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WikiLeaks Helped Expose A Vatican Scandal

In February 2017, posters appeared around Rome denouncing Pope Francis’ “decapitation” of the Knights of Malta. At the heart of the pope’s sacking of the Grand Master is a multi-million dollar donation. WikiLeaks provided critical information about what Vatican officials knew and when they know it.

Of course, the sexual torture  of hundreds of thousands of children is the Catholic Church’s worst scandal and, of all pontiffs, Pope Francis is the worst offender from the very first days of his pontificate when he appointed already well-known pedophile-priest-protectors Cardinals George Pell   and Francisco Javier Errazuriz  to his Council of Cardinals, to his leaving Archbishop Joseph Wesolowski and Fr. Nicola Corradi free men even after being informed of their crimes, to his present protection of Cardinals George Pell, Luis Ladaria Ferrer,  Phillipe Barbarin  and Ricardo Ezzati  and most recently, his “toothless,” PR  mandate that priests and nuns report clerical sex abuse to bishops and not the police.

However, the January 2019 release by Wikileaks of confidential documents regarding the Sovereign Order of Malta  remind us that Pope Francis is not the moral authority he claims to be in finances either.

The first report that money might be the underlying issue in the pope’s dismissal of Grand Master Fra Matthew Festing, who was “elected for life,” was published on Jan. 7, 2017 by the well-connected Vatican reporter, Edward Pentin writing for the National Catholic Register. He stated that those opposed to Festing and favored by the Pope Francis “have been involved with a very large bequest to the order made by a benefactor resident in France, worth at least 120 million Swiss Francs ($118 million).”

On Jan. 25, 2017, the Italian news/tabloid hybrid Dagospia published another report on the matter. Although a respected Vatican reporter, Dr. Robert Moynihan, wrote that Dagospia “does not have the highest level of professionality or credibility” what the tabloid published has been confirmed as essentially correct.

The money was bequeathed by Jehan du Tour naming among his heirs two undisclosed individuals and two charities: the Hospitallers of St. John of God and the Order of Malta.

The Hospitallers are “an international community who continue more than 900 years’ tradition of  helping the sick and the poor of all nationalities, races and creeds.”

Commonly known as the Knights of Malta, the Sovereign Order of Malta describe themselves as “a lay religious order of the Catholic Church” founded in 1113. They have diplomatic relations with over 100 states and the European Union, permanent observer status at the United Nations, their own coins, stamps and passports. “Today, the Order of Malta is active in 120 countries caring for people in need through its medical, social and humanitarian works.”

Dagospia continues: “The executor of du Tour’s estate, Ariane Slinger of Geneva, created a charitable trust under New Zealand law – known until recently as being exempt from much of the red tape of other nations in the realm of offshore accounts – called Caritas pro Vitae Gradu [CPVG] Charitable Trust.” Slinger has the “power of the purse in paying the beneficiaries.”

Slinger‘s official position is CEO and “main owner” of ACE International SA in Geneva specializing in “Trustees,  Corporate Trustees, Private Client Trustees.”

As reported by Pentin on Mar. 17, 2017, “Germany’s mass-selling Bild newspaper shed light” on the value of the donation to the Knights – a quarter of the CPVG trust assets, or 30 million Swiss francs or which the order has received 3 million francs. Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager “and other members of the Order have had dealings with the trust since 2010.”

Bild correspondent Nikolaus Harbusch, a well known investigative reporter in Germany specializing in financial crimes,” reported that Slinger appeared in the “Panama Papers,” documents released in early April 2016 that “show the myriad ways in which the rich … from around the world are known to have been using offshore tax havens.”  In fact, Slinger is shown as a former director of four of these “offshore” corporations.

Via email to Pentin dated Jan. 6, Slinger denied “that she or her organization had any connection to the Order of Malta” and threatened legal action “if the name of the trust or its members, or allegations about the trust, were published.”

Another highly respected Vatican reporter, Sandro Magister, quoted from a letter by “a person very well-informed on the affairs of the Order” on Mar. 28, 2017. “Between 2012 and 2013 Marc Odendall, with what authority it is not clear, negotiated a donation of around 2 million euros” with Slinger.” Odendall, a Swiss-based financier, is a member of the Order but holds no official position.

Although not named as a beneficiary of the CPVG trust, “100,000 Swiss francs were also donated to a foundation called Caritas in Veritate, headed by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi in that it is a project supported by Odendall.”

Tomasi was, until February 2016, the papal nuncio [ambassador] and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva. As such, he reported to Cardinal Parolin. Tomasi had presided over the Vatican delegation attending hearings on child sex abuse conducted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child held in Geneva in January 2014. Pope Francis’ delegates “denied allegations of a cover-up and said the Church had set clear guidelines to protect children from predator priests.” Tomasi’s personal response was to claim that “non-governmental organizations favoring gay marriage – which the Church opposes – probably influenced the committee to reinforce what he called ‘an ideological line.’”

Tomasi – also a member of the Order of Malta – created the Caritas in Veritate foundation “to make the positions of the Catholic Church more understandable and visible, thus increasing their impact on the elaboration of international culture and law” per the website. Odendall is treasurer and Grand Chancellor Boeselager is a board member.

Caritas in Vertitate had, according to Dagospia, organized various conferences involving a Lebanese banker, Marwan Senhaoui, who heads up the Lebanese chapter of the Order of Malta.

Magister explained that when Festing found out about the CPVG trust, “the Grand Master set up an internal commission to investigate the trust with its unclear delineations but with definite ties to Boeselager and three other leading representatives of the Order of Malta” – Tomasi, Odendall, and Sehnaoui. The investigation led the order to report Slinger to the public prosecutor in Geneva “on the suspicion of embezzlement.”

On May 10, 2013, the Order of Malta and the Hospitallers of Saint John of God joined a suit “with a criminal complaint” brought against Slinger by others on April 26. The assets of the CPVG trust were frozen on April 29. A request from Slinger at getting the assets unfrozen was rejected by the criminal appeals court of the Court of Justice in Geneva on April 30, 2014.

There are two critical WikiLeaks documents. One is a memo from Odendall to Boeselager dated June 8, 2014. It shows that, years before the posters went up around the city of Rome, Pope Francis and Parolin knew there was a dispute between two factions in the Knights – Festing and Grand Chancellor Mazery v. Boeselager, Odendall, Tomasi and Sehnaoui – about doing business with Slinger, that the pope and Parolin directly intervened, that Odendall and Sehnaoui were keeping secrets and that there are also high administrative fees at stake.

Per Odendall, after du Tour died in 2011, Slinger “approached the Order of Malta.” “Because the previous contact had been weak in conveying real donation opportunities,” Slinger met with Odendall in October 2012 “to develop a donation scheme” but he doesn’t say why he was selected or if Slinger initiated the contact.

Odendall told Boeselager that “the prosecutor started a penal process” against Slinger. Odendall was informed by his fellow members that “an important piece of evidence has demonstrated that the trustee has very probably mishandled the whole case on purpose.” Therefore, “I am told to stop seeing the trustee.” Nevertheless, “I decide to maintain the relationship with the Trustee which I have done until today and which enables us [?] to meet with her confidentially.”

In May 2014, Tomasi met with Festing “to ask that this whole process be clarified and that the ‘dossier’ [on Slinger ?] be transferred to Marwan Sehnaoui” and Odendall. Per Odendall, Sehnaoui “has developed a trusted relationship” with Slinger and he, too, asked Festing to appoint himself and Odendall “to solve this delicate issue.” Mazery, present at the meeting, refused along with Festing to hand over the “dossier.”

Tomasi reported the “whole issue” to Parolin. After Parolin was informed, “the Chapter changes the environment.” Odendall and Sehnaoui are now “in charge” of dealing with Slinger. Boeselager was elected on May 30 to replace Mazery, and the new Grand Chancellor “will monitor the details of these transactions.”

On June 6, 2014, Pope Francis appointed Odendall to the board of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, supposedly a “watchdog” agency on financial matters.

At Slinger’s request, Odendall arranged a meeting “between the parties” with Tomasi as the “facilitator for an agreement.” The purpose of the meeting is to “realize that the penal way leads to a dead end” and, in dropping the charges, the order will benefit “more than the order claims today in court.”

But now Sehnaoui “prefers to put himself aside for the moment as a ‘personal agenda’ has been levied against him and he does not want this suspicion to even be mentioned.”

The other critical Wikileaks’ disclosure was an email dated June 10, 2014, from Odendall to Boeselager: “You may count on me but not in an official role if anyone suspects me of collusion.” Regarding some legal matters pertaining to the CPVG trust, “I can do a lot of those things for you in discretion, no need to go in the open.”

Odendall also tried to “dissipate” Boeselager’s “impressions on Ariane’s possible greed” as regards her “yearly fees” by stating she would “send me the past logs of the billing.”

Dagospia reported that after Boeselager became Grand Chancellor he “interacted with Slinger on some proposals related to the du Tour inheritance.” There was “a significant amount of interaction via email between these individuals” and also Odendall and Sehaoui. “At one point, Slinger addressed Tomasi as ‘Dear Sylvano’ – a surprising informality.”

Pope Francis Ordered the Resignation of Festing

Also among the Wikileaks documents is a “comprehensive timeline” requested by members of the Order as to “events leading to the resignation of Fra Festing.” These are the pertinent facts:

Wikileaks posted a letter Pope Francis sent to American Cardinal Raymond Burke dated Dec. 1, 2016. The pope referred to a meeting they had on Nov. 10. He asked Burke to collaborate with Festing to “carry out your duty” as regards “the distribution of any type of contraceptives and [those who] have not yet intervened to end such things.”

Burke had been appointed by Pope Francis as the order’s cardinal patron “whose task it is to promote relations between the Holy See and the Knights and to keep the Holy Father informed about spiritual and religious aspects of the order.”

Burke wrote to Festing enclosing the pope’s letter. “As you will note, he asks me to work with you to carry out the necessary vigilance.” Also, “I ask for your fullest cooperation lest the Holy Father find it necessary” to order a formal Vatican inquiry and inspection of the order.

Dec. 6: Believing that a Vatican formal investigation – i.e. a threat to, and interference in, the sovereignty of the order – will be begun by the pope if action is not taken, Festing asked Boeselager to resign so that “those responsible” for the “concealed immoral practices should shoulder that responsibility.” Boeselager refused to resign.

Pentin explained: “The primary issue behind the call for Boeselager’s resignation was that he was deemed ultimately responsible, following the order’s own internal commission of inquiry, for allowing contraceptives to be distributed by the Knights’ humanitarian arm. The order also said there had been other ‘confidential’ factors in play, as well as a ‘failure of trust.’”

Dec. 8: Festing again asked Boeselager to resign. He refused. Festing begins “disciplinary procedures” against Boeselager signed by Festing, the Grand Commander and approved by the Order’s State Attorney.

Pentin reported that “after his dismissal, inside sources say that Boeselager went to Cardinal Parolin, erroneously telling him that he had been told by Cardinal Burke that the pope had instructed him to resign … Cardinal Parolin did not verify what was communicated to Boeselager by Cardinal Burke before writing a Dec. 12 letter to Fra’ Festing on behalf of the Holy Father. In it, he stressed that the pope’s ‘only instructions’ were those given to Cardinal Burke in his missive of Dec. 1.”

Dec. 13: Festing met with Parolin twice and Parolin met with Pope Francis in between. “Fra’ Festing stressed that the decision he had taken was ‘fully in accordance with the instructions’ relayed by Cardinal Burke. At that meeting, Cardinal Parolin said he wanted to institute a commission to look into the issues surrounding the dismissal. The grand master and the leadership of the Knights refused such a commission, mainly due to the Knights’ sovereign status that prohibits such interference in its internal governance, according to international law. The Knights’ leadership was under the impression that Cardinal Parolin had backed down from the idea,” according to Pentin.

Dec. 14:  The Sovereign Council elected Fra’ John Critien as Grand Chancellor Ad Interim. (Fra is a prefixed title given to an Italian monk or friar.)

On Dec. 15, Pope Francis appointed Boeselager’s brother, Georg Freiherr von Boeselager, a private banker, as the sixth member of the lay Board of Superintendence of the Vatican Bank. The bank’s statutes state that the Board of Superintendence should be “composed of five members.”

Dec. 22: Festing and Burke received a letter from Parolin “with a cover letter from Pope Francis” stating that a commission had been established to investigate Boeselager’s dismissal.

Four of the five members of the commission were “known allies” of Boeselager: Odendall, Sehnaoui, Tomasi and Jacques de Liedekerke, a former Grand Chancellor before Mazery. (The fifth member was Jesuit Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University and a lawyer,)

Festing wrote to Pope Francis with his displeasure. “Three are involved in a very strange and mysterious fund operated by a lady who, at the time, was a defendant in a legal case against her concerning her management.”

Dec. 23: “Boeselager protested in a statement that there were no valid grounds to resign and that an ‘established procedure’ for his removal wasn’t followed.” As regards the contraceptive issue, Boeselager said that he feels “bound by the teachings of the Church” and that to “contrive an accusation” otherwise was “absurd.”

(“The commission set up by the pope completed its investigations in record time and delivered its final report even before the deadline set at the end of January,” noted Magister. Its findings are unknown.)

Pentin reported that on Jan. 2 Parolin “declined to answer a series of questions about Boeselager’s dismissal and the papal commission.” Parolin, “known to be friends with Boeselager … seems to be orchestrating a good deal of the Vatican’s involvement in the matter.”

Jan. 23: Parolin’s secretary telephoned Festing informing him that the pope wanted to see him the next day. He is “to tell no one and bring no one.”

Festing met with Pope Francis “on the strict instruction not to let anyone know about the audience – a modus operandi that has been used frequently during this pontificate,” wrote Pentin. The pope “asked Fra’ Festing to resign immediately, to which the Grand Master agreed. The pope then ordered him to write his resignation letter on the spot …. The pope had Fra’ Festing include in his letter of resignation that the grand master had asked for Boeselager’s dismissal under the influence of Cardinal Raymond Burke. However, as patron, the cardinal has no governance in the order and can only counsel the grand master.”

The well-regarded reporter, John L. Allen Jr., described Festing’s dismissal as part of the Vatican’s “an intervention on Boeselager’s behalf.”

“The only similar, sovereign entity [as the Order of Malta] with little or no territory is the Holy See. So Francis’s putsch is akin to the annexation of one state by another,” stated the prestigious publication, the Economist.

The following day, Pope Francis declared that all actions taken by Festing and the order’s governing council since the dismissal of Boeselager are “null and void,” including the election of Fra’ John Critien.

Jan. 28: Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, the No. 2 official at the Secretariat of State, telephoned each member of Sovereign Council advising them to accept Festing’s resignation. The order issued a press statement that their Sovereign Council “accepted his resignation.”

They also announced the appointment of Grand Commander Fra’ Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein as the new “Lieutenant ad interim” until a new grand master is elected. They officially “annulled” Boeselager’s resignation. “The decision to reinstate Boeselager was requested by Pope Francis himself.”

Feb. 2: Pope Francis appointed Becciu “as my special delegate” to the order. He will work in “strict collaboration” with Rumerstein.”

On March 16, Boeselager agreed to an interview with Bild reporter Nikolaus Harbusch, the same journalist who had reported that Slinger was named in the “Panama Papers.” Boeselager stated:

  • “We withdrew our charges against the trustee as the allegation was unfounded and no damage was caused.”
  • An agreement was reached with Slinger on March 1. The donation of 30 million Swiss francs, “by far the biggest cash donation received in the last 10 years,” would be paid over a period of 7 years, 3 million of which had already been paid.
  • That the money was “placed into a trust before World War II. Since then, there have been only investments.”

There remain many unanswered questions. For example:

How much money is actually in the trust? “Investments since World War II” should have increased its value exponentially. If not, why not?

How much has Slinger paid herself in administrative fees? How much, if any, have Odendall or other members of the order collected for their time and administrative costs?

If there is nothing unsavory:

Why did Slinger “deny in Jan. 6 email to the Register that she or her organization had any connection to the Order of Malta” and threaten them with legal action “if the name of the trust or its members, or allegations about the trust, were published.”

Why did Odendall fear he would be “suspected of collusion” and state that there was “no need to go in the open” about his role.

Why did Pope Francis want Festing “to tell no one and bring no one” to their meeting and witness his dismissal?

Why did Pope Francis form a commission of Boeselager allies when the facts were already known?

Was there any quid pro quo involved in Pope Francis’ appointments of Odendall and George Boeselager to Vatican financial institutions?

According to Magister, “There remains that legitimate doubt” of the trust itself. “In the case that pitted the order against the fiduciary, there were also cited two foundations based in Panama and another New Zealand trust. A strange roundabout.”

On May 2, 2018, Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto was elected the 80th Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta.

A May 9, 2018 press release: “The Government of the Sovereign Order of Malta is pleased to announce that the donations from the trustees of the ‘Caritas Pro Vitae Gradu Charitable Trust’ (CPVG) have resumed. The new first donation will fund assistance projects” in Lebanon….

“The resumption of donations follows the decision by the Prosecutor of the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland, to unfreeze the funds in CPVG and allow the trustees to continue donating to various Roman Catholic causes.”

“The government of the order thanks [Archbishop] Silvano Tomasi and Mr. Marc Odendall for having facilitated the good relations with the trustees since 2012″ ….

When the Wikileaks documents were released in January 2019, the Order of Malta declined to comment “saying the documents contain ‘nothing new.'”

(Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.)

 

5 Responses

  1. Easy to say “follow the money” but as BC discerns
    the path is twisted with a lot of bent actors.
    But cuts through the clutter to spotlight the players and their actions.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and post a comment. “Twisted with a lot of bent actors” Wonderful prose. Much appreciated!

  2. Lovely to read your latest contribution Betty
    It’s being read further afar…and being appreciated and not just by me….http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?id=225336

  3. I appreciate your taking the time to read this and comment, Lynne. It’s also good to know it’s being read by others. I would not be able to continue without this encouragement. Much appreciated.

  4. https://fbreporter.org/2017/04/26/dr-jonathan-levy-the-vatican-bank-clean-up-is-a-cover-up-nazi-linked-assets-ignored/
    or whether restitution is part of this recent apology hitting the airways
    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48490942

    And who foot the bill for this restoration……. https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-news/rome-vatican-to-display-holy-stairs-scala-sancta
    All part of the never ending story.

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