Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis files for bankruptcy protection

February 1, 2015


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The walls keeping tumbling down.


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Nienstedt: Bankruptcy best path for clergy sex abuse claims

BusinessMartin Moylan , Madeleine Baran · St. Paul, Minn. · Jan 16, 2015
Archbishop John Nienstedt speaks during a Friday news conference on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filing for bankruptcy protection. Jeffrey Thompson / MPR News


LISTEN Story audio

7min 30sec

Updated 6:00 p.m. | Posted 9:35 a.m.

With three clergy abuse lawsuits nearing trial and concerns mounting over the cost of future claims, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Friday filed for bankruptcy protection.

• Documents: Explore the filing

Explore the full investigation   Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic church

The Chapter 11 filing buys the archdiocese time to reorganize its troubled finances as it faces huge potential costs tied to clergy sex abuse. Instead of handling claims through civil suits, alleged victims will likely need to file claims in federal court as creditors of the archdiocese.

The shift into bankruptcy court also stops the coming civil trials, which were set to begin Jan. 26.

The move allows the “finite resources” of the archdiocese to go equitably to clergy abuse victims while letting the institution continue its mission, Archbishop John Nienstedt said at an afternoon press conference.

The archdiocese reported assets of $10 million to $50 million — and liabilities of $50 million to $100 million.

Ultimately, the archdiocese may have to sell some assets to pay its debts, Nienstedt said.

He added that he does not intend to resign.

“I love this archdiocese. I think I have worked hard on behalf of the archdiocese,” he told reporters.

Watch the press conference

Church leaders had been signaling bankruptcy for months as the financial woes of the archdiocese deepened. Last fall, the chancery’s outside accountants cast “substantial doubt” about its long term financial health given that future clergy abuse costs were impossible to predict.

In November, archdiocese chief financial officer Thomas Mertens called bankruptcy protection “a way to respond to all victims/survivors by allowing the available funds to be equitably distributed to all who have made claims…”

Still, it was a stunning step Friday for one of the Twin Cities oldest, largest and most influential institutions, one that traces its roots to the 1840s and now shepherds more than 800,000 Catholics and 400 priests in nearly 200 parishes.

The bankruptcy filing comes 16 months after MPR News first published reports that showed an ongoing cover-up of clergy sex abuse by Nienstedt and other top officials. The MPR News investigation plunged the archdiocese into a clergy sex abuse scandal. Within days of the first MPR News report, Nienstedt’s top deputy, the Rev. Peter Laird, resigned. As the scandal widened, the archdiocese postponed a $160 million capital campaign, and parishioners’ calls for Nienstedt’s resignation grew louder.

The Twin Cities archdiocese becomes the 12th in the nation to seek bankruptcy protection.

If this one plays out in a manner similar to other archdiocese bankruptcies, a judge will set up a process to evaluate alleged victims’ claims. A deadline will be set for victims and other creditors who had not yet filed claims against the archdiocese.

Bitter disputes are likely over which assets are controlled by the archdiocese and which should be available to settle debts.

The process promises to be more complicated here because of a Minnesota law that gives victims of child sex abuse until May 2016 to file lawsuits for past claims. No other diocese has filed for bankruptcy while such a window was open.

That uncertainty, together with a year of public disclosures detailing how Twin Cities archdiocese leaders reassigned, excused and overlooked sexually abusive priests among their ranks for decades, has left the institution struggling financially.

The archdiocese ended fiscal 2014 in the red, with an operating deficit for the year of about $9.1 million and net assets of about $33 million.

Twin Cities parishes, however, hold roughly $1.7 billion in assets, according to an MPR News analysis of internal parish financial records last year. But buildings and real estate account for most of that, and the parishes could be seriously overestimating what properties are worth.

So will the bankruptcy filing reach into the neighborhood churches? That may be the biggest concern of Twin Cities Catholics.

Jeff Anderson at Friday press conference Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

The archdiocese has maintained that its nearly 200 Twin Cities parishes, the community foundation and charities and other Catholic organizations would be protected in a bankruptcy.

Nienstedt on Friday made a point of saying the archdiocese filing “does not include parishes and schools.”

During the afternoon press conference, however, he seemed less certain.

“To my knowledge, I’m not aware that it will impact our parishes and our schools. We are the twelfth diocese in this country to go through reorganization, and from the research that we’ve done, the parishes and schools in those dioceses had not been affected,” he said.

He added: “We don’t know. I mean, in a sense I can’t make any promises here because we don’t know what the judge is going to do as we go through the reorganization. But if it is true to form from what other situations have been, I don’t see where they’re going to be involved.”

Experts say there are likely to be disagreements over what’s protected and who pays.

“We’re certainly hopeful that a mutually agreeable settlement can be reached with the insurance carriers. But time will tell,” said archdiocese attorney Charlie Rogers

“Certainly we have claims against the carriers and carriers have various defenses, but we will work hand in hand with victims to seek the maximum rewards possible,” he said. “To speak to it now is a bit premature.”

The bankruptcy documents appear to indicate the archdiocese has limited financial resources, said Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney who’s represented many alleged victims of clergy sex abuse in the Twin Cities archdiocese.

Anderson’s law firm has submitted 112 notices of claim on behalf of clergy sex abuse victims in the Twin Cities archdiocese, in addition to the 16 lawsuits already filed.

“We’re confident this we can handle this and will handle this in a way that does not interrupt their core ministry and the good work” of the archdiocese, he said, adding that he believes the insurance coverage is sound.

However, Minneapolis attorney Patrick Noaker, who represents six alleged victims of clergy sex abuse in the Twin Cities archdiocese, said his clients are frustrated by the filing.

“Bankruptcy doesn’t protect kids,” he said. “But trials and disclosure of past practices does protect kids.”

One of his cases had been scheduled to go to trial in 10 days, and Noaker said it was difficult to break the news to his client that the trial wouldn’t happen. “He’s pretty down today.”

The mother of boys abused by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer said Friday she hopes that her family will receive compensation as part of the bankruptcy process.

She said her family has spent thousands of dollars so far related to the abuse, including plane tickets to visit two of her sons at a treatment facility in another state.

The archdiocese has covered some, but not all, of their costs, and a lawsuit against the archdiocese has not been settled, she said but added that she trusts Anderson. “I think they’re going to get to the point where I can be assured that my kids are taken care of.”

The woman, who asked that she not be identified to protect her children’s privacy, said she’s frustrated that more parishioners aren’t calling for Nienstedt’s resignation.

“At least for me and my family that would be another step toward healing. Because as far as transparency goes, all’s I see when I look at them is lies.”

The archdiocese did not give parish priests advance notice of its plan to file for bankruptcy but many priests and parishioners had been expecting it for months, said the Rev. Mike Tegeder, pastor of St. Francis Cabrini Church in Minneapolis.

The ministry of the church will continue, but Nienstedt needs to resign, said Tegeder, a longtime critic of the archbishop.

“He’s just not capable of getting us through this,” he said. “We need somebody who’s more of a healer.”

Archdiocese leaders for years made “terrible decisions” in handling clergy sex abuse claims, he added. “It’s very sad. We did not have to be in this situation.”

Archdiocese files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy: The petition

The documents: Twin Cities archdiocese Chapter 11 filings


Report: Pope Francis meets with, hugs transgender man

February 1, 2015


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Report: Pope Francis meets with, hugs transgender man

Thomas C. Fox  |  Jan. 30, 2015NCR Today

Gay Catholic leaders have expressed their pleasure following reports that Pope Francis, in an unprecedented move, met last week with a transgender Spaniard at the Vatican.

While the Vatican has yet to confirm the meeting, it has been widely reported in the press, and there has been no Vatican denial.

“I think that his meeting with the transgender man was a gesture not only of pastoral care, but of genuine interest in learning about the transgender experience from a firsthand source,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told NCR in an email.

Said New Ways Ministry’s co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick: “Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s devotion to Mary, Untier of Knots, found expression in Pope Francis’ embrace of the transgender Spaniard.”

“This was a worldwide hug that has reverberated to transgender people across the globe,” she told NCR, referring to reports that Francis hugged Diego Neria Lejarraga, a 48-year-old transgender man, when the two met at the Vatican.

The meeting, which took place Jan. 24, was first reported Monday by Spanish daily Hoy. According Hoy, Lejarraga wrote to the pope last year, saying he had been “marginalized” by church officials in the city of Plasencia in the Estremadura region. A practicing Catholic, he said local clergy had rebuffed him and said one parish priest had called him “the devil’s daughter.”

It was then Lejarraga reportedly wrote to Francis, hoping he could explain to the pope transgender issues and even possibly receive a papal blessing.

“After hearing him on many occasions, I felt that he would listen to me,” Lejarraga told Hoy.

Hoy reported Francis phoned Lejarraga twice in December, and during the second phone call, invited him to come visit at the Vatican. A date was arranged for the meeting.

According to Hoy, Francis told Lejarraga in an initial phone call that God loves all his children “as they are.” He went on: “You are a son of God and the Church loves you and accepts you as you are.”

The message of hope reportedly bowled over Lejarraga. He was even more surprised when Francis invited him to come to the Vatican for a personal meeting and offered to pay for it.

Lejarraga reportedly attended the meeting with his fiancée. During the meeting, Lejarraga asked Francis if, after his gender reassignment, there was “a place somewhere in the house of God for him.” He told Hoy Francis responded by embracing him.

DeBernardo said while he was pleased with the development, he was also cautious.

“At this time, I wouldn’t use the word ‘acceptance’ to describe the Vatican’s stance toward the transgender community. I think ‘dialogue’ would be a better word,” he said.

“The Vatican’s reluctance to verify the meeting is another indication of why I don’t think their attitude can yet be called ‘acceptance,’ “ DeBernardo said.

An LGBT pilgrimage

Gramick recently wrote to Francis, asking him to meet with her and a group of LGBT Catholics when they visit Rome in February.

In a Dec. 23 letter to the pope, Gramick wrote that she would be leading a pilgrimage for 50 LGBT Catholics and their families and friends.

“They are so very heartened by your words of mercy and welcome,” she wrote in the letter, which was published on the News Ways Ministry blog. “They believe, as you say, that receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is spiritual nourishment that we need to grow in our love-relationship with God, not a prize to be awarded those who are worthy.”

She asked Francis to meet with her group before or after his general audience Feb. 17.

“Would it be possible for you to meet personally with these faith-filled Catholics who have felt too long excluded from their Church?” she wrote.

[Thomas C. Fox is NCR publisher. His email address is tfox@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter:@NCRTomFox.]


Poland Suspends Inquiry Into a Former Vatican Envoy

February 1, 2015


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I’m grateful to be back from stays at a hospital and rehab facility. My left knee was acting up causing me pain and preventing my walking. Old age and death is inevitable.

This New York Times story indicates that the Catholic Church loves secrecy and protecting its own. Much progress has been made—thanks to survivors/victims, the media, just judges, and others unknown and unnamed—but much more still needs to be done.


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Poland Suspends Inquiry Into a Former Vatican Envoy


WARSAW — Poland has suspended an investigation into the Polish-born former Vatican ambassador, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who has been accused while serving in the Dominican Republic.

Przemyslaw Nowak, a spokesman for Warsaw’s regional prosecutor’s office, said Monday that the investigation had been suspended for purely formal reasons. The Dominican investigators have not responded to Poland’s requests for materials and evidence concerning the allegations against Mr. Wesolowski, who has been defrocked. The inquiry could begin again if the Dominican Republic shares — or officially declines to share — the requested documentation, Mr. Nowak said.

Polish prosecutors have already been refused the materials by the Vatican, which will hold a criminal trial for its former envoy on charges of child sexual abuse. It will be the Vatican’s first trial of its kind. Last summer, the Vatican revoked Mr. Wesolowski’s diplomatic immunity.




Is it really US bishops vs. the pope?

December 7, 2014


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Is it really US bishops vs. the pope?

Plus: Papal ‘silence’ on Asia Bibi, the divorce debate, and a bulletproof finance czar

John L. Allen Jr.

Associate editor

™ @JohnLAllenJr

John L. Allen Jr., associate editor, specializes in coverage of the Vatican.




More John L. Allen Jr. stories

US cardinals take a bus ride from the Pontifical North American College in Rome to synod hall at the Vatican March 11, 2013 for the cardinals’ last general congregation meeting before the conclave. Pictured from left, in front, Cardinals Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, Francis E. George of Chicago, and Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. Behind them, from left, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston. In back, from left, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles; Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York. 


By John L. Allen Jr.

Associate editor December 6, 2014

Now that Pope Francis has confirmed his trip to the United States next September, heading to Philadelphia for a Vatican-sponsored meeting of families and probably also to New York and Washington, American media outlets are already beginning to gear up for saturation coverage.

One narrative seems destined to loom steadily larger the closer we get to the trip: perceived resistance from conservative American bishops to Pope Francis’ progressive agenda.

Seeing that coming, I’ll launch a preemptive strike here, trying to explain why the “US bishops v. the pope” riff can easily be overblown. I’m under no illusion that my thoughts will have much effect on how the trip is covered, but at least something will be on the record.

To begin, the impressions are not based on thin air.

The pope’s host in Philadelphia, for instance, will be Archbishop Charles Chaput, seen as a champion of the church’s conservative wing, who recently said media coverage of the pope’s Synod of Bishops on the family in October had created “confusion.”

Chicago’s retired and ailing Cardinal Francis George, who remains a key point of reference, ticked off some questions he’d like to ask Francis in a recent interview with Crux, including if the pope realizes he’s created an impression that Church teaching is up for grabs.

“I don’t know whether he’s conscious of all the consequences of some of the things he’s said and done that raise doubts in people’s minds,” George said.

The fact that Cardinal Raymond Burke emerged as a leader of the tradition-minded camp at the synod fuels the “America v. Francis” storyline, as does Burke’s recent demotion.

In general, American Catholicism poses two unique challenges for a pope who’s an economic populist, and who’s vowed to dial down the rhetoric on the wars of culture.  Nowhere else is there such a strong Catholic infrastructure dedicated to defending capitalism, and nowhere else is clarity on the “life issues,” such as abortion and gay marriage, such a defining feature of Catholic identity.

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Yet there are still four good reasons why the “American bishops vs. Francis” narrative has to be taken with a grain of salt.

First, there are a lot of bishops in this country, and they don’t all think alike.

The United States has 195 dioceses, archdioceses, and other jurisdictions, which comes to just under 200 bishops. Adding in auxiliary bishops and those who are retired, the total rises to around 450.

More from Crux

Francis might want to take Turkey’s deal on Islamophobia

Francis poised for Era of Good Feelings with secularism

What ‘America’s Ratzinger’ would like to ask Pope Francis


As a result, it’s almost meaningless to ask what the “American bishops” think of anything. One has to specify which bishops we’re talking about, and the answers will vary widely.

For instance, does anybody really believe that Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley in Boston or Archbishop Blase Cupich in Chicago – one a member of the pope’s kitchen cabinet, the other his hand-picked nominee in the Windy City – are “resisting” Francis?

Second, Pope Francis is the 267th pope, depending on how one counts, and he’s also probably the 267th to have run into problems with some of his bishops.

Those tensions go back to the New Testament, and a famous clash between Peter and Paul over the requirements for gentiles who became Christians.

More recently, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI both encountered strong internal resistance, including in America. When John Paul stripped liberal Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen in Seattle of some powers in 1986, the president of the US bishops’ conference had to organize a kiss-and-make-up session between American bishops and papal aides, for fear that animosity might mar John Paul’s trip to the States in September 1987.

Whatever the blowback to Francis may be, it’s nothing new.

Third, Francis has called for an open debate about issues in the Church. At the beginning of the synod in October, he read aloud a letter he’d received from a cardinal saying some prelates were muzzling themselves out of fear the pope had a different opinion, and Francis begged them not to do that.

It’s thus disingenuous to blame bishops for stoking “resistance” to the pope every time they voice their opinion on something. One could just as easily say they’re practicing obedience, not defiance.

Fourth, no matter what some American bishops may privately think, they have a powerful incentive to see Francis succeed. That’s because having a popular pope makes their lives easier.

Not long ago, when the typical bishop went on American TV, the questions were about sex scandals, crackdowns on nuns, and bruising political fights. Today, they’re more likely to be softballs about the church’s rock-star pope.

When bishops go to parishes, people are more likely to be elated than angry. It’s easier to get favors from lawmakers today, because no politician wants to be on the wrong side of this pope. When a bishop enters a restaurant or gets into a cab, the first thing he’s likely to hear is something positive about Francis.

That boost from the “Francis effect” will be on display in September by the massive crowds and adoring coverage he’s likely to attract everywhere he goes.

For those reasons, be wary of overheated commentary styling the US bishops as the leaders of the church’s anti-Francis opposition. There are tensions, sure, but a new American revolution isn’t in the cards.

Papal silence on Asia Bibi

There’s disturbing news out of Pakistan this week about Asia Bibi, the Catholic mother of five sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 for the crime of “blasphemy,” allegedly for insulting the prophet Mohammed. She remains in prison while her final appeals make their way through Pakistani courts.

On Wednesday, her lawyer, Mushtaq Gill, was in Italy to drum up support for Bibi’s cause. However tiring the trip may be, Gill undoubtedly feels good about being away from his country for just a while, since defending Pakistanis accused of blasphemy is decidedly hazardous to one’s health.

In May, for instance, a lawyer and human rights activist who had taken up the defense cause in a separate blasphemy cause was shot dead by two gunmen in his office. An unsigned pamphlet claimed he met his “rightful end” for trying to “save someone who disrespected the Prophet Mohammed.”

Gill reports that Bibi, who’s in her early 40s and has been held in near-total isolation for five years, is “in ill health, with a high fever and strong headaches, and has lost hope.”

That’s despite the fact, according to Gill, that there’s actually a chance the Pakistani Supreme Court may annul her sentence, since those justices “are less subject to pressures from local radical groups.”

Gill said his message for the international community boils down to, “We need you.”

“We need international support,” he said. “You should put pressure on our government to eliminate this law. It’s become a weapon for persecuting minorities, above all, Christians.”

In August, a veteran Italian Vatican writer put the Bibi case on his list of Pope Francis’ “strange silences,” suggesting the pope had missed opportunities to supply the kind of international pressure to which Gill referred.

One assumes, of course, that Francis wants to see Bibi released. However, popes and Vatican officials always have to weigh their words carefully, out of fear that saying something provocative may make matters worse.

Back in 2011, Benedict XVI said something interpreted in Pakistan as a call for scrapping the blasphemy law, which set off demonstrations and brought scathing replies from political leaders along the lines of “stay out of our business.”

With that as context, one appreciates why the Vatican might prefer to operate behind the scenes.

Recently, however, Francis has sent signals that he’s less willing to be driven by diplomatic caution. At the end of his trip to Turkey last week, he used an airborne press conference to issue a direct challenge to Muslim leaders to be clearer in their condemnations of terrorism, beginning with ISIS.

Perhaps Francis will also decide this is a moment to push back a bit more forcefully on the Bibi case, calculating that his three well-received trips to Muslim nations and his break with the Western powers last year on Syria has bought some political capital he can now cash in.

Pakistan has had diplomatic relations with the Vatican since 1961 (for the record, 23 years longer than the United States). Perhaps Francis and his aides will conclude that, especially in light of Bibi’s deteriorating health, now is the time to put those ties to the test.

The divorce debate continues

In the past week, interviews with two influential bishops from different parts of the world have appeared, the upshot of which has been predictions that no change will be forthcoming on the church’s rules barring divorced and civilly remarried Catholics from communion.

Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, widely seen as one of the intellectual leaders of the European bishops, told the Italian dailyCorriere della Sera “I can’t see adequate reasons for a position that on the one hand affirms the indissolubility of marriage as beyond discussion, but on the other seems to deny it in the facts.”

Scola warned that allowing communion for Catholics who divorce and remarry without obtaining an annulment — a declaration that their first union was not a marriage under Church law — risks “almost a functional separation among doctrine, pastoral practice and discipline.”

“How can we say to young people getting married today, for whom the idea of ‘forever’ is always difficult, that matrimony is indissoluble, if they know that there’s always a way out?” Scola asked.

He said he believed that position was “by far the most followed” stance at the recent Synod of Bishops on the family, and predicted that Pope Francis will eventually decide to uphold the current practice.

Instead of allowing the divorced and remarried to receive communion, Scola said he supports speeding up the procedures for granting annulments.

In a Crux interview, Archbishop Anthony Fisher said something similar, playing down expectations of change. Fisher is the recently appointed Archbishop of Sydney, a protégé of Australian Cardinal George Pell, the pope’s powerful finance czar, and a Dominican who’s seen as one of the best minds on bioethics among the English-speaking bishops.

“The pastoral goal is to see how we’re we going to help people who are hurting,” Fisher said. “In this way things will change, and hopefully we’ll find some ways to help them.”

“But in the end, we’re not going to say ‘No, God got it wrong,’” he said, predicting that “after a year of discussion, we’re still going to say what Christ said.”

That echoes a line from Pell at a Crux forum in Rome in October.

“Some may wish Jesus might have been a little softer on divorce, but he wasn’t,” Pell said. “And I’m sticking with him.”

None of the means the debate over the divorced and remarried is closed, but it’s certainly a clear indication that the opposition to any change hasn’t gone away in the wake of the October synod. If anything it’s become emboldened, meaning it’s likely destined to be a bone of contention when the bishops gather again for a second synod on the family in October 2015.

If that synod fails to produce a broad consensus one way or the other, then at the end of a year-long process of reflection Catholicism will be back to where it all began. The $64,000 question will no longer be what the bishops think about opening up communion to the divorced and remarried, but what Pope Francis will do.

On that score, and with due respect to Scola or anyone else who thinks they know the answer, I’ve long said that this pope ought to come with a label like a pack of cigarettes.

The message would be, “Warning: Predictions are hazardous to your health.”

A bulletproof finance czar

Speaking of Pell, shortly after he was appointed the pope’s new Secretary for the Economy last February, I sat down with him for an interview and asked point-blank if within a year, he would be able to say exactly how much money the Vatican has.

His answer: “I’m never confident about the future, but things are already much clearer than they were six or seven months ago, and I’m sure they will be clearer still in 12 months’ time.”

It seems Pell is beginning to deliver on that promise, based on an article he wrote for Britain’s Catholic Herald that appeared on Friday.

The gist is that Pell and his team have discovered “hundreds of millions” of Euro in specific accounts of various Vatican departments that never made it onto the overall balance sheet, meaning that the Vatican is actually in better financial shape than originally thought.

Pell wasn’t suggesting any criminal activity, but simply that many departments had their own way of tracking funds and in the absence of a centralized accounting system, some funds never registered anywhere else.

Departments long had “an almost free hand” with finances, Pell wrote, and “very few were tempted to tell the outside world what was happening, except when they needed extra help.”

By the “outside world,” Pell clearly meant other Vatican agencies, too.

“It was impossible for anyone to know accurately what was going on overall,” he wrote, insisting that it’s changing now under the new financial regime decreed by Pope Francis.

From an insider’s point of view, what’s most interesting about Pell’s article is that he specifically singled out the Secretariat of State for keeping its money problems “in house.”

Not so long ago, the head of any other Vatican department would have been loath to point the finger at the Secretariat of State for anything, because it was once the 800-pound gorilla of the Vatican jungle, and people would have feared retribution.

The fact that Pell felt free to call out the Secretariat of State suggests one of two things, and quite possibly both.

First, that Pell is fearless, willing to call it as he sees it, regardless of consequences.

Second, given the unqualified support Francis has shown Pell, he now feels bulletproof, and he doesn’t have to sweat the reaction in other circles.

Anyone who’s known Pell over the years will have no problem believing the first point, and anyone who’s tracked the Vatican’s internal politics over the last 12 months probably will find the


Vatican Finds Hundreds of Millions of Euros ‘Tucked Away’

December 4, 2014


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Vatican Finds Hundreds of Millions of Euros ‘Tucked Away’


DEC. 4, 2014

ROME — It turns out that the Vatican, one of the world’s more secretive institutions, has even been keeping some secrets from itself.

Cardinal George Pell, who took over as the Vatican’s chief financial official in February, said Thursday that his staff had turned up hundreds of millions of euros that the Vatican did not know it had. The funds were “tucked away” in various accounts, he said, and had not been tallied on the Vatican’s main balance sheets.

The cardinal presented the found money as a happy surprise. “We have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed,” he wrote in an article for the magazine Catholic Herald, which is scheduled to be published Friday. “It is important to point out that the Vatican is not broke.”

Between the lines, though, there was less to be happy about. Cardinal Pell did not say that there had been any malpractice, but he hinted that it might explain why his own branch of the Curia, as the Vatican’s central administration is known, had been in the dark about the money.

“Problems were kept ‘in house,′ ″ Cardinal Pell said of the various arms of the Curia. “Very few were tempted to tell the outside world what was happening, except when they needed extra help.”

The cardinal did not say exactly where the cash had been kept, or by whom, but he did note that individual departments and congregations of the complex Vatican bureaucracy had long had “an almost free hand” with their finances and had historically preserved a high degree of independence, especially the Secretariat of State.

Cardinal Pell, originally from Sydney, Australia, moved to Rome early this year to head the newly created Secretariat for the Economy, which has been given responsibility for the financial affairs of the Holy See, the Vatican CityState government, and the almost 200 other entities that answer directly to the Vatican.

His appointment has been seen as a response to criticism from both within and without that the Vatican is too opaque and resistant to scrutiny. So he has started by the giving the books a thorough going-over.

“It is all the Vatican’s money, anyway,” said Carlo Marroni, who covers the Vatican for Italy’s leading financial newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore. “Its balance sheets are worth billions of euros, so the findings are not even particularly crucial to their budget. Cardinal Pell’s announcement speaks more of how he is proceeding to centralize the Vatican’s economy and administration, without leaving anything behind.”

The cardinal has asked all departments of the Vatican to start following international accounting standards, and to prepare detailed, up-to-date financial reports. An outside auditing firm is to be named next year to examine those reports.

The Vatican’s scandal-plagued bank, the Institute of Religious Works, has undergone a similar process in recent years, and is now slowly working its way into compliance with international financial standards and money-laundering rules. Under Pope Francis, who was elected in March 2013, other Vatican departments have been urged to follow suit.

“A church for the poor should not be poorly managed,” Cardinal Pell said.


Planning year-end gifts? Don’t forget Voice from the Desert

December 3, 2014


Planning year-end gifts?

Don’t forget Voice from the Desert.

Thank you for your generosity.


12-2 SNAP/SCLA Release: Letter calls on Vatican to investigate the Archdiocese of Milwaukee

December 3, 2014

I thank Peter Isely, who sent me this news via email.

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12-2 SNAP/SCLA Release: Letter calls on Vatican to investigate the Archdiocese of Milwaukee


Survivor and Clergy Leadership Alliance (SCLA)/Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)—Milwaukee


Letter calls on Vatican to investigate the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Bankruptcy


Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director (Milwaukee), 414.429.7259
Fr. James Connell, 414.940.8045


Milwaukee, WI – December 2, 2014 – An open letter sent by a group of local priest and survivor advocates is calling on the Vatican to investigate the Milwaukee Archdiocese Bankruptcy (letter attached).

As reported today in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), the letter presents six points under church law and practice that would justify such an investigation (full story here):

–Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki directed the church attorney to file for Chapter 11 reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court saying that the action “would provide a means to compensate victims/survivors with unresolved claims while allowing the archdiocese to continue its essential ministries.” No eligibility requirements were listed.

–The archdiocese “went to great effort and expense” to find victim/survivors. “Indeed, the bankruptcy claims process seemed inviting, not restrictive; it created hope for justice and healing.”

–About 575 claims of abuse were filed with the court.

–In 2013 it came to light that in 2007, then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan, now cardinal of New York, had transferred about $57 million into a trust fund for the perpetual care of nine cemeteries saying in a letter to the Vatican that the intent was “to provide improved protection of these funds from “any legal claim and liability.” That scandalized Catholics and non-Catholics, the letter stated.  Earlier this year, the archdiocese objected to all of the claims based on sex abuse, saying none had merit, but said it would be willing to compensate 125 claimants “only because doing so would be less expensive than fighting these claims in court,” according to the letter.

–While the archdiocese could change its approach, “the archdiocese appears to intend to continue on the course it has been following. … They intend to object to all the claims.”

–Documents in the court file show that legal and administrative fees have reached $18 million. ”There is enough money to compensate attorneys but not victims survivors.”

The Vatican is currently investigating an American Bishop, Robert Finn, for that diocese’s handling of sex abuse cases.