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Pope to Bishops: Do as You Please, But Say Nice Stuff and the Media with Cover for You.

Some facts withheld by the mainstream U.S. media:

  • Pope Francis has sponsored only 6 refugee families although the Vatican owns thousands of apartments in Rome.
  • Over 800 U.S faith communities provide sanctuary for immigrants but not the American bishops although they own an estimated 70,000 buildings.
  • Pope Francis gives only 20% of billions earmarked for charity to the poor.
  • Pope Francis has packed the Vatican with vulture capitalists.
  • Many U.S. bishops use “Catholic Foundations” to hide their assets and investments.

Chicago Cardinal Blasé Cupich is “the American point person for Pope Francis.”  Cupich often acts as his mouthpiecedefender  and envoy.

Cupich had a private audience with Pope Francis last May 17, less than a month before the U.S. bishops held their spring meeting. Under discussion was the document, “Faithful Citizenship,” a voting guide issued every four years by the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) since 1976, last revised in 2015.

“I think it would be a big mistake not to move forward with an entirely new document,” said Cupich, who began the floor discussion by saying he would vote against the proposal to revise it. “A new document is necessary, he said, in order to integrate the teachings of Pope Francis on climate change, poverty and immigration into the bishops’ guidance.” Other bishops appointed or promoted by Pope Francis agreed. They were anxious that American bishops utilize the topics for which the pope has received the most fawning media coverage.

The bishops, however, voted 144 to 41 to complement the current edition of “Faithful Citizenship” with a short letter, videos and “other resources aimed at inspiring prayer and action in public life. An amendment added to the proposal directs the supplemental material to apply the teaching of Pope Francis to present times.”

How much pressure will be applied to the bishops in the future to include and emphasize the topics that will increase their popularity with the U.S. mainstream media? In many ways, the bishops’ already mirror the pope’s actions if not his words.

Refugees and immigrants

Pope Francis has sponsored only six refugee families even though the Vatican owns “thousands” of apartments in Rome. They are mainly cared for by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay Catholic charity; the pope and Vatican do help out with some expenses. The Church could do more. Vatican assets – commercial properties, investments, gold reserves, bank accounts – are valued “by a conservative estimate” at 15-17 billion euro (approx. $16-18 billion). Only an estimate is possible because Vatican assets are a well-guarded secret.

Over 800 faith communities provide sanctuary for immigrants, but not the bishops even though “Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other organizations operate an estimated 70,000 buildings.”

Cupich specifically forbade his priests from providing sanctuary because it would create a “false hope” that persons facing deportation would find protection on his property.

Also unlike other religious leaders, neither Pope Francis nor his bishops have ever criticized Trump by name. “There are no villains” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, after visiting government and charitable facilities housing immigrant children separated from their parents. He said there were “complications” in the government’s efforts to reunite separated families and that “It’s a complex problem, you don’t solve this overnight.” DiNardo repeated what Pope Francis had said on the occasion of Trump’s inauguration: “the country has the right to protect its borders.”

USCCB Vice President Archbishop Jose’ Gomez,  wrote that “politicians on both sides” were responsible for our cruel immigration policy.

Poverty

In the first nine months of Pope Francis’ pontificate, Catholics around the world donated €378 million (over $515 million) in the annual Peter’s Pence collection, the fund for the pope’s “charitable outreach to the suffering and marginalized around the world.”

This information was provided by Emiliano Fittipaldi in his book, Avarice: Documents Revealing Wealth, Scandals and Secrets of Francis’ Church. In the past, the amount of the Peter’s Pence collection was reported every year by the Vatican. Under Pope Francis, this has become another well-guarded secret.

That Pope Francis gave only 20 percent of the Peter’s Pence collection to the poor was disclosed in Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book, Merchants in the Temple. The rest went to subsidize the Vatican bureaucracy.

Both Fittipaldi and Nuzzi were indicted by the Vatican in November 2015 under Pope Francis’ new law criminalizing the disclosure of confidential Vatican information. On Nov. 30, Pope Francis said, “I gave the judges the concrete charges” as regards the upcoming trial. Both were eventually acquitted since they aren’t Vatican citizens.

In November 2016, the Peter’s Pence fund was given its own web site  to increase the opportunity for more online contributions. Pope Francis also receives donations via his daily Twitter and Instagram accounts which include a link to the Peter’s Pence fund for “all people who want to help those most in need.” In exchange for the license to use the pope’s image, nine percent of the sales price of each “Superpope” T-shirt depicting Pope Francis as a flying superhero also goes to the Peter’s Pence fund.

In addition to the Peter’s Pence fund, every year the pope is given the profits from the Vatican Bank. According to the latest financial statement, that amount was €31.9 million ($37 million). (The Vatican Bank is the exception to the rule of total secrecy having been forced to produce an audited statement in order to continue doing business in international markets.)

MissioBot is a chat system on Facebook Messenger, “which helps guide users through a chat experience with words by Pope Francis … The participant then has the opportunity to pray for particular intentions or donate to specific causes.”

Pope Francis thanked the U.S. Papal Foundation for their annual contribution to his charities, $15 million in 2015 and $10 million in 2016. He thanked the Knights of Columbus for their $1.6 million donation.

Pope Francis also “receives lavish donations” from the wealthy, like Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, and Leonardo Di Caprio.

Proceeds from corporate charity events, such as those at $5,900 per head, are also given to the pope.

The pope is given many personal gifts. Some are auctioned. Others are raffled and the tickets, about $11 each, “are available for purchase online and in several areas accessible to the public, such as the Vatican Museums’ bookshop and the Vatican post office or pharmacy.”

Popes receive private donations, as well. For example, it was reported during the 2012 Vatileak’s scandal that a check for €100,000 made payable to Pope Benedict was found in the home of his “butler” along with other items that had been pilfered from the papal office.

So it is no exaggeration to approximate Pope Francis’ personal income in billions of dollars. Another well-guarded secret is the actual amount of money he contributes to charity.

The last time (2012) anyone looked at the finances of the American Catholic Church as a whole, The Economist estimated that of the total expenditures by “the U.S. Church and entities” just 2.7 percent goes to charity and 62 percent of the income of its charitable activities “came from local, state and federal government agencies.”

According to the 2017 Financial Statement of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cupich has $1.862 billion in net assets. He gives 7.3 percent – if the revenue received from “charitable activities” is taken into account – of his expenses to charity

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago does not post a financial statement online. Charity Navigator, the most popular online site for checking the competency and financial information on U.S. charities, doesn’t give a rating to Cupich’s charity because it doesn’t “receive at least 40% of their funding from direct individual contributions. This organization receives much of its funding from paid services or government grants.”

According to the organization’s Form 990 for 2017, the IRS form for nonprofits, 60 percent of revenue comes from government grants.

Climate Change

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment was released in June 2015. In May 2016, Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, president of the Vatican Bank appointed by Pope Francis, stated that the bank’s investments in fossil fuel companies would not be sold until their stock prices increased.

It was Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, who was given the title “The Green Pope” by the National Geographic Society. “Caring for the environment had become an important part of the Church’s doctrine [but] Benedict gave the issue an even higher profile. He delivered homilies and speeches asking world leaders to take seriously the harm being inflicted on the planet. ‘If we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us,’ Benedict said on the 2010 World Day of Peace.” Benedict covered the Vatican’s Paul VI hall with solar panels, authorized the Vatican Bank to purchase carbon credits “that would make the Catholic city-state the only country fully carbon neutral” and introduced a hybrid popemobile in 2011.

Under Pope Francis, the Vatican created a central waste collection point within Vatican City. “The new system builds on recycling practices already in place.”

In response to the pope’s encyclical, a Catholic Energies program was developed to help American Catholic entities “work with local utility companies and energy providers to benchmark energy use, assess buildings and utilize programs to realize immediate savings. [Any] organization wishing to take the next step and retrofit equipment, windows and lighting can enter a financing arrangement under which the money saved on energy bills is used pay back any borrowed money.”

Reuters published a study two months after the encyclical was released showing that “some of the largest American Catholic organizations have millions of dollars invested in energy companies, from hydraulic fracturing firms to oil sands producers.” Among them, the Archdiocese of Chicago held more than $100 million worth of fossil fuel investments. “We are beginning to evaluate the implications of the encyclical” on investments, energy usage and building materials, said Cupich’s chief operating officer.

Reuters also did a review of county documents and “found 235 oil and gas leasing deals signed by Catholic Church authorities in Texas and Oklahoma with energy and land firms since 2010 …. The Church authorities receive a royalty ranging from 15 to 25 percent of the value of what is taken out of the ground.”

It is not possible to state whether any of the above has changed since most dioceses do not disclose the names of specific investments. That’s true also of the Vatican including the bank.

Business ethics

When the pope and Cupich met in private on May 17, “a Chicago Church insider noted that this was also the day the Holy See issued a document on ethical issues in the financial markets.

In the first year of his pontificate, Pope Francis brought in McKinsey & Co, Promontory Financial, Ernst & Young, KPMG and Group Banco Santander as financial consultants to the Vatican.

“Enron’s CEO, Jeff Skilling, who served time in prison, was ex-McKinsey, and so much about how Enron fell apart was due to ideas that Skilling brought over from McKinsey and that McKinsey celebrated at Enron – emphasizing a ruthless human resources policy that resulted in excessive employee churn, as well as more prosaic issues like off-balance-sheet financing and securitization.”

“Behind the moves of Promontory are not only the U.S. clergy who made a decisive contribution to Bergoglio’s election, but also some foreign financiers,” reported  l’Espresso. In the U.S., “Promontory’s activities focus heavily on the adept circumvention of regulations … At a U.S. Federal Reserve foreclosure review meant to provide compensation to abused homeowners, whistleblowers from Bank of America came forward to provide compelling evidence that the bank and its independent consultant, Promontory Financial Group, attempted to suppress evidence that borrowers had been harmed by the false and deceptive practices of the mortgages lenders.”

Ernst & Young “has agreed to pay $99 million to former Lehman Brothers investors who have accused the auditor of helping Lehman misstate its financial records before the investment bank’s collapse triggered a financial crisis in 2008.”€

“KPMG Facilitated the Financial Fiasco.” “Pioneers of mortgage debt securitization from Morgan Stanley and Black Rock set the stage for the financial crisis that severely disrupted the global economy. While these players and poor government policies have received much attention in recent years, auditors, such as KPMG International, enabled the crisis to metastasize at an accelerated rate. KPMG was the auditor for the key players in the mortgage crisis, including Fannie Mae, Countrywide Financial and New Century Mortgage.”€

Banco Santander president Emilio Botin was “the third generation of bankers of Santander close to Opus Dei.” After Pope Francis’ election, it was noted that Banco Santander will now “have a presence that is going to mean a new leading role in the Vatican.”€

Banco Santander, rated Britain’s worst, was accused of gouging U.S. consumers. “The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs announced that it had issued subpoenas to two subsidiaries of the Spanish lender Banco Santander, which together represent one of the country’s largest originators of auto loans … The subprime auto lending industry is facing increased regulatory scrutiny. Critics say the industry takes advantage of vulnerable borrowers, who often have to pay steep rates for the loans.”

“Opus Dei uses the Catholic Church for its own ends which are money and power,” wrote Robert Hutchison in the preface to his book, Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei.  Hutchison is a Canadian financial reporter who won four National Business Writing Awards.

“In discerning the real nature of Opus Dei, one must not listen to what the Prelature says, but rather look at what it does,” Hutchinson noted. Sage advice also for any journalist covering the pope and his men.

Pope Francis has appointed many men close to, or members of, Opus Dei to Vatican positions.  Most notable are:

  • Greg Burke, head of his Press Office. Burke is a former correspondent for Fox News and a member of Opus Dei.
  • Peter Sutherland, a financial adviser. Sutherland is managing director and chairman of Goldman Sachs International, former chairman of BP Oil, “world trade tsar,” and a member of the International Advisory Board of IESE, Opus Dei’s flagship graduate business university.
  • George Yeo, another financial adviser. He was Singapore’s Foreign Minister and Minister of Finance, a brigadier-general in the Singapore Armed Forces and is also a member of the International Advisory Board of IESE.

The Vatican’s September 2016 ratification of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) was dismissed as mere “window dressing” because the Holy See asserted it did not have to participate in any “mechanism or body to assist in the effective implementation of the Convention.” The UNCAC “covers a wide-range of corruption offences, including domestic and foreign bribery, embezzlement, trading in influence and money laundering.”

Libero Milone, a lay Italian financial expert, was hired as the Vatican’s first auditor general in 2015. He resigned two years later when he was threatened with arrest by the Vatican police. “Evidently, they didn’t want me to report some things I’d seen,” Milone said. The Vatican criminal investigation against ended with no charges being filed.

As for the business ethics of American bishops, we’ll never know without an investigation by someone with investigative resources. Because they are religious entities, dioceses don’t have to file income tax forms. Whether or not they even prepare a financial statement is voluntary, as is the decision whether or not to post it online. Rarely are the names of investments disclosed – and never by the Vatican.

Complicating any investigation of diocesan finance, many bishops have “Catholic Foundations” – separate organizations that hide their assets and investments. Many were formed to limit the Church’s liability from sex abuse claims.

All of the above is very bizarre considering the “Great Commission” given to the apostles by Jesus Christ is “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

 

(Updated July 11, 2018, to correct financial information about Catholic Charities of Chicago.)

 

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