In the Vineyard :: January 25, 2021 :: Volume 21, Issue 2
News from National
Vatican Finances Saga Continues with Guilty Verdict
Angelo Caloia, the former head of the Vatican bank, was convicted on Thursday of embezzlement and money laundering. Along with Gabriele Liuzzo, and his son Lamberto Liuzzo, two Italian lawyers consulting for the bank, Caloia was charged with embezzling money through a real estate scheme. During Caloia’s tenure as president at the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) from 1999 to 2009, the three allegedly stole up to 57 million euros through a plan in which they declared a book value for properties less than the value of the sale, often receiving the funds in cash. The scheme was enacted between 2002 and 2007.
In a case that began in 2018, all three denied involvement in any wrongdoing, and none were in the room when the verdicts were announced this week. Lamberto was sentenced to five years and two months, and Gabriele and Caloia were sentenced to eight years and 11 months each. The defendants were ordered to pay damages to the Vatican Bank and its real estate division to the tune of more than 20 million euros apiece. Funds in their accounts, totaling approximately 38 million euros, were frozen.
The initial investigation began in 2013. Then-president Ernest von Freyberg commissioned an independent audit of property sales, which he initiated after noticing suspicious accounting procedures under previous administrations. He began an overhaul of the bank, at that point embroiled in financial scandals for decades, a movement that was begun by former Pope Benedict and continued by Pope Francis. Thousands of accounts were closed as part of the reform efforts to clean financial house in the Vatican.
In 2018, legislation was enacted to bring Vatican standards in line with international stands for “combating money launder, corruption, and other serious crimes,” according to a release. It was under this legislation that the three defendants were prosecuted.
Angelo Caloia is the highest ranking official to have been convicted of a financial crime in the Vatican. The defendants’ lawyers have appealed the ruling, claiming that the heavy sentencing is a result of the Vatican’s desire to send a public message of zero tolerance. Fabrizio Lemme, Gabriele Luizzo’s lawyer, thinks it is unlikely that Gabriele or Caloia will ever see the inside of a prison cell, due to their advanced ages (97 and 81, respectively).
Decades of unchecked corruption and a lack of oversight in an environment that became notorious for money laundering prompted Pope Benedict to begin the process of reforms, concerned that the Vatican’s moral authority and financial stability could come into question. Pope Francis has been particularly interested in improving Vatican accountability. He has created new oversight structures, continued closing accounts with suspicious activity, and reorganized financial departments to comply with international standards and laws, and prevent money laundering. This was not the first trial of former Vatican bank employees and likely will not be the last, as the Vatican continues its campaign against financial misdeeds.
For more information, please see here.
For VOTF’s statement on financial accountability, please see here.
New Bishop in Springfield MA Faces Petition
Survivors in Springfield MA are welcoming newly appointed Bishop William Byrne there with a petition seeking information about some of the roadblocks to settlements and suggestions for ways to improve support for survivors. You can read the petition at Change.org, developed by Olan Horne and other survivors and supporters.
The Second Catholic U.S. President
By Siobhan Carroll, VOTF member in Rhode Island
At his inauguration on Wednesday, President Joe Biden struck a deeply Catholic message: “peace, unity, and concord.” Beginning the inauguration ceremony with a prayer from Jesuit Fr. Leo Donovan, it was quickly clear that Catholicism will play a significant part in Biden’s administration. In a speech heavily reminiscent of the major tenets of Catholic social teaching, he remarked on “the dignity of the human person, the commission to serve the common good as the first justification of government, the value of democracy in protecting human dignity and both requiring and evidencing quality, the virtue of solidarity.”
President Biden went on to cite St. Augustine and repeat themes consistent with calls in the Church for attention to social justice. Since then, he has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring diversity of thought, of religion, of race, and of gender in his appointments, and has nominated many Catholics for cabinet positions. In terms of diversity, for example, the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, is a woman of color; the new attorney general is Merrick Garland, who is Jewish; the Senate is set to see its first-ever Jewish majority leader; and there are several Muslims in the House of Representatives. The United States government is starting to look more like the rest of the country, a relatively new development in its legislative chambers.
It remains to be seen, in the coming months and years, how the Biden presidency will play out in terms of lived experiences in the areas of Catholic social teaching. In some ways, President Biden is in alignment with Pope Francis: on the environment (the new U.S. administration has grasped the concept of climate change and taken steps to mitigate its consequences), on immigration (on which President Biden has previously cited his views relating to a “preferential option for the poor”), on healthcare (an issue particularly relevant in the current global pandemic). After the November 2019 election, Pope Francis sent then President-Elect Joe Biden a copy of his new book, Let Us Dream.
In other ways, however, Pope Francis holds significantly more progressive views than the historically moderate Biden, primarily on his approaches to the environmental crisis and humanitarian suffering. Some progressives, who typically are wary of Vatican influences, hope that Pope Francis will inspire a shift to the left in the President, through a “green jobs” program, financial reform, an increase in the national minimum wage, and healthcare for all.
Of course, many of the problems President Biden faces—a nation overcome by a deadly virus, a serious financial recession, worsening climate change, white nationalism, and dangerous violence motivated by political division—are not specifically Catholic concerns. But decisions will no doubt be informed by President Biden’s religion and convictions. In a year declared by Pope Francis to be the year of St. Joseph the Worker, attention to the social justice teachings of the Church may well help infuse the nation with greater hope and resilience.
Virtual Lenten Book Discussion
Sr. Edna Michel, osf, Director of St. Francis Spirituality Center in Tiffin, OH, will lead Monday book discussion sessions on “Fratelli tutti” in February, March, and April. In Pope Francis’s thinking, care for each other, particularly the poorest and most marginalized in society, cannot be divided from care for creation: “In this, his second social encyclical, which is relevant and to the point, Pope Francis sets out his vision for a post-COVID world. The pandemic offers us a unique opportunity for conversion. If anything, we have seen how interdependent we are on every level, political, social and economic. We have no choice but to live, truly live as brothers and sisters, with humanity as well as with our ravaged planet Earth.”
Dates are Mondays 7:00 – 8:15 PM, February 15, 22;March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; April 5 –Fratelli Tutti Discussion Series. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Indicate that you are registering for the 8 week discussion series on Fratelli Tutti. Request an electronic copy of the Franciscan study guide (provided without charge) and indicate if you wish to purchase the Fratelli Tutti book through SFSC at $9.95 plus shipping. Deadline for ordering books through SFSC is January 18.
Highlighting issues we face working together to Keep the Faith, Change the Church
Francis changes Catholic Church law: women explicitly allowed as lectors, altar servers
“Pope Francis has changed Catholic Church law to make explicit that laywomen can act as readers and altar servers in liturgical celebrations, effectively removing a previous option for individual bishops to restrict those ministries only to men. In an unexpected apostolic letter published Jan. 11, the pontiff says he is making the change to recognize a ‘doctrinal development’ that has occurred in recent years. That change, the pope says, ‘shines a light on how some ministries instituted by the church have as their foundation that common condition of baptism and the royal priesthood received in the Sacrament of Baptism.’” By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter
- Pope says women can read at Mass, but still can’t be priests, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press
- Vatican formalizes ability for women to be lectors, altar servers, By Elise Ann Allen, Cruxnow.com
- Explainer: The history of women lectors and altar servers—and what Pope Francis has changed, By Colleen Dulle, America: The Jesuit Review
Indictment of fundraising priest exposes lack of diocesan oversight
“Fr. Lenin Vargas’ request for money seemed more fitting for a spam email than from a Catholic priest. From 2014 until 2018, Vargas allegedly solicited funds from parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville, Mississippi, where he was the pastor, for what he claimed were expenses for his cancer treatment and for charities in his native country of Mexico. … Furthermore, the Diocese of Jackson failed to divulge the fraud, allowing Vargas to pilfer money for years, according to a report from the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, which cites an affidavit filed in federal court by Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of the U.S Department of Homeland Security.” By Mark Nacinovich, National Catholic Reporter
- Ex-Mississippi priest Vargas indicted. Affidavit accuses diocese of lying to parishioners, By Sarah Fowler, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
- Federal government Deferred Prosecution Agreement update, By Mary Woodward, Mississippi Catholic
- U.S. Attorney announces indictment of Catholic priest and deferred prosecution agreement with Diocese of Jackson, Posted by Tereza Ma, Mississippi Catholic
North Dakota bill would force priests to violate confession seal in abuse cases
“Three North Dakota state legislators introduced a bill this week that would oblige Catholic priests to violate the seal of confession in cases of confirmed or suspected child abuse, on penalty of imprisonment or heavy fines. The current mandatory reporting law in North Dakota states that clergy are considered mandatory reporters of known or suspected child abuse, except in cases when “the knowledge or suspicion is derived from information received in the capacity of spiritual adviser”, such as in the confessional.” By Mary Farrow, Catholic News Agency
- Catholics fighting bill requiring priests report child abuse, By Rob Port, Inforum.com
Journalists reject Cologne’s confidentiality agreement
“Signing the agreement ‘would have meant that one could not report anything one had obtained from other sources as one would have had to prove that one had not obtained it from the background discussion,’ Joachim Frank, chairman of the German Catholic Publicists and chief correspondent of the DuMont media group, who was one of the eight journalists, told Deutschlandfunk.” By Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, The Tablet
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