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Why is it worth $70 million to ordain 58 priests?

The Archdiocese of Denver recently ordained five new priests bringing the total to 58 men commissioned to serve in Northern Colorado who had been trained in its own two seminaries. Based upon the 2000 through 2009 annual reports and articles appearing in Archbishop Charles Chaput’s weekly newspaper, the Denver Catholic Register, over $70 million in donations has supported the two schools since they were opened in the late 1990s. Granted, more than half of that total is construction costs which will not be repeated again. There is an element of continuity, however, since $7.9 million has been spent on new building since 2008 and doubtless more improvements will be made in the future. On the other hand, there were no financial reports published for the seminaries until the year 2000, so the total of $33.5 million in contributions to operate the schools is missing several years. In any case, the point is that benefactors are willing to invest an enormous amount of money to maintain an all-male, ordained priesthood. Since so many deacons, religious brothers and sisters and members of laity are more than qualified to administer a parish or diocese, why are the US bishops’ supporters willing to shoulder such a financial burden to keep celibate clergy in control? 

If there is any consensus of opinion as to how an organization which purports to be a moral authority could protect and promote men who raped and tortured children, the conclusion was to blame the “clerical culture.” While only a “6 to 9 percent of US priests abused minorsvirtually every other cleric and prelate who knew either looked the other way or actively engaged in a cover up.[1]

For example, on November 22, 2005, Fr. Timothy Joseph Evans of the Archdiocese of Denver turned himself over to the police. After two trials, he was found guilty in 2007of sexual assault of a child, each case occurring sometime in the past decade. While archdiocesan officials congratulated themselves in numerous public statements for following the letter of the law in turning Evans over to the police, they did so without informing authorities of other complaints they had received about Evans or the fact that the priest was removed from his parish in 2003 under false pretenses so as not to trigger more accusations. During one trial, Fr. Lawrence Christensen, pastor of Evans’ parish “admitted to being uncooperative with investigators, declining up until today to answer questions related to Evans from police or the District Attorney’s office. He even went so far as to refuse to wait in the court’s witness room because he refused to sit near anyone who would testify against Evans.”[2] 

Training men in isolation to produce fraternal bonds of loyalty to each other and obedience to their superiors is the basis of military esprit de corps and any other organization that wishes to engender these traits. When you add to that milieu forbidding marriage and – at least in the recruiting and training stage – a religious purpose, the result is a hyper-dedication to the institution with no distraction from emotional, psychological and financial attachments to spouses and children. The members of the organization become family, friend and confidant since no “outsider” could understand their unique lifestyle.

This is one reason why Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated time and again there will be no change to an all-male, celibate priesthood although the majority of Catholics favor both married clergy and the ordination of women. “Catholic clerical celibacy separates a man from all other societies, makes him dependent on a homo-social group, confers status, insures employment and care, and subsumes his identity into a powerful ancient institution, and allies him with the divine. The requirement for inclusion is obedience, conformity and presumed celibacy.” [3] We already know the culture produced a criminal system for the sexual assault of children even when non-abusive priests and prelates had nothing to gain except the preservation of their perquisites and status. Why would we not assume the same system would produce other types of criminal activity? The number of cases which illustrate the point are too numerous to list but the following is a sampling:

A recent Dan Rather Report on HD Net showed how the San Diego diocese which claimed bankruptcy to avoid paying sex-abuse victim/claimants had hidden hundreds of millions of dollars of assets, including priests who stashed hundreds of thousands of dollars in parish safes to hide money from these creditors. [4]

The Catholic Church has figured prominently in Italy’s two largest postwar financial scandals – Banco Ambrosiano and Parmalat – as well as smaller cases of fraud and corruption. [5] Italian Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe is currently under investigation for “aggravated corruption” in an Italian real estate deal.

Spain also was shaken by two Catholic-related financial earthquakes involving the Matesa and Rumasa conglomerates. [6]

From 1971 to 1973, there was a combined effort between the New York City District Attorney’s office and the FBI to stop the flood of counterfeit securities which threatened to destabilize world markets involving the Mafia and the Vatican. [7]

The collapse of Long Island’s Franklin National Bank in 1974 cost the US taxpayer $7.8 billion (in 2008 dollars) and the demise of Chicago’s Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company $9.5 billion (in 2008 dollars). [8] Both were the largest US bank failures in history at the time and both had ties to Catholic financial networks. [9]

US attorneys representing victims of the Catholic-led Ustase/Nazi genocide in Croatia in their suit against the Holy See for hiding the victims’ stolen money, jewelry and gold noted in a press release dated November 23, 2001:

According to one global source, the Vatican is the main destination for over $55 billion in illegal Italian money laundering and the number 8 destination worldwide for laundered money, ranked well ahead of such offshore havens as the Bahamas, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.

In a recent report by the London Telegraph and the Inside Fraud Bulletin, the Vatican was named as a top “cut out” country along with the offshore banking centers of Nauru, Macao, and Mauritius. A “cut out” country is one whose banking secrecy makes it is all but impossible to trace laundered funds back to their source [10]

The Vatican established the Cayman Islands – another offshore location for secret bank accounts and previously part of the Diocese of Kingston, Jamaica – as its own diocese in 2000 under the direct jurisdiction of Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida who served on the Vatican Bank commission. [11]

The ability to launder money through the Catholic Church was not lost on American con-man Martin Frankel. Frankel bought seven small life insurance companies in order to steal their reserved assets. His scheme lasted from 1990 until his arrest in 1999. After five state insurance commissioners were forced to use tax-payer dollars to replace the stolen money to repay creditors, policyholders and shareholders, they brought a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) suit against the Vatican for laundering Frankel’s ill-gotten gains.

In the “factual allegation” section of their suit, the commissioners name six priests, one monsignor, one bishop, one archbishop and four cardinals (two of whom were former nuncios or ambassadors to the US) who were consulted or participated in the crime. Only the attorney of one priest in Florence, Italy, declined to participate on the presumption he was being asked to launder criminally obtained money but did not notify any authorities. Frankel paid “at least” $135,000 to several of these clerics and $100,000 to one cardinal for his “charitable causes.” Money flowed around the world from one secret account to the next. Like all other legal actions against the Vatican, the defense of “sovereign immunity” was raised and no further action has been taken since 2007, although the monsignor pleaded guilty in Hinds County (Mississippi) to state criminal fraud charges in a separate action. [12]

So we come back to the original question: Why are the US bishops’ supporters willing to shoulder such a financial burden to keep the ordained clergy in control of parishes and dioceses? If donors contributed $70 million to build and operate just two seminaries in less than fifteen years, what is the total cost for 46 US seminaries? Are people with that kind of money contributing only out of the goodness of their hearts? 

1. A.W. Richard Sipe “Beneath the child abuse scandal” National Catholic Reporter July 22, 2010 http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/beneath-child-abuse-scandal)

2.  Miles Blumhardt, “Parishioners await impact on church” The Coloradoan March 27, 2007

3. Sipe

4. “‘Dan Rather Reports’ Exposes Coordinated Effort by the Catholic Church to Protect Assets From Abuse Victims” Episode Number: 522, Episode Title: Spiritually Bankrupt June 24, 2010  “http://www.sacbee.com/2010/06/24/2846122/dan-rather-reports-exposes-coordinated.html

5. David Yallop, The Power and the Glory: Inside the Dark Heart of John Paul II’s Vatican (Carroll & Graf) 2007

6. Robert A. Hutchison, Their Kindom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei (St. Martin’s Press) 1999

7. Richard Hammer, The Vatican Connection: The Astonishing Account of a Billion-Dollar Counterfeit Stock Deal Between the Mafia and the Church (Holt, Rinehart and Winston ) 1982

8.  http://www.propublica.org/special/government-bailouts

9. David Yallop, In God’s Name – An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I (Carroll & Graf) 1984

10.  http://www.vaticanbankclaims.com/vatpr.html

11. Ibid

12. http://www.docstoc.com/docs/9525191/states-v-vatican

 (Also appeared on talk2action.org)

7 Responses

  1. Great report Betty. As to your question about contributing out of the goodness of their hearts, maybe. How could you not love such a system if you needed to launder some of your assets. What’s not to love?

    The Vatican offers all of the perks you listed plus they are now screening for a naive group of young priests who have been taught to obey, not question, stay silent, and revere their clerical betters. The perfect case study to see how this worked is Maciel’s Legion when young priests never thought of questioning envelopes full of donations–or much of anything else.

    No wonder Chaput was a member of the Investigation team looking onto the Legion. The explanation is in your post.

  2. On a more “micro” level of analysis this is just fiscally inane. Denver could send its seminarians to any number of seminaries across the country and pay a fraction of these costs. What the good Archbishop is saying by this decision is that all “those” seminaries are lacking. “His” will be “proper” training. That does sound like the Legion-crazies

  3. First-rate research and reporting, Betty. What I particularly like about this article is that it shows us in concrete terms–in dollars and cents–the price we all pay for the decision of the church’s pastoral leaders to keep clericalism alive.

    Where your money is, there your heart will be also.

  4. Thank you all for your comments. Yes, this is a huge commitment to keeping “the system” intact.


  5. I feel physically sickened as we burrow deeper and deeper in to the abyss of the betrayal of Christ’s message and his People.

    I hesitate to “thank you” for more of the “Offal News” (as opposed to “Good News”!) yet I am nonetheless appreciative of the work that went into this post – and others who are also laboring in the vineyard in hopes of getting things back to producing Good Wine again.

    • It’s most unfortunate that in order to “get things back to producing Good Wine again” the old wine has to be discarded because it has been poisoned.


  6. [...] in three years, 2007-2009) while between 2000-2009 Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput spent over $70 million to ordain 58 priests and one set of liturgical vestments for Cardinal Raymond Burke costs over [...]

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