with the head of each dicastery to discuss particular matters.

During such visits, bishops’ conferences deliver exhaustive reports, called Quinquennial Reports, describing the status of the Church in their country.

Previous to  Francis' pontificate, the meeting of the bishops with the pope included an exchange of speeches from both the president of the bishops' conference and pope, who delivered a speech providing pastoral recommendations and priorities. After the exchange of speeches, the pope then held a short conversation with each bishop individually.

Pope Francis changed the format of these visits to an open group conversation among the visiting bishops, who are allowed to ask questions of the pope for up to two hours. He also added an additional meeting presided over by himself with the bishops and the heads of some of the dicasteries. In past visits, this has included representatives from the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Clergy, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

The American ad limina visits coincide with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly and election Nov. 10-13. Bishops from the state of New York will therefore be absent from the General Assembly and will vote remotely from the North American College in Rome.

Before the end of 2019, Pope Francis will meet with bishops from Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and the U.S. Military Archdiocese, in addition to New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

After a short hiatus for Christmas, the Latin rite bishops of the remainder of the territory of the US, and the country's Eastern Catholic bishops, will make their ad limina pilgrimages in 2020, from mid-January through the end of February.

Cardinal Pell objected to controversial Vatican hospital loan

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2019 / 11:12 am (CNA).- A 50 million euro loan request to secure the purchase of a bankrupt hospital was vetoed by Cardinal George Pell and financial authorities at the Institute for Works of Religion, commonly called the Vatican Bank, before it was approved by the Holy See’s central bank, APSA, where the loan breached international regulatory agreements. 

According to several Vatican officials, in late 2014 two cardinals requested that the IOR, the Vatican’s commercial bank, grant a 50 million euro loan to a for-profit partnership between the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and a religious order, which intended to purchase a bankrupt Italian hospital, then in government-administered bankruptcy.

The hospital, the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), had been owned by the religious order, the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, which had formed a new organization with the Vatican Secretariat as its partner, in a complicated plan to unburden itself from the hospital’s massive debts

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then an archbishop, and Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi were both involved in the plan, and requested the loan from the IOR, several Vatican officials told CNA.

Their loan proposal was rejected in 2015, when the IOR board determined that the IDI would never be able to repay the loan, senior sources at two Vatican financial agencies told CNA.

Officials at APSA and the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that Pell was vocally opposed to the loan proposal. The cardinal was at that time charged by Pope Francis with reforming Vatican finances.

It was clear the proposal would have “been a case of throwing good money after bad. There was no question of a return to stability, let alone profit,” one official told CNA.

After the proposal was rejected at the IOR, a request for a 50 million euro loan was made at APSA, the Vatican’s central bank. The loan likely violated APSA's international regulatory agreements.

“They were desperate,” a senior source at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA. “There was simply no other way to make it work.”

While the IDI loan was being considered at APSA, Pell’s office, which had been given oversight of the central bank’s portfolio, refused to sign off on the transaction, Vatican sources told CNA.

But Pell’s resistance was apparently not enough to stop the loan.

A senior source at APSA told CNA that “there was no taking ‘no’ for an answer,” and that the deal was “passionately” insisted on by Versaldi and Becciu. “It was never not going to happen,” the source told CNA, “the prefecture tried to block the agreement but it went ahead anyway.”

Vatican officials told CNA that Becciu, and Cardinal Versaldi, went to APSA for the loan because the central bank had already shown itself resistant to financial reforms at the Vatican. The Secretariat of State, where Becciu was the second-ranking official, was also reportedly resistant to Pell’s efforts at financial transparency and reform.  

“There was a basic, point blank, refusal to share information, to collaborate, or to open the books to the Prefecture and the Council for the Economy,” one senior source at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA. “This has been a consistent attitude from both State and APSA.”

After conflict over the loan, Pope Francis withdrew oversight authority over APSA’s investment decisions from Pell’s office. Multiple Vatican sources told CNA that decision was strongly influenced by lobbying from Becciu.

Cardinal Becciu was also responsible for the cancellation of a proposed external audit by PricewaterhouseCooper of all Vatican finances, and opposed to Cardinal Pell’s intention to end the practice of keeping some Holy See assets and funds “off books.”

Becciu and other officials at the Secretariat of State have explained that they objected to the external audit because of the confidentiality required to conduct their work. Recent reporting has also revealed that the Secretariat was then making unauthorized real estate investments with money borrowed from Swiss banks; a fact likely to have been revealed during an external audit.

Senior sources at the Prefecture for the Economy and APSA told CNA that the cancellation of the audit was also explained, in part, by promises that an independent audit of APSA was already planned. 

But sources at both APSA and the Prefecture for the Economy said that no external or independent audit of APSA has actually been conducted, and that there has instead been a “good faith undertaking” between APSA and the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF). 

Senior sources at the Prefecture for the Economy and APSA also told CNA that efforts to enforce transparency at the Vatican’s central bank and Secretariat of State played a decisive part in the ouster of the first Auditor General, Libero Milone, in 2017. 

Milone has stated that he was forced to resign under threat of prosecution because he was pressing for information about the hundreds of millions of euros held off-books by curial bodies.

“Some people got worried that I was about to uncover something I shouldn't see," Milone told the Financial Times on November 2. “We were getting too close to information that they wanted to be secret, and they fabricated a situation for me to be thrown out."

At the time of Milone’s forced departure, Cardinal Becciu defended his role in removing the auditor, saying that he had exceeded his mandate.

“He went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me," Becciu said in 2017. "If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him."

Pell is now in prison in the Australian state of Victoria, following his 2018 conviction on five counts of sexual abuse. The cardinal could not be reached for comment.

CNA asked Cardinal Becciu for comment on his role in seeking an IOR loan for the purchase of the IDI. The cardinal declined to comment.

Vatican’s $200 million London property deal financed with borrowed money, sources say

Vatican City, Nov 4, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Senior Vatican sources have told CNA that a controversial Vatican investment in a London property development was financed with borrowed money, and not with Vatican funds, as has been reported. 

Separate high-ranking sources at both the Prefecture for the Economy and APSA, the Vatican’s central reserve bank, told CNA that investments totalling $200 million in a luxury London apartment building were funded through a short-term loan package organized through Swiss banks, at the impetus of Vatican Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

The loan required the Vatican to make only interest payments for a period of three years, and was intended to fund real estate speculation on the London property market. The terms of the loans, including the rate of interest and what, if any, collateral was offered, are not clear.

The 2014 Vatican property investment, authorized by Cardinal Angelo Becciu during his tenure as sostituto at the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, has been the source of media scrutiny since  Vatican police raided the Secretariat of State and the Vatican’s financial watchdog office Oct. 1.

The raid is believed to have focused on the $200 million London property speculation authorized by Becciu. 

Media reports have indicated that that the investment was funded by Vatican funds held in Swiss bank accounts and delivered through a Luxembourg-based investment company. But two senior Vatican officials have told CNA the investment was actually funded through loans.

Senior sources in the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that in 2015 Becciu attempted to disguise the loans on Vatican balance sheets by cancelling them out against the value of the property purchased in the London neighborhood of Chelsea, an accounting maneuver prohibited by new financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014. 

The attempt to hide the loans off-books was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy and raised at the Council for the Economy, an agency led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich and charged with final oversight of Vatican financial transactions. 

One senior curial source told CNA that the issue was “noted, but no action was taken” by the council, despite the highly irregular nature or the arrangement.

In recent weeks, Cardinal Becciu has sought to defend the investment and his own reputation against what he called “slanderous charges” that he had “played with and tampered with the money of the poor."

“It is accepted practice for the Holy See to invest in property, it has always done so: in Rome, in Paris, in Switzerland and also in London,” Becciu said, though it has not been previously reported that the transaction was financed with borrowed money. 

Responding to Becciu’s characterization of the deal, one senior Vatican source said that “it may have been accepted, but that does not mean it is acceptable.”

The investment was first reported by the Financial Times, which identified the amount and Athena Capital, the investment company that brokered the Vatican’s deal to purchase a stake in the building.

On Nov. 2, the Financial Times reported that the previous owner of the Vatican’s stake in the London building is Raffaele Mincione, the owner of Athena Capital. The newspaper reported that, through his company, the stake was sold to the Vatican at “a significantly higher price than [Mincione] had paid for it two years earlier.”

Senior sources at the Prefecture for the Economy and APSA also told CNA that efforts to enforce transparency at the Vatican’s central bank and Secretariat of State played a decisive part in the ouster of the first Auditor General, Libero Milone, in 2017. 

Milone has stated that he was forced to resign under threat of prosecution because he was pressing for information about hundreds of millions of euros held off-books in Swiss banks and elsewhere by the Secretariat of State and other Vatican dicastries.

“Some people got worried that I was about to uncover something I shouldn't see," Milone told the Financial Times on November 2. "We were getting too close to information that they wanted to be secret, and they fabricated a situation for me to be thrown out."

At the time of his forced departure, Cardinal Becciu defended his part in removing Milone saying that the auditor, appointed by Pope Francis in 2015, had exceeded his mandate.

“He went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me," Becciu said in 2017. "If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him."

Sources at the Prefecture for the Economy and APSA, the Vatican’s central bank, told CNA that among internal Vatican objections raised at the time of the deal was that the transaction fees incurred during the purchase of the building were “well above norms.”

“It was certainly enough to raise serious questions about the wisdom of the deal,” one offical told CNA. “Whether these fees were agreed out of naivete or complicity, I cannot say.” 

Last week, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the investment was a one-off, and the fund in question appeared to be “well managed.” He said that he was working to clear up questions about the project.

“We are working to clear up everything. This deal was rather opaque and now we are trying to clear it up,” Parolin said.

Becciu served as “sostituto,” or second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State from 2011-2018, when Pope Francis named him a cardinal and moved him to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. 

Cardinal Becciu declined to respond to questions from CNA.