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Vatican’s asset manager says Holy See is not going broke

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The head of the Vatican’s sovereign asset management body has insisted that the Holy See is not headed for financial “collapse.”

Bishop Nunzio Galantino made the comments in response to a book published on Monday by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, which claims that the Holy See is facing a serious cash shortage, and may soon be unable to meet its ordinary operating expenses.

"There is no threat of collapse or default here. There is only the need for a spending review. And that is what we're doing. I can prove it to you with numbers,” Galantino said on Oct. 22.

Galantino is head of the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings and other sovereign assets.

“The current situation of the administration of the Holy See is no different from what happens in any family or even in the nations of the different continents. At a certain point one looks at what one spends, considers the revenue that comes in, and tries to adjust expenses accordingly."

Nuzzi’s book, “Universal Judgment,” claims to be based on some 3,000 pages of confidential documents leaked to him. He reports that annual donations to the Holy See have fallen sharply, by as much as 40% over the last three years – from 100 million euros to 60 million. At the same time, he also says that the Holy See’s property portfolio failed to register a profit last year, the first time ever. The cumulative effect, Nuzzi claims, is an urgent liquidity crisis in the Vatican’s operating finances.

Speaking in response to the book’s publication, Galatino said that no such crisis exists.

"In fact,” he said on Tuesday while claiming that “the ordinary management of the APSA in 2018 closed with a profit of over 22 million euros.”

Galatino said that any reported loss was due to “an extraordinary intervention aimed at saving the operation of a Catholic hospital and the jobs of its employees.”

Nuzzi also claimed that cardinals and high-ranking Vatican officials were operating secret or numbered personal accounts through APSA. A review of the book in the Italian newspaper La Republica quotes Vatican financial investigators as concluding that "the false bottom in Vatican finances is practically non-eliminable."

Galantino flatly refuted the allegations, saying Tuesday that “I confirm and repeat: APSA has no secret or encrypted accounts. Anyone is welcome to prove the contrary. At APSA, there are also no accounts of physical or juridical persons, except for the dicasteries of the Holy See, related institutions, and the Governorate.”

In an apparent response to recent reports of various Vatican financial deals, including real estate speculation through a Luxembourg-based investment company, the bishop said that management of Vatican assets for a profit is essential to the Holy See’s operations.

“A state that has no taxes or public debt has only two ways to live. Either it invests its own resources to produce an income, or it relies on the contributions of the faithful, even those made to Peter’s Pence,” he said. “Many want the Church to have nothing and then, in any case, to provide fair pay for its workers, as well as to respond to the many needs, first of all those of the poor. It's obvious that it can't be like that.”

Galatino conceded that there was a need for a “spending review” but said that this was already underway.

“There is no need for alarmism about the hypothetical default. Rather, we are talking about an entity that is realizing it needs to contain expenses. This happens in any good family or in any serious state".

The reference by Galatino to an “extraordinary intervention” by APSA appears to be a reference to reports that APSA had written off 30 million of a 50 million euro loan to the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata, a scandal and corruption hit hospital formerly owned by the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception and bought out of government bankruptcy administration by a foundation co-owned by the order and the Vatican Secretariat of State in .

The purchase of the hospital by the non-profit Fondazione Luigi Maria Monti was intended to rescue the hospital from closure and stabilize its operations after years of financial scandals leading to between 400-800 million euros of debt, forcing it into state-administered insolvency.

The hospital was at the center of a public disagreement between the Vatican and the American-based Papal Foundation, which was asked in 2016 to make a grant of $25 million to the hospital to ease liquidity problems.

After the foundation approved the grant in December 2017, an initial $13 million was sent to the Vatican. Subsequently the grant came under intense scrutiny and then opposition from lay trustees and benefactors, who claimed that the size and purpose of the grant was outside of the foundations scope of operations, and that the board had been misled about the financial state of the hospital.

The grant request was later withdrawn by the Holy See at the request of Cardinal Wuerl, who had led the presentation of the plan to the board.

Cardinal Turkson says ordination of married men may get further study 

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2019 / 09:05 am (CNA).- Cardinal Peter Turkson said Monday that the ordination of married men will likely be the subject of further study for the universal Church after the Amazon synod. 

“This issue will probably be made the subject matter of a more detailed study of the issue with view to the Church taking a consistent position, not only in view of the Amazon, but in view of the universal Church,” Turkson told EWTN News Nightly Oct. 22.

During the special assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Church’s life and ministry in the Pan-Amazonian region, being held in Rome Oct. 6-27, several bishops have proposed the possibility of the ordination to the priesthood of so-called viri probati – a term used to refer to mature, married men – for ministry in remote areas of the Amazon.

Turkson, the Prefect of the Vatican’s the Dicastery for the Promotion of  Integral Human Development, said that the challenges in the Amazonian region are similar to challenges faced in other parts of the world.

“The situations in the Amazon are pretty similar to those in the Congo. In both cases, accessibility is very difficult and reduced, communication is tough, and if you want to get to places either by road or by river those challenges are there,” said Turkson, who is originally from Ghana.

The African cardinal explained that in the Congo trained catechists are leaders in their local communities, who preach the Word of God, baptize, bury the dead, and serve as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.

“But in that case, the guys in the synod here are listening to that and they say that is fine, but they can still can't celebrate the Eucharist,” he said. “They are looking for someone who can, you know, anoint the sick, listen to confessions, celebrate the Eucharist with people, and that, of course, requires ordained ministry, for which, the examples in Africa then come short.”

Turkson’s assessment was underscored during a synodal press conference on Tuesday by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Republic of Congo. 

Besunguis participating in the Amazon synod as a representative for the African church, and especially the Congo River basin, which, he said, shares several ecological, political, and pastoral problems with the Amazon region.

Besungu reiterated Turkson’s assessment, saying that “the Amazon is very similar to the Congo basin.”

At a Vatican press conference Oct. 22, Cardinal Besungu said that the African church has organized REBAC, the Ecclesial Network of the Congo Basin Forest, a network similar to REPAM, the South American group that is a driving force behind the Amazon synod.

REPAM, a group backed by the bishops’ conferences in Latin America, describes itself as an advocacy organization for the rights and dignity of indigenous people in the Amazon. The network has been involved in preparations and events leading up to and during the synodal assembly. REPAM’s president, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, holds the position of relator-general of the Amazon synod.

In a meeting between REPAM and REBAC in 2017, held in Brazil, the Church representatives participated in two hour celebration of Mother Earth led by an indigenous woman in which “participants gathered around a tree with many symbols around it,” including a Mayan calendar. 

“The aim of this celebration was to connect participants with nature,” according to CPAL, the conference of Jesuit provincials for Latin America and the Carribean. “Many of them believe that they now have a better understanding of the message of Pope Francis in Laudato Si.” 

Cardinal Besungu said that the church in the Congo prioritized “inculturation of the Gospel” in response to a perception following the country’s independence that the Catholic Church was seen as an outside force in the immediate post-colonial era.

The most evident result of inculturation in the Congo is a “ritual of the Eucharist which is our own,” Besungu said. “In our country, the Eucharist is a real feast.”

What Cardinal Newman can teach the modern world about freedom of conscience

Rome, Italy, Oct 22, 2019 / 03:30 am (CNA).- The writings of newly-canonized St. John Henry Newman offer important reflections for contemporary society on freedom of conscience and the duty to search for truth, said a leading figure in international religious freedom.

“Newman prefigured the Church’s 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae,” said Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute.

Farr, who served as the inaugural director of the U.S. State Department’s international religious freedom office in the early 2000s, spoke at a symposium hosted by the Thomistic Institute at the Angelicum University in Rome earlier this month. The event celebrated Cardinal Newman’s canonization on Oct. 13.

Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Born in 1801, he was before his conversion a well-known and well-respected Oxford academic, Anglican preacher, and public intellectual.

Farr said that Newman’s well-known phrase, “Conscience has rights because it has duties,” offers an important reminder that we are obliged to form our consciences in truth, recognizing that “our freedom does not give us a moral right to do what is wrong.”

Dignitatis Humanae affirms the right to religious freedom, a freedom from coercion in matters of conscience, Farr said.

He quoted from the document, “God calls men to serve Him in spirit and in truth, hence they are bound in conscience but they stand under no compulsion. God has regard for the dignity of the human person whom He Himself created and man is to be guided by his own judgment and he is to enjoy freedom.”

But while human beings are obliged to follow their consciences, they are also bound to obey God, Farr said.

“An erring conscience that results from our failure to ensure it is ordered to the truth leads to moral culpability,” he remarked. “Willful pursuit of the wrong could lead one into grave sin. A man could follow an ill-formed conscience straight into hell.”

For this reason, Dignitatis Humanae also stresses the Church’s right – and duty – to publicly teach what it holds to be true about freedom, justice, nature and Christ, he said.

Newman well understood the importance of ordering conscience toward truth, as given by God to the Church through the Magisterium, Farr said.

The saint once wrote, “[I]n this age...the very right and freedom of conscience [is seen as the right] to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations.” Conscience, he warned, was being replaced with “self-will.”

In his warnings on conscience, Newman proved to be prophetic, Farr said. Today, Western culture distorts the view of conscience to an even greater degree than in Newman’s time, so that it is no longer oriented toward God, but toward self.

“For many, the obligation to follow one’s conscience has been embraced, but fidelity to truth has been set aside,” Farr said.

This false understanding of “freedom of conscience” has contributed to an atheism and rejection of natural law, he continued.

“This counterfeit view has encouraged, within the Church and without, deep confusion regarding the nature of man and woman as created by God; the beautiful truths about marriage, the family, and human sexuality; and the necessity of religious freedom for all persons and all societies.”

Both modern society and the Church have been harmed by this false view of conscience, Farr said, and both would do well to be attentive to the warnings issued by Newman more than a century ago.

“The errors of our age, far more pervasive than the age of Newman, today place a greater responsibility on the faithful, clergy and lay, to teach and witness these truths,” he said.

“Together, Newman and Dignitatis can help us resist the erroneous notion of the ‘free’ conscience pointed inward to self and isolated from God and nature, rather than outward to God, who, more intimate to self and nature than anyone or anything, is the only guarantor of true freedom.”

Digital rosary discovered to be hackable, Vatican says it has fixed bugs

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2019 / 07:40 pm (CNA).- Shortly after the new “smart rosary” bracelet was released last week, the Vatican discovered an easy route for hackers to retrieve a user’s personal information. The issue has since been fixed.

Launched on Oct. 15, the device is called an eRosary and allows users to track their prayers, find spiritual resources, and connect with an online prayer community.

A few days after its release, Fidus Information Security, a cyber security consulting service, discovered the device’s weak safety measures, which could have allowed hackers to gain access to a user’s personal information such as their phone number, date of birth, gender, and height.

“One of our researchers decided to check out the code, and in just 10 minutes found some glaring issues,” Andrew Mabbitt, founder of Fidus, told The Register tech site.

According to Fidus, the most glaring concern was a glitch that would allow a hacker to access a user's password - a four-digit PIN - without connecting to the user’s email. The application uses API calls to talk to its backend system. Upon request for a user’s email address, the system would send over a readable text of the user’s PIN through the API.

Father Frédéric Fornos, international director for the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, told The Register that Vatican coders were placed on the problem immediately after he heard about the issue on Oct. 17. Since then, the issue has been corrected.

According to The Register, Fidus also found that, because there are unlimited password guesses, hackers would be able to retrieve the pin number by “brute forcing” - a means to retrieve hidden information through excessive trial and error. However, a Vatican spokesperson said this issue has also been resolved.

The eRosary was launched under the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and developed by the Taiwan-based tech company GadgTek Inc.

The Bluetooth device in the bracelet connects to Click to Pray, a phone app on iOS or Android that reminds people to pray. It also includes reflections, campaigns, and an electronic bulletin board, where users may request or find prayer intentions.

The eRosary activates when the user makes a sign of the cross. It tracks the user's progress and, in connection with the user’s phone, provides visual aids and audio reflections on the mysteries of the rosary.

The device is available on Amazon.it for 99 euros, roughly $109.

According to an Oct. 15 press release from Click to Pray, the eRosary is an opportunity to connect young people together in prayer.

“Aimed at the peripheral frontiers of the digital world where the young people dwell, the Click To Pray eRosary serves as a technology-based pedagogy to teach the young how to pray the Rosary, how to pray it for peace, how to contemplate the Gospel,” the press release said.

 

How parishes can help address the epidemic of domestic abuse

Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2019 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic that many clergy and laypersons need additional training to address, says one priest who runs the country’s largest parish-based ministry to counter the problem.

“When you start talking about it, that’s when people will start coming forward,” Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P., who directs domestic violence outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told CNA about the problem of domestic abuse.

Fr. Chuck said that many priests and deacons have little preparation to assist victims of domestic violence, and that more seminary training would be helpful for both preparing priests and raising awareness on the issue.  

He said that “When I Call for Help,” a pastoral letter on domestic violence from the USCCB, is a helpful resource for clergy looking for more understanding.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the CDC, “intimate partner violence” can be physical, sexual, or even emotional, as with instances of stalking or “psychological aggression.”

Some 27 percent of women in the U.S. have suffered intimate partner violence at some point, along with 12 percent of men, the CDC has reported.

There are many physical and psychological effects of domestic violence on victims – physical injuries and disabilities and bodily effects of stress, but also anxiety, depression, and trust issues. Children witnessing violence in the home may grow up with emotional problems like anger, or may even become abusers themselves when they are adults.

In his apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis wrote of the problem of domestic abuse:

“Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”

He also insisted upon the need for parishes and priests to be ready to deal properly with these problems: “Good pastoral training is important ‘especially in light of particular emergency situations arising from cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse’,” he added, citing the final document from the 2015 Synod on the Family.

Catholics have responded to this dire need in various ways, from organizing a prayer campaign for domestic abuse victims to working to spread awareness of the problem and educate clergy on how to properly deal with instances of abuse.

A “toolkit” for fighting domestic abuse has been provided by the Catholics for Family Peace, Education, and Research Initiative, which includes prayers and directions for helping a victim of domestic abuse.

In recent years, the group has marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month by asking people to pray at 3 p.m. daily for domestic abuse victims, and has called for a day of prayer on Oct. 28, the feast of St. Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Fr. Chuck Dahm has created a parish-based ministry to combat domestic violence. A key part of his work is simply preaching about it, he says, because it is a widespread problem that hides in plain sight.

There is an “overwhelming lack of recognition that the problem is more frequent, more common than people think,” he told CNA. Many priests are completely unaware of cases of it, Fr. Chuck noted, although “there are people in their parishes who are suffering.”

“I have gone to 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said. “And after I preach about it, people walk out of the church and they tell me ‘thank you for talking about this. This is long overdue. And my sister, my daughter is in it, or I grew up in it.’ And this is so much more common than anybody realizes.”

Sometimes, Fr. Chuck said, priests are not well trained and do not know how to handle situations in which parishioners come to tell them about abuse. They may offer inadequate advice and solutions.

Fr. Chuck participated in a symposium on domestic abuse at Catholic University of America in 2016. Since then he’s seen the fruits of the conference, spreading awareness of the problem.

“A significant number went home with the plans of doing something in their diocese or their respective organizations,” he said of conference participants.

The Archdiocese of Washington held a workshop for priests to learn how to deal with incidents of domestic abuse and 31 priests attended, he said. Two representatives of Catholic Charities in Vermont are starting a workshop for priests there, and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City held a workshop attended by several priests and a meeting for priests with Fr. Chuck.

Still, sometimes priests do not attend these events, Fr. Chuck acknowledged, and raising awareness about the importance of the problem is key.

Unfortunately, it’s been negative incidents that have driven the conversation about domestic abuse, he said. For instance, when surveillance videos surfaced of former NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée, and then dragging her off an elevator while she was unconscious, the “subsequent outrage” after that and other incidents like it “helps create more awareness about the problem.”

Then “people feel a little bit more comfortable and required to speak out about this and do something about it,” Fr. Chuck explained. “The publicity about negative events or harmful events is quite helpful in raising awareness.”

“We’re really behind on this,” he said of the Church’s efforts to combat the problem, but at the same time, “we’re making progress.”


An earlier version of this article originally ran on CNA Oct. 24, 2016.