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Pope Francis shares a spiritual life hack: Know the ‘passwords’ of your heart

Pope Francis greets pilgrims on St. Peter's Square, Oct. 5 2022. / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Oct 5, 2022 / 03:04 am (CNA).

Pope Francis shared a spiritual life hack for discernment at his general audience on Wednesday.

Speaking in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 5, the pope said that the “spiritual life, too, has its passwords.” 

Just like on one’s computer, where “we know how important it is to know the password in order to get into the programs where the most personal and valuable information is stored,” the pope said that discernment requires unlocking “the passwords of our heart.”

Crowds welcome Pope Francis on St. Peter's Square, Oct. 5, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Crowds welcome Pope Francis on St. Peter's Square, Oct. 5, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope Francis underlined that “self-knowledge” is key to discernment. When discerning whom to marry or whether one is called to be a priest or religious sister, the pope said it is important to know what one’s heart is most sensitive to protect oneself from temptation. 

He said the devil “knows these passwords well, and it is important that we know them too, so as not to find ourselves where we do not want to be.”

“Temptation does not necessarily suggest bad things, but often disordered things, presented with excessive importance,” the pope said.

“They can be, for example, degrees, careers, relationships, all things that are in themselves praiseworthy, but towards which, if we are not free, we risk having unrealistic expectations, such as the confirmation of our worth. … From this misunderstanding often comes the greatest suffering, because none of those things can be the guarantee of our dignity,” he said.

Pope Francis recommended the practice of an “examination of conscience” to learn and note “what we give most importance to” in daily choices. 

Above all, he said that it is crucial to understand what truly “satiates the heart.”

“For only the Lord can give us confirmation of what we are worth. He tells us this every day from the cross: he died for us, to show us how precious we are in his eyes. There is no obstacle or failure that can prevent his tender embrace,” he said.

The pope’s reflection was part of a weekly catechesis series on spiritual discernment that he launched on Aug. 31. 

Pope Francis noted that “underlying spiritual doubts and vocational crises” is often a lack of self-knowledge.

The pope quoted Thomas Green’s book on discernment, “Weeds Among the Wheat”: “I have come to the conviction that the greatest obstacle to true discernment (and to real growth in prayer) is not the intangible nature of God, but the fact that we do not know ourselves sufficiently, and do not even want to know ourselves as we really are. Almost all of us hide behind a mask, not only in front of others, but also when we look in the mirror.”

Pope Francis added: “Forgetfulness of God’s presence in our life goes hand in hand with ignorance of ourselves … ignorance of our personality traits and our deepest desires.”

General audience with Pope Francis, Oct. 5, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
General audience with Pope Francis, Oct. 5, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

At the end of his general audience, Pope Francis recalled that the Church celebrates the feast of St. Faustina Kowalska on Oct. 5.

“Through her, God directed the world to seek salvation in his mercy. Let us remember this especially today, thinking especially of the war in Ukraine,” he said in his greeting to Polish-speaking pilgrims.

Pope Francis reminded people of his appeal for Ukraine in his Angelus address on Sunday and added: “We trust in God’s mercy, which can change hearts, and in the maternal intercession of the Queen of Peace.”

Italian court acquits three Legionaries of Christ of extortion charges

null / null

Denver Newsroom, Oct 4, 2022 / 17:20 pm (CNA).

The Legionaries of Christ announced Monday the conclusion of a judicial process in the Ordinary Court of Milan involving three priests and two other persons in Italy.

In a statement posted on their website Oct. 3, the Legionaries reported that the ruling says, “All the defendants have been fully acquitted of the crime of attempted extortion because such an attempt did not exist,” and that “the judge will announce the reasons for her decision within 90 days.”

The statement explains that the accusations were made in 2013, “in the context of the relationship with a family that had reported abuse by Vladimir Reséndiz Gutiérrez.”

Reséndiz is a Mexican national and former Legionary of Christ priest. In 2011 he was accused of committing sexual abuse between 2006 and 2008 in the congregation’s minor seminary in Gozzano, in Italy’s Novara Province.

In March 2011, while working in Venezuela, he was removed from ministry after admitting he had abused a minor there.

In April 2013 he was dismissed from the clerical state.

In a civil proceeding that ended in 2020, Reséndiz was sentenced to seven years in prison and to pay various compensation.

“The Congregation asks forgiveness of those who suffered any abuse and for all the pain that was caused, knowing that this request for forgiveness will never be enough to heal the deep wounds caused,” the Legionaries said.

The Legionaries of Christ is a Catholic religious congregation comprised of priests and candidates for the priesthood.

The order was founded on Jan. 3, 1941, in Mexico City by the late Marcial Maciel, a priest who sexually abused at least 60 minors.

The Catholic congregation and its Regnum Christi lay movement went through a process of renewal and purification with the accompaniment of the Vatican, represented by the late Cardinal Velasio de Paolis.

This renewal led to the creation of the Regnum Christi Federation, which includes the Legionaries of Christ, the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, and the Lay Consecrated Men of Regnum Christi.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

A mobile abortion clinic at a church? Planned Parenthood is considering just that

null / Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 4, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Planned Parenthood is responding to state abortion restrictions by trying something new: an abortion clinic on wheels. It will send its first one — a 37-foot abortion RV — to Illinois, where it will offer abortions at various locations by the end of this year.

As the nation’s largest abortion provider maps the best routes for the mobile clinic, it is considering churches as “potential stopping-off points,” NPR reported Monday.

The mobile clinic could be the first of many. Planned Parenthood is keeping open the possibility of creating additional ones in the future, the outlet reported officials as saying. The news follows the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and leave abortion policy up to the states.

The abortion RV will drive along the border of Illinois — a state with liberal abortion laws — to cater to pregnant women in neighboring states that are restricting abortion after Roe. More specifically, the clinic will travel near the borders of southeastern Missouri, western Kentucky, and northeastern Tennessee while staying in Illinois, according to the AP.

A pro-life group in that state condemned the decision.

“Planned Parenthood’s announcement of a mobile abortion unit that will travel the southern portion of Illinois is further proof that the abortion industry will stop at nothing to expand the killing of preborn children at the expense of women’s health and safety,” ​​Amy Gehrke, the executive director of Illinois Right to Life, responded in a press release Tuesday.

This year, the clinic will hand out abortion pills up to 11 weeks’ gestation, NPR reported. Next year, it plans to offer surgical abortions.

“Rather than being the simple solution abortion advocates claim, chemical abortions often lead to massive bleeding and pain,” Gehrke cautioned about the abortion pills. “Women may also have to dispose of their child’s developing body. Finally, chemical abortions have an alarmingly high complication rate, four times that of surgical abortion.”

In 2021, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm for SBA Pro-Life America, cited a study looking at more than 42,000 abortions in Finland from 2000 to 2006, which found chemical abortion has a complication rate four times greater than that of surgical abortion. 

The FDA first approved mifepristone, which is paired with another drug called misoprostol, for earlier abortions in 2000. It is accepted for use up to 10 weeks’ gestation.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis office, told NPR that women will consume mifepristone, the first drug, at the clinic. Women will swallow the other, misoprostol, on their own. 

“The mobile abortion clinic is a way to reduce travel times and distances in order to meet patients at the Illinois border,” McNicholas told the AP. 

The RV will feature a small waiting area, laboratory, and two exam rooms. 

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri did not respond with comment by time of publication.

Maryland priest accused of sexual abuse of minors placed on administrative leave

Parishioners of Holy Cross Church in Garrett Park, Maryland, learned in a Sept. 30, 2022, email that their pastor was suspended over allegations of sexual abuse of minors. / Farragutful|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 4, 2022 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

A priest at a Catholic church in Garrett Park, Maryland, has been placed on administrative leave after he was accused of sexually abusing minors before he became a priest.

The Archdiocese of Washington (ADW) informed parishioners at Holy Cross Catholic Church in a Sept. 30 emailed letter that their pastor, Father Robert P. Buchmeier, had been suspended from his duties and is no longer living at the rectory. Buchmeier has not been charged criminally in connection with any of the allegations.

In the letter, Father Anthony Lickteig, the ADW’s episcopal vicar for clergy, explained that the Archdiocese of Arlington, Virginia, notified the ADW of the accusations against Buchmeier and noted that the abuse was alleged to have taken place decades before in another diocese “prior to his ordination to the priesthood.”

The letter did not specify the number of incidents of abuse cited in the accusation.

WTOP news reported that an email from the principal at Holy Cross Catholic School, which serves children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, said that the alleged sexual abuse took place in Virginia.

The letter indicated that the accusations were first made to the Diocese of Arlington and advised anyone with more information to contact the Alexandria police.

Alexandria police could not be reached for comment at the time of publication. The Catholic Standard reported that as of Oct. 4, charges had not been filed against the priest.

Buchmeier was ordained in 1991 after studies at Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. Before entering the seminary, he spent 15 years of commissioned service in the U.S. Army as a Medical Service Corps officer.

He was appointed pastor of Holy Cross by Cardinal Donald Wuerl in 2015. Following his ordination, he served as a parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clinton, Maryland.

He then served at the following Maryland churches: St. Bernardine of Siena Parish, Suitland; Christ the King Parish, Silver Spring; St. Mary Parish, Bryantown; and St. John the Evangelist Parish, Clinton. As a pastor, he has served at St. Nicholas Parish, Laurel, from 1998 to 2005; St. Columba Parish, Oxon Hill, from 2005 to 2011; and Sacred Heart Parish in La Plata from 2011 until his appointment to Holy Cross.

This is a developing story.

Medical groups ask DOJ to investigate critics of hospitals’ gender surgeries on children

Boston Children's Hospital / JosephBarillari|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 4, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Three top medical groups have called on Biden’s justice department to investigate and prosecute activists and journalists who report on hospitals that perform irreversible gender surgeries on children. 

The American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch an investigation on Monday in a letter saying the backlash against children’s hospitals that perform gender surgeries amounted to “attacks.” 

“Children’s hospitals, academic health systems, and physicians are being targeted and threatened for providing evidence-based health care,” the letter read.

The letter claims that hospitals and medical staff who came under fire this summer for operating children’s gender clinics have faced harassment on social media and threats of violence in the form of emails, phone calls, and protestors. The letter also referred to a bomb threat that was later discovered to be false.

“The attacks are rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment, and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions,” the letter states. 

The groups urged the Department of Justice to “investigate” and “prosecute” anyone responsible for spreading “disinformation” about gender programs. 

“We now urge your office to take swift action to investigate and prosecute all organizations, individuals, and entities responsible,” they wrote. 

Children’s hospitals received backlash for their own content 

One of the hospitals in question is Boston Children’s, which became infamous on social media earlier this summer when activists Libs of TikTok and Chris Elston, also known as “Billboard Chris,” highlighted the hospital’s own videos and website promoting its “first of a kind” gender clinic for kids.

Elston pointed out that the hospitals were coming under fire for their own published content.

“All I do is write the simple but horrific truth about what these clinics are doing to kids,” Elston told CNA.

“I’ve shared content which children’s hospitals themselves produced, and then tried to hide. It’s the words of their own doctors which cause the outrage.” 

Back in August, Elston shared screenshots on Twitter of Boston Children’s website, which said it offered double mastectomies for children as young as 15 and sterilizing genital surgeries for patients as young as 17.

After the hospital’s own videos describing these procedures went viral online, Boston Children’s removed the reference to 17-year-olds and updated its website to say patients must be 18 years of age to qualify. 

The hospital also deleted its entire YouTube playlist of at least 40 videos featuring surgeons describing the procedures.

Conservative activists such as Chris Rufo and Matt Walsh have also publicized the video playlists and websites of other children’s hospitals across the country that offer gender surgeries for children. 

Rufo took to Twitter on Monday, saying: “If ‘gender-affirming care’ is so good, the activists and doctors who promote it — and profit from it — should defend their practices in the realm of public opinion.”

Former transgender teen Chloe Cole replied, “‘Gender affirming care’ is so great that we need to violate 1A rights to convince people of how great it is!!!”

Boston Children’s Hospital did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

In the letter, the medical groups also called on tech companies, including Twitter, TikTok, and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, to censor what they called “disinformation.” 

“[We] ask the platforms to take bolder action when false information is shared about specific institutions and physicians” and “do more to prevent coordinated campaigns of disinformation,” the organizations wrote.

Elston told CNA he has already experienced these effects.

“Twitter is already censoring me, requiring people to enter a birthdate before viewing my account, and flagging all media as ‘sensitive content.’ They’ve also made my account unsearchable,” he said.

But Elston and other activists fighting against gender transitions for children are not deterred. 

“Trying to silence us only amplifies our voices,” he said. “If the AMA and AAP want the outrage over gender clinics to cease, there is only one solution: stop transitioning kids.”

When CNA reached out for comment, the AMA referred to a joint press release put out by the three organizations in lieu of a comment. 

AMA president Dr. Jack Resneck said in the release, “We condemn groups that promote hate-motivated intolerance and toxic misinformation that can lead to grave real-world violence and extremism and jeopardize patients’ health outcomes.” 

“The AMA will continue to work with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to develop and implement strategies that protect hardworking, law-abiding physicians and other health care workers from senseless acts of violence, abuse, and intimidation,” he added.

The AAP, CHA, and DOJ did not respond to CNA’s requests for comment.

Guatemalan cardinal responds to Daniel Ortega’s attack on the Church

President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua / Public Domain

Denver Newsroom, Oct 4, 2022 / 14:16 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri of Huehuetenango gave a spirited response to Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, who a few days ago verbally attacked Pope Francis and said that the Catholic Church is “the perfect dictatorship.”

“It’s true, the Catholic Church is not a democracy, but it has a spirit of participation and communion that makes it possible for all of us who are the Church, from the pope to the lay faithful, to live in peace and harmony,” the Guatemalan cardinal said in a video posted by the Latin American Bishops’ Conference Oct. 1.

“Mr. President Daniel Ortega, if you are a Catholic, what I as a bishop would expect from you is that you have respect for the Catholic Church and the proper order that directs this institution founded by our Lord Jesus Christ,” the cardinal continued.

In his speech marking the 43rd anniversary of the founding of the National Police, Ortega questioned: “Who elects the priests, the bishops, the pope, the cardinals, how many votes, who votes for them? If they’re going to be democratic, they must begin by electing the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, with the vote of the population, with the votes of Catholics.”

“Let the population elect them and not all of them imposed [on the people], it’s a dictatorship, the perfect dictatorship. It’s a tyranny, the perfect tyranny,” he continued.

After calling the pope a “holy tyrant,” the Nicaraguan dictator asked: “With what authority do you speak to me about democracy? How many votes did the bishop have from the population to be appointed bishop?”

Ramazzini said that if Ortega doesn’t respect the Church, then “I very much doubt that you are really a Catholic person.”

“It’s not a matter of saying ‘I’m Catholic and I do whatever I feel like. I’m a Catholic, a Catholic president and that’s why I put a bishop in jail, falsely accusing him. I’m a Catholic and I persecute the Church of which I am a member. It’s a contradiction in terms,’” the cardinal asserted.

The cardinal was referring to Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, whom the police abducted Aug. 19 from the chancery where he had been forcibly confined by riot police for more than two weeks and took him to Managua, where he remains under house arrest.

The same night Álvarez was seized, four priests, two seminarians, and a layman who were also confined in the chancery with the prelate were also taken away and are being held in the El Chipote prison, known for torturing opponents of the regime.

Ramazzini also stressed that “it’s typical of dictators to want to create a basis for their dictatorial attitudes and actions in order to be able to convince themselves.”

“I hope that these statements can help clarify ideas,” he concluded, “because there is nothing worse than telling half-truths, because that makes half-lies appear as total lies.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Climate change documentary features Pope Francis

Pope Francis meets Arouna Kandé, one of the subjects of the documentary “The Letter.” / Photo credit: Laudato Si’ Movement

Vatican City, Oct 4, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis is featured in a documentary film on climate change and the environment that premiered at the Vatican on Tuesday.

“The Letter,” which can be streamed for free on YouTube Originals starting Oct. 4, follows a climate activist, an indigenous leader, a climate refugee, and married marine biologists as they travel from their corners of the world to the Vatican to speak to Pope Francis.

The film includes video from the meeting with Pope Francis as well as never-before-seen footage from Francis’ papal inauguration on March 19, 2013.

The inspiration for the documentary’s title was taken from the word “encyclical,” which is used for certain papal messages and literally means “circular letter.” The title refers to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si'.

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, preacher of the papal household, also appears in “The Letter” to speak about the Franciscan roots of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment.

The world premiere of the film took place in the Vatican’s New Synod Hall on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

Oct. 4 also marked the Holy See’s formal accession to the 2015 Paris Climate Accords.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, presented the film at a press conference on Tuesday. Czerny’s dicastery was a partner of the film together with the Vatican’s communications office.

From left: Cacique Odair “Chief Dadá,” Hoesung Lee, Cardinal Michael Czerny, Lorna Gold, and Nicolas Brown at an Oct. 4, 2022, press conference at the Vatican. Photo credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
From left: Cacique Odair “Chief Dadá,” Hoesung Lee, Cardinal Michael Czerny, Lorna Gold, and Nicolas Brown at an Oct. 4, 2022, press conference at the Vatican. Photo credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“The film ‘The Letter’ highlights the key concept of dialogue,” he said. “Dialogue is central to the Holy Father’s vision for humanity’s peace with the Creator, with all creation, and among us humans.”

Hoesung Lee, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said at the press conference that the film “is a timely reminder of the urgency and importance of Laudato si’.”

“Both the science community and the faith community are very clear: the planet is in crisis and its life support system [is] in peril. The stakes have never been higher, and we should be the source of the solution to this crisis,” he added.

The film’s writer and director, Nicolas Brown, said the exercise of making the documentary “has been one of getting out of our bubbles and meeting each other across this planet. These voices are important largely because they are the perspectives of those who suffer the most.”

The five main subjects of the film “The Letter” pictured in front of a map in the Vatican. They traveled to Rome to meet Pope Francis. Photo credit: Laudato Si’ Movement
The five main subjects of the film “The Letter” pictured in front of a map in the Vatican. They traveled to Rome to meet Pope Francis. Photo credit: Laudato Si’ Movement

The film’s subjects are Cacique Odair “Chief Dadá,” an indigenous leader of the Novo Lugar community of the Borarí people in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil; Ridhima Pandey, a young climate activist from India; Arouna Kandé, a climate refugee from Senegal; and Robin Martin and Greg Asner, marine biologists who live in Hawaii.

Lorna Gold, president of the Laudato Si’ Movement, is also part of the film.

“The film and the personal stories powerfully show that the ecological crisis has arrived and is happening now,” Cardinal Czerny said. “The time is over for speculation, for skepticism and denial, for irresponsible populism. Apocalyptic floods, mega-droughts, disastrous heatwaves, and catastrophic cyclones and hurricanes have become the new normal in recent years; they continue today; tomorrow, they will get worse.”

The cardinal said: “In his letter Laudato si’, Pope Francis says, ‘I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.’ The film ‘The Letter’ provides a pathway into such [an] encounter and dialogue. This beautiful film — a heartbreaking yet hopeful story — is a clarion cry to people everywhere: wake up, get serious, meet, act together, act now.”

U.S. bishops nominate candidates for conference president and vice president

USCCB Fall Meeting 2021 / CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 4, 2022 / 11:41 am (CNA).

The U.S. bishops released on Tuesday the names of the 10 candidates nominated to be the next president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

An election will be held during the bishops’ Fall General Assembly in Baltimore Nov. 14–17 to replace the outgoing president, Archbishop Jose H.Gomez of Los Angeles, and vice president, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, whose three-year terms end at the conclusion of the meeting.

The nominees, chosen by their fellow bishops, are as follows:

  • Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, Archdiocese for the Military Services

  • Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, Diocese of Arlington, Virginia

  • Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut

  • Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

  • Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archdiocese of San Francisco

  • Archbishop Paul D. Etienne, Archdiocese of Seattle

  • Bishop Daniel E. Flores, Diocese of Brownsville, Texas

  • Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, Archdiocese of San Antonio

  • Archbishop William E. Lori, Archdiocese of Baltimore

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana

According to the bylaws of the USCCB, the president will first be elected by a simple majority vote of those present and voting. Then an election will be held for the position of vice president, with the remaining nominees making up the slate for that office. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, a second vote would be taken. If no candidate emerges with a majority a runoff would take place between the two top vote-getters.

The bishops will also vote for new chairmen of six USCCB standing committees. The nominees are as follows:

Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois

Bishop Alfred A. Schlert, Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania

Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania

Bishop Peter L. Smith, auxiliary bishop, Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon

Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, Archdiocese of Indianapolis

Bishop William D. Byrne, Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts

Committee on International Justice and Peace 

Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez, Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan, MLM, Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon

Committee on Protection of Children and Young People 

Bishop Barry C. Knestout, Diocese of Richmond, Virginia

Bishop Elias R. Lorenzo, OSB, auxiliary bishop, Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey

Committee for Religious Liberty

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archdiocese of San Francisco

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana

Analysis: Amid new testimonies, Vatican corruption trial points to key question

A hearing in the Vatican finance trial on May 20, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Oct 4, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The hearings at the Vatican’s corruption trial resumed last week and shed light on new aspects of the “trial of the century” and the broader context of Vatican finances.

Behind every decision and litigation, in the end, one can glimpse a power struggle, whether it is big or small, systemic or personal.

Primarily, the trial revolves around the Secretariat of State’s investment in luxury real estate in London. However, it also explores further criminal allegations.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, for instance, also faces charges for allocating money from the Secretariat of State to Caritas in his native region. The Sardinian is furthermore called to answer for the engagement of Cecilia Marogna as a consultant to the Secretariat of State.

However, the big deal at the center of the trial is the luxury property investment.

The Secretariat of State bought shares of the property on London’s Sloane Avenue and repeatedly changed brokers — apparently to make the investment profitable — before deciding to buy the property, only to sell it at a considerable loss.

The court will determine if the businessmen who profited on the Secretariat of State’s investment behaved legally and in accordance with the contracts.

A broader scenario emerges

The trial also digs into financial details. However, taking a look at the broader scenario emerging from the investigations is essential to understanding what happened.

After a two-month break, the hearings resumed on Sept. 28 with interrogations of the defendant Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former official of the administrative section of the Vatican Secretariat of State, and the lawyer Nicola Squillace.

For now, only two witnesses have been heard: Roberto Lolato, who acted as consultant to the Vatican promoter of justice to extricate himself from the terms of the deal, and Alessandro Cassinis Righini, auditor general of the Holy See.

Let’s start with the testimony of Cassinis Righini, made on Sept. 30. 

A climate of hostility and use of Peter’s Pence

The auditor not only disclosed a climate of hostility for his work in the Vatican and especially on the part of the Secretariat of State, but he also went so far as to point out that advice on investments was not just about the soundness of investments.

This statement was made with all the competence of an auditor, who is, above all, to ensure that the accounts are in order and compliant with international standards.

Cassinis Righini also stressed that that was not the way to manage the money from Peter’s Pence, and when asked, he said he was confident that it was indeed Peter’s Pence’s money.

The question of whether this is the case or simply a case of “mistaken identity” has been raised previously. The Secretariat of State has had an account since 1939 called the “Conto Obolo,” (Obolo is the Italian for “pence”).

The auditor also contested the operations of the Secretariat of State. He said that the Vatican department’s assets of more than 900 million euros were almost all in Switzerland. He spoke of 516 million euros or 564 million euros on two occasions. 

A question of audits 

The Secretariat of State has always had autonomy in the management of funds. So much so that there is a rescript from Pope Francis of Dec. 5, 2016, which reaffirms the independence of the Secretariat of State. 

The rescript ended a dispute in 2016 when accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was tasked with auditing the Vatican accounts.

The Secretariat of State opposed the transparency initiative’s brief and then redefined the contract with PwC to play an assisting role, “adaptable to the Holy See’s needs.”

The aftermath of this was reflected in the testimony of Cassinis Righini. He described a clash between those who wanted to defend the Holy See and those who, in reality, wanted to make a company out of the Holy See.

In a climate of tension, it is easy to create enmities. Cassinis Righini also stressed that it would have been better not to pursue the contract with Gianluigi Torzi. 

Torzi had taken over the management of the London Palace real estate fund, keeping the unique 1,000 shares with voting rights for himself. Cassinis Righini said that once he was involved in the analysis of the contracts, he would immediately let it be known that the negotiations would have to be stopped.

But the negotiations were not interrupted. According to the available testimonies and interrogations, this decision was made by Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, then head of the administration of the Secretariat of State, who also dealt with the negotiations in London without a lawyer from the Holy See.

Yet Perlasca was not on the list of the first 27 witnesses presented by the promoter of justice. The prosecution might have decided that Perlasca’s documented testimony was already sufficient.

The president of the Vatican Tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, urged to include Perlasca among the witnesses. However, it turned out that Vatican prosecutor Alessandro Diddi wanted to summon him only toward the end of his list of witnesses. Certainly, Perlasca’s absence from the first number of witnesses was striking.

Who made what money?

Another aspect is the management of Vatican finances, which has been family-oriented for a long time.

Faced with Tirabassi’s desire to leave the Secretariat of State in 2004, the then director of administration, Monsignor Gianfranco Piovano, gave him the authorization to practice outside the Vatican and a power of attorney for advice with Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS). This Swiss bank held part of the funds of the Secretariat of State.

From 2004 to 2009, the year in which the Holy See ended the relationship with UBS, Tirabassi earned 1.36 million euros in dividends. That is to say, he made about 200,000 euros each year.

With the termination of the relationship with UBS, this “bonus” ended.

The question of Tirabassi’s wealth was the subject of much of his interrogation, aimed at ascertaining whether the office of the Secretariat of State took commissions or other amounts of money.

The courtroom heard that everything was legal and above board.

A cautioning word from the tribunal president

Before starting the phase of listening to the witnesses, Pignatone invited everyone to be precise and concise, reminding witnesses that everything was on record. 

At the same time, he recalled that he had allowed a broad debate, “also admitting questions that would have been inadmissible.”

In this way, Pignatone made it clear that he was aware of procedural flaws but that, at the same time, he would ensure smooth proceedings.

A note about the consultant Lolato: He worked in the office of the auditor general from 2016 to 2019 and was then moved to the Vatican’s Gendarmerie to collaborate in the investigation. He was alongside Cassinis Righini in the auditor’s first appraisals of the property.

Cassinis Righini first said he was sure that the pope did not know anything about the investment but that it was known to the high levels of the Secretariat of State. 

However, he then had to admit that he couldn’t say for sure if the pope knew.

Plausible deniability? 

Cassinis Righini testified that decisions were made that required explicit authorization from superiors.

Based on this testimony, it seems unlikely that no one informed Pope Francis, let alone his Secretary of State. 

The pontiff was photographed in Santa Marta with Gianluigi Torzi on Dec. 26, 2018, when Torzi was negotiating his exit from the deal.

These latest testimonies at the trial thus provide a broader scenario that raises numerous questions — even if it helps to understand the climate at the beginning of the investigation.

The key question is just how and why the Secretariat of State’s investments were made — and this question awaits an answer.

‘St. Francis helps us not to run from suffering’: Cardinal Zuppi offers Mass in Assisi

Mass in Assisi with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi on the feast of St. Francis, Oct. 4, 2022 Andrea Cova/Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi / Andrea Cova/Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Rome Newsroom, Oct 4, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

On the feast of St. Francis on Tuesday, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi offered Mass in Assisi in the basilica that holds the 13th-century saint’s tomb.

“St. Francis helps us not to run from suffering,” Zuppi said in his homily on Oct. 4.

The cardinal and president of the Italian bishops’ conference recounted how St. Francis had been repulsed by the sight of lepers at first but experienced a transformation when he encountered them in person.

St. Francis recorded in his testament: “While I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. And the Lord himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them. And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body.”

Zuppi said that everyone can experience this same transformation in which “what before seemed burdensome, a deprivation, an impossible sacrifice becomes instead a source of sweetness and awareness of humanity.”

“Helping others leads us to find ourselves. This is the sweet and gentle yoke that unites us to the one who first bound himself to us, Jesus, in a bond of love that frees us from the heavy and unbearable yoke of individualism,” he said.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella, present in the Basilica of St. Francis for the feast day Mass, lit a votive lamp and gave a speech about the patron saint of Italy.

Pope Pius XII declared St. Francis the patron saint of Italy in 1939 along with St. Catherine of Siena. The founder of the Franciscan order is affectionately known in Italy as the Poverello (Poor Little Man).

The Italian president said that peace has been “betrayed right in the heart of Europe” with the war in Ukraine. He added that St. Francis’ life exalted the value of peace with the “prophetic force of his life.”

Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna, also invoked St. Francis’ intercession asking for peace in Europe: “The difficulties are far from over. We see this dramatically in the world and in our country. Let us entrust Italy to the intercession of our patron.”

“Like St. Francis, we can all be artisans of peace,” he said.