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In UN message, Pope Francis decries abortion and family breakdown

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis told the United Nations Friday that denying the existence of human life in the womb through abortion does not solve problems.

“Unfortunately, some countries and international institutions are also promoting abortion as one of the so-called ‘essential services’ provided in the humanitarian response to the pandemic,” Pope Francis said in his address to the UN Sept. 25.

“It is troubling to see how simple and convenient it has become for some to deny the existence of a human life as a solution to problems that can and must be solved for both the mother and her unborn child,” the pope said.

Speaking to the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly via a video message, Pope Francis said that the problem of today’s “throwaway culture” was rooted in a disrespect for human dignity.

“At the origin of this ‘throwaway culture’ is a gross lack of respect for human dignity, the promotion of ideologies with reductive understandings of the human person, a denial of the universality of fundamental human rights, and a craving for absolute power and control that is widespread in today’s society. Let us name this for what it is: an attack against humanity itself,” he said.

“It is in fact painful to see the number of fundamental human rights that in our day continue to be violated with impunity. The list of such violations is indeed lengthy, and offers us a frightening picture of a humanity abused, wounded, deprived of dignity, freedom and hope for the future,” he continued. 

“As part of this picture, religious believers continue to endure every kind of persecution, including genocide, because of their beliefs. We Christians too are victims of this: how many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world are suffering, forced at times to flee from their ancestral lands, cut off from their rich history and culture.”

Pope Francis urged world leaders to be especially attentive to the rights of children, “particularly their right to life and to schooling,” acclaiming the example of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani advocate for female education.

He reminded the UN that the first teachers of every child are his or her mother and father, adding that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society”.

“All too often, the family is the victim of forms of ideological colonialism that weaken it and end up producing in many of its members, especially the most vulnerable -- the young and the elderly -- a feeling of being orphaned and lacking roots,” Pope Francis said.

“The breakdown of the family echoes the social fragmentation that hinders our efforts to confront common enemies,” he added.

In his speech, Pope Francis said that the coronavirus pandemic had highlighted the urgent need to “make every person’s right to basic medical care a reality” and exposed “the rapidly growing inequality between the super-rich and the permanently poor.”

“I think of the effects of the pandemic on employment … There is an urgent need to find new forms of work truly capable of fulfilling our human potential and affirming our dignity,” he said.

“In order to ensure dignified employment, there must be a change in the prevailing economic paradigm, which seeks only to expand companies’ profits. Offering jobs to more people should be one of the main objectives of every business, one of the criteria for the success of productive activity.”

Calling on the international community to “put an end to economic injustices,” the pope proposed instead an economic model that “encourages subsidiarity, supports economic development and invests in education and infrastructure benefiting local communities.”

The pope also renewed his appeals that the poorest and the most vulnerable be given priority in an effort to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines and for the forgiveness of debt burdens for the poorest nations.

For the first time in its history, the UN General Assembly is virtual this year, with world leaders delivering pre-taped remarks via video link due to the coronavirus restrictions on travel to New York. The UN is commemorating this week the 75th anniversary of its founding.

This was Pope Francis’ second speech to the UN General Assembly in the seven years since his election. It was the sixth time that a pope has addressed the UN, following Pope Paul VI in 1964, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and 1995, and Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

In his video message, the pope expressed strong support for multilateralism, that is, the partnership between multiple countries pursuing a common goal. 

“We need to break with the present climate of distrust. At present, we are witnessing an erosion of multilateralism, which is all the more serious in light of the development of new forms of military technology, such as lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) which irreversibly alter the nature of warfare, detaching it further from human agency,” he warned. 

The pope said that recovery from the coronavirus pandemic presented a choice between two paths.

“One path leads to the consolidation of multilateralism as the expression of a renewed sense of global co-responsibility, a solidarity grounded in justice and the attainment of peace and unity within the human family, which is God’s plan for our world,” he said. 

“The other path emphasizes self-sufficiency, nationalism, protectionism, individualism and isolation; it excludes the poor, the vulnerable and those dwelling on the peripheries of life. That path would certainly be detrimental to the whole community, causing self-inflicted wounds on everyone. It must not prevail.”

US ambassador issues religious freedom warning at UN event

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The U.S. religious freedom ambassador has warned against governments using the pandemic to crack down on religious minorities, in remarks on Friday during the United Nations General Assembly.

Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, spoke at an online event “Answering the Call to Protect Religious Freedom” event, held during the 2020 UN General Assembly.

In a review of the developments of global religious freedom in the past year, Brownback noted that the U.S. has “urged governments to make sure members of religious minority groups are not discriminated against during the pandemic,” whether through scapegoating of minority groups for the spread of the virus or unnecessary restrictions on their access to worship.

He also stated his concern of the increased use of technology to restrict religious freedom.

In March, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a fact-sheet on concerns about religious freedom during the pandemic, and Brownback in April called for the release of religious prisoners during the pandemic.

The International Religious Freedom Alliance, announced by the U.S. in 2019, now has 31 member countries and has been renamed the “International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance,” Brownback said on Friday.

There are “still way too many instances where the right to freedom of religion or belief is violated around the world,” adding that “our focus will be to urge all countries to prioritize this issue.”

The abuses committed against Rohingya Muslims in Burma, and the mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang Province, China, were of particular focus on Friday.

“It is time for the international community to act, and it is time for us to push back. And both of these communities are being violated and persecuted,” Brownback said, “I believe in major part because of their faith.”

Zuba Murat, Uyghur-American advocate, spoke of the “escalating, terrible persecution” of Uyghurs by Chinese authorities since 2017.

“All of the normal practices of our religions are outlawed,” she said. Her mother, a retired medical doctor, “as of now has been in a concentration camp for the past two years,” with the family kept shut off from knowledge of her condition.

“Uyghurs are facing mental and physical torture, food and sleep deprivation,” as well as rape and forced sterilization, abortion, and birth control, she said.

“In any dialogue with China moving forward, these missing Uyghurs should be central to every conversation,” she said.

Brownback also brought up the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and the importance of governments respecting religious freedom during the pandemic.

Another development in the past year was Secretary of State Pompeo removing Uzbekistan and Sudan removed from the “countries of particular concern” list, due to an improved situation for religious rights, Brownback said.

Bishops in US emphasize importance of life, Church teaching in voting guidances

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 12:17 pm (CNA).- As election day looms, Catholic bishops throughout the country are issuing pastoral guidance on how Catholics should think about their vote, emphasizing the preeminent importance of “life issues” and Church teaching.

“I recognize that many of you feel such deep distress about this election, perhaps the most contentious in the course of our lifetime,” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said in a Sept. 22 letter to Catholics in his diocese.

The bishop noted that there are “problems with each of the major parties’ platforms and their endorsed candidates” and that his job as a bishop is to address “issues grounded on our faith and tradition” rather than to “endorse one or another of candidates for public office, including the office of president.”

Zubik emphasized to Catholics that they must view the act of voting “as a moral decision.”

This decision, he said, must be made with a “well-formed conscience” that is formed through prayer, Scripture, and “honestly inform(ing) yourself about the moral teaching of the Catholic Church,” he said.

Among the major problems facing the country right now are life issues, which “include the serious threats to human life and dignity, some of which are racism, the environmental crisis, human trafficking, unemployment, underemployement, appropriate medical coverage, the death penalty, religious freedom, the plight of immigrants, and poverty among others. In each and all of these, the Gospel calls for our attention.”

Zubik said while that list is but a “partial litany” of life issues, there is a “hierarchy of these issues that needs to be recognized.”

“At the forefront of ‘life issues’ is the right to be born as the right upon which all other ‘life issues’ rest,” he said.

Zubik said that the primacy of the right to life has been a “consistent Catholic teaching,” and pointed to the words of St. John Paul II, Pope Francis, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as examples of this.

“Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question,” Pope Francis wrote of abortion in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium.

“I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations.’ It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life,” Francis wrote.

In a Sept. 23 column for the Diocese of Madison’s newspaper, Bishop Donald Hying of Madison said that this election has “a contentious and angry divisiveness that we have not seen in our lifetimes.”

Hying said he wanted to remind Catholics that “before all else, we belong to Christ. We are Catholic Christians before we are Americans and certainly before we might be part of any political party.”
“Jesus Christ is our Savior; His teachings and the moral truths of the Church guide us in all aspects of our lives, including how we vote,” he added.

Like Zubik, Hying noted that “the Church cannot and will not endorse a particular candidate or party.”

Rather, he said, his role as pastor is to “teach and preach the Faith, so that all may vote with an informed conscience, even as we acknowledge that no individual or party can ever represent the totality of our values and beliefs.”

Hying referenced a statement from the U.S. bishop’s conference last year, in which they stated that abortion is the “preeminent moral issue facing our nation.”

The use of the word “preeminent” is important, Hying said, because “procured abortion surpasses all other moral issues in its urgency, but clearly is not the only issue we face.”

“Although I have always been pro-life, my commitment and understanding deepened when, as a young priest, I listened to and learned from the emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain of so many women and men who have been profoundly wounded by the violence of abortion,” he added.

Hying said he is grateful for the many ways the Church supports women “both in crisis pregnancy and after their children are born -- provides health care, education and social services to those in poverty, and offers hope and healing to women and men grieving in the aftermath of abortion.”

Because of the Church’s support and care for the whole person from birth to natural death, Hying said he rejects the “canard” that pro-life Catholics “only cares about the unborn child, but not those who are born.”

“If a candidate is fundamentally wrong on such a basic and preeminent human rights issue of grave consequence to the most innocent in our society and to our own future, how can I trust the candidate to make moral and prudent decisions on many other important social justice issues pertaining to the common good?” he wrote.

In a joint letter to Catholics issued this month, the Catholic bishops of Virginia - Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond - outlined three things Catholics should keep in mind when going to the voting booth.

“Many issues are important. Not all issues have equal moral weight. Protecting life is paramount,” the bishops noted.

In their letter, Burbidge and Knestout pointed Catholics to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a statement written by the U.S. bishop’s conference and posted to their website.

“Our moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts – which are ‘always incompatible with love of God and neighbor’ – ‘has a special claim on our consciences and our actions,’” the bishops said, quoting Faithful Citizenship.

“Of these, abortion is the ‘preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed,’” they added.

The bishops of Virginia also encouraged Catholics to visit vacatholic.org, to view a “side-by-side comparison of what the two major-party Presidential candidates have said or done on a wide range of issues of importance to Catholics...compiled jointly by a number of state Catholic conferences, including the Virginia Catholic Conference.”

In his column for the September 2020 issue of Florida Catholic, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami also emphasized that the Church was not a political entity that should tell Catholics how to vote.

“Our Church rightly does not tell the faithful to vote for any candidate or party. The Catholic Church is not - nor does she want to be - a political agency or a special interest group,” he said.

“However, she does have a profound interest - and rightly so - in the good of the political community, the soul of which is justice. For this reason, the Church engages in a wide variety of public policy issues including the defense of unborn life, of religious liberty and of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, as well as advocacy on issues concerning immigration, education, poverty and racism, along with many others,” Wenski said.

Wenski also pointed Catholics to Faithful Citizenship as a helpful resource to inform their consciences before they vote.

The Church “offers a specific moral framework that should guide the voter in making prudential decisions as to who are the ‘best’ candidates - or, as sadly happens too often, who are the least ‘worse’ candidates,” Wenski stated.

The moral framework by which a Catholic decides their vote should be informed by prayer and Scripture, the bishop noted, and should rise above “mere party affiliation or self-interests…(to) guide the serious Catholic to examine the candidates on a full range of issues as well as on their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance. In this way, our vote will be an exercise of both responsible as well as faithful citizenship.”

Citing the words of Pope Francis, Wenski noted the importance of “the defense of human life and dignity” which is not a “‘narrow cause’ but a way of life.”

“For this reason, no Catholic should vote for a political program or law with the intent of contradicting the fundamental principles of our faith,” he said.

“That some Catholics in public life promote positions on human life that are not coherent with their Catholic faith is a scandal and while they may claim to be ‘practicing’ Catholics, it is obvious that they need to practice a whole lot more - until they get it right,” he added.

Wenski also lamented in his letter that the political landscape in the United States “can be discouraging.” But he encouraged Catholics to engage in politics, rather than retreat, in order to bring about transformation.

“We need a new kind of politics — one focused on moral principles, not on polls; on the needs of the vulnerable, not the contributions of the powerful; and on the pursuit of the common good, not the demands of special interests.”

Polish president discusses ‘promotion of the family’ with Pope Francis

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Polish President Andrzej Duda met with Pope Francis Friday during his first official trip abroad since his narrow election victory in July.

The Holy See press office said Sept. 25 that after his audience with the pope, Duda met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

“The cordial discussions took place in the context of the centenary of the birth of St. John Paul II and the 40th anniversary of the founding of the independent autonomous trade union Solidarność [Solidarity],” the statement said.

“Some topics of mutual interest related to the mission of the Church were discussed, including the promotion of the family and the education of young people.”

“Finally, attention turned to some international issues, such as the current health emergency, the regional situation and security.”

The Polish president’s official website reported that Duda was the first president to be received by the pope since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. His wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, also attended the audience.

The president’s website quoted Duda as saying: “The Holy Father, Francis, pointed out that in recent years we have conducted a very effective policy for the family. He thanked me so much for that. I was deeply moved by these thanks.”

“He mentioned all the programs we had launched and that we care about families raising children. I am glad that the Holy Father knows about it, that the Holy See knows about it.”

While it was not clear precisely which aspects of Poland’s family policy the pope was praising, the government increased child benefits significantly in 2016 with the “Family 500+” program.

Duda, who is associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), won a second five-year term as president in July with 51.03% of the votes, with his challenger, Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, gaining 48.97%. The margin of victory was 422,630 votes in a country with a population of almost 38 million.

In the run-up to the election, Duda signed a “Family Charter” opposing same-sex marriage and adoption, and committing himself to the “protection of children from LGBT ideology.”

After his meeting with the pope, Duda attended Mass at the tomb of St. John Paul II, a native of Poland, in St. Peter’s Basilica. Afterwards, he laid a wreath before the tomb, wearing a black face-covering as protection against the coronavirus.

Duda had intended to travel to Rome May 18 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope’s birth, but was unable to do so because of the pandemic.

In a statement to journalists outside St. Peter’s Square, Duda said that he had discussed the situation in Belarus with Parolin. The country, which neighbors Poland, has seen widespread demonstrations since a disputed election Aug. 9. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, president of the Belarusian bishops’ conference, was prevented from returning to Belarus after a trip to Poland Aug. 31.

Duda said: “Basically, we had a common opinion that all those who want real democracy, who want freedom, who want to live in an honest state, should be supported -- these people should have our support. But, of course, Belarus should decide about itself in free and fair elections.”

Analysis: The Becciu resignation, a beginning not an end

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- At around 6pm on Thursday, Pope Francis summoned Cardinal Angelo Becciu to a meeting, multiple sources tell CNA. In the hour before, the pope reportedly had been given an advance copy of a forthcoming news report on Becciu, his stewardship of Vatican finances, and new allegations that he used his position, and Church funds, to enrich his family.

Within an hour, the Holy See press office released a statement saying that the pope had “accepted Becciu’s resignation” from his role as head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saint and his rights as a cardinal. Becciu, by all accounts, had not even made it back to his nearby, recently renovated extensively, apartment in the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio before the news was released.

Sudden “resignations” of this kind are not unknown at the Vatican – and Becciu himself has often been on the other side of the table, allegedly forcing, for example, the “resignation” of the Vatican’s first Auditor General, Libero Milone who was accused of “spying” on Becciu’s personal finances.

Like Milone, Becciu has since insisted that he did nothing wrong. Unlike Milone, who said Becciu threatened him with criminal prosecution if he did not leave his office quietly, the cardinal’s resignation marks a new beginning, rather than an end to his story.

After the news broke Thursday evening, multiple Vatican sources told CNA that both Vatican prosecutors and the Italian Guardia di Finanza are expected to lay criminal charges against Becciu. “I am innocent and I will prove it,” Becciu told an Italian newspaper Friday morning. The odds seem good that he will be given his day in court to make the attempt.

Becciu’s fall comes after nearly two years of reporting placing him at the center of several different, overlapping Vatican financial scandals.

Before his role at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Becciu served as the sostituto at the Secretariat of State, operating as a kind of papal chief-of-staff and de facto manager of the daily operations of the curia’s most powerful department.

Under his stewardship, the secretariat engaged in a number of highly speculative financial ventures, including dealings with Swiss banks known for their lax approach to money laundering, and Becciu was alleged to be personally responsible for stymieing a number of attempts at financial transparency and reform.

The former head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell, frequently found his efforts thwarted by Becciu.  A source told CNA that one occasion Becciu gave Pell – his superior – a formal “reprimand” for his attempts to bring transparency to the Secretariat of State. On another occasion, Becciu countermanded an audit of all Vatican finances ordered by Pell.

Since his vindication on sex abuse charges by the Australian High Court, Cardinal Pell had not commented on his former role, or the various financial scandals which have led to from and through Becciu’s office.

But after Thursday’s announcement that Becciu had “resigned” Pell issued a rare public statement, congratulating Pope Francis on what was in fact a summary sacking.

“The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances,” Pell said. “He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments.”

At the time of his election, Pope Francis was, indeed, widely hailed as a new broom that would sweep clean curial corruption. Since then, many have grown frustrated at the apparent lack of progress and the appointment, disappointment, and departure of reformers like Milone and Pell.

But while the Holy See has not officially acknowledged the reasons for Becciu’s departure, he has now become the first curial cardinal, at least in the modern era, to be dismissed for financial misconduct – something few would have predicted when Francis was elected in 2913.

While Becciu’s dismissal has taken many in the media by surprise, the drumbeat of reports in recent years has indicated that Vatican prosecutors were – at last – being given a free hand to pursue their work wherever it led.

In October 2019, several of Becciu’s former employees and closest collaborators at the Secretariat of State were the subject of a raid by investigators. By February, Becciu’s former deputy and effective right hand man, who had moved on to a position at the Vatican’s supreme court, was raided and suspended.

The arrest of Gianluigi Torzi, a key player in the London property deal that triggered the initial investigation into Becciu’s old department, was a major sign  prosecutors were intent on bringing charges, not just filing reports.

Perhaps the most significant development came in July, when a search and seizure warrant was served on Italian businessman Rafaelle Mincione in a Roman hotel. That warrant was sought by Vatican prosecutors, but it was issued by an Italian magistrate and served by Italian state police, indicating that the investigation was sufficiently developed to convince Italian authorities to intervene.

But after generational attempts to bring order to Vatican finances, what makes this attempt different?

In addition to the spotlight which has fallen on Becciu and his collaborators over the last year, Vatican prosecutors have also had the unfortunate benefit of an acute cash crunch developing for the Holy See, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Bluntly put: When there is less money around, it is harder to hide what is missing.

At the same time, Moneyval, the EU Commission’s anti-money laundering watchdog, has made repeated inspections of the Vatican’s financial institutions – with another progress report due out in the next few months. While they have expressed satisfaction with some of the financial structural reforms brought in under Pope Francis, they have repeatedly noted the Vatican’s poor record of prosecuting criminal financial behavior, increasing the pressure on investigators to bring charges.

This pressure will have increased exponentially if Italian prosecutors plan to bring charges of their own: the Vatican simply cannot risk appearing to have shied away from bringing a case if the Italian courts get involved.

Becciu has insisted on his innocence, and demanded he be given the opportunity to prove it. Lucky for him, in this case, his desire may well align perfectly with those of the Vatican prosecutors and financial inspectors. A public trial of curial officials, headlined by a cardinal, may be the last thing many in the Vatican wanted or expected to see. But it may now become the next stage of a story that still has a long way to go.

Cardinal Becciu says he did not commit crimes, welcomes chance to ‘explain’

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2020 / 10:45 am (CNA).- The day after he was forced to resign from his Vatican job and to give up his rights as a cardinal, Angelo Becciu defended his actions and said he “is ready” to explain if called on by Vatican judicial authorities.

“I didn’t commit any crimes,” Becciu told journalists Sept. 25. “I received no communication on the part of the [Vatican] magistrates. I’m ready. If they want me to explain [my actions], I’ll explain.” 

“I’m maintaining my serenity,” he said. “I renew my trust in the Holy Father.”

Becciu spoke to journalists at an invite-only press conference near the Vatican Sept. 25. CNA obtained an audio recording of the press conference after it took place.

The cardinal responded to questions about actions he took while serving as “sostituto,” or the second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, from 2011 to 2018.

New reports revealed that Becciu used millions of euros of Vatican charity funds in speculative and risky investments, and that he directed Vatican and Italian bishops’ money to go toward “loans” for projects owned and operated by his brothers. 

The speculative investments were made by financier Enrico Crasso, who, CNA has previously reported, was given by Becciu control over millions of euros in Vatican investment funds.

Becciu said Friday that he did not follow the actions of Crasso “step by step,” and that they met only once a year. According to Becciu, Crasso would inform him of what investments he was making, “but it’s not that he was telling me the ramifications of all these investments.” 

“I don’t know” what Crasso was doing, Becciu said.

According to the cardinal, investing Vatican funds was in his job description at the Secretariat of State. “Sure, we made investments,” he said. “We made them with the desire to make them in the interests of the Holy See, not my personal interests.”

Crasso manages Centurion Global Fund, an investment fund used by the Secretariat of State, with links to two Swiss banks investigated or implicated in bribery and money laundering scandals. As CNA reported, this is the same fund in which the Vatican Secretariat of State invested millions of euros, including with money donated to Peter’s Pence, an annual collection undertaken by the Holy See.

Reports show that the fund’s investments lost money while its managers, who include Crasso, recouped millions in fees.

Crasso also reportedly introduced Becciu to Lorenzo Vangelisti, CEO of Valeur Group, an asset management, advisory, trading, and real estate company.

Vangelisti was involved in the Vatican’s purchase of the Sloane Avenue property in London, together with the director of Valeur capital, Alessando Noceti, who worked previously for Suisse Credit in London.

Becciu denied that he knew either Vangelisti or Noceti. “I don’t know who they are,” he said. “I have never met them.”

The cardinal said that he and Pope Francis did not discuss the London property during their roughly 20-minute meeting Thursday. He also denied that any money from Peter’s Pence was used to purchase the property at 60 Sloane Avenue.

The cardinal described the meeting with the pope and his subsequent resignation as “surreal,” because “yesterday, until 6:02 p.m., I felt I was a friend of the pope, a faithful agent of the pope ... and then there, speaking, he tells me that he no longer trusts me.”

“That he no longer trusts me because he had seen reports from the [Vatican] magistrates that I had embezzled,” he said.

After the cardinal resigned as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, a position he had been in since September 2018, the pope asked him to also resign the “privileges” of cardinals, Becciu noted.  

The embezzlement reports, Becciu said, claimed that when he was sostituto he had misappropriated 100,000 euros to give to a cooperative owned by his brother, and which was part of the charity of his former diocese.

Becciu said he tried to explain the action to Pope Francis, saying that it was true he had gifted 100,000 euros, but it was sent to the Ozieri diocesan Caritas from Vatican funds intended for “various” charitable works, and thus was legitimate.

He said the accusation that the money had gone instead to his brother’s cooperative connected to Caritas “seemed strange” to him, and that when he called his brother and the bishop to ask about the money, they confirmed to him that it was in the Caritas accounts, yet untouched.

Asked if he thought that matter constituted a conflict of interest, since his brother works for the diocesan Caritas, the cardinal said, “a conflict of interest? I don't know if it really was a conflict of interest. I wanted to help the diocese, not my brother, the diocese.”

A press release from the Bishop of Ozieri and president of the diocesan Caritas, Corrado Melis, Sept. 24 said the diocese “has never been the beneficiary” of undue or illegitimate favors.

Becciu is also reported to have used his connections to help two other brothers, from the time when he was apostolic nuncio in Cuba and Angola.

He quibbled with details of the L’Espresso report, which said that his brother’s carpentry company was given ecclesiastical projects in the two countries. According to Becciu, in Angola his brother only helped to repair “two doors” at the nunciature, and in Cuba, his brother did the renovations at the nunciature because “it was difficult to find” materials in Cuba, so they imported them from Italy.

To his third brother, who owns a food and beverage distributor, called Angel’s, Becciu said “he never gave money, not mine nor that of the institution” of the Church.

He also indicated proof should be given or he “will sue for defamation.”

Becciu’s family released their own statement Sept. 25, calling the reports “unfounded and maliciously false…” as well as “slanderous, offensive and disparaging.” 

They said Francesco Becciu had carried out “some carpentry work on behalf of ecclesial entities” but they are “not attributable to Cardinal Becciu.”

Archbishop Naumann emphasizes preeminence of right to life

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2020 / 10:01 am (CNA).- The “preeminence” of the right to life is the teaching of the Church, the U.S. bishops’ pro-life chair stated ahead of October’s observance as Respect Life Month.

 
“This past January, I shared with Pope Francis that the bishops of the United States had been criticized by some for identifying the protection of the unborn as a preeminent priority,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas stated Sept. 24, as chair of the pro-life committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
 
“The Holy Father expressed his support for our efforts observing that if we fail to protect life, no other rights matter,” Archbishop Naumann said. “Pope Francis also said that abortion is not primarily a Catholic or even a religious issue, it is first and foremost a human rights issue.
 
October is observed as Respect Life Month by the USCCB, with Oct. 4 being “Respect Life Sunday.” The initiative emphasizes “building a culture that cherishes every human life.”
 
The USCCB is also inviting parishes to join the “Walking With Moms in Need” initiative to help pregnant women facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies.
 
At their fall 2019 meeting, the U.S. bishops approved a draft letter stating that the issue of abortion is “our preeminent priority”; the letter accompanies their voting document “Faithful Citizenship” ahead of the 2020 elections.
 
The issue is “preeminent,” the USCCB said, “because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”
 
This stance does not minimize other issues such as racism or protecting the environment, Naumann said, citing the letter, but rather is a stand “to protect the most fundamental of all human rights – the right to live.”
 
The bishops’ approval of the draft letter was not without controversy, as Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego intervened in the discussion preceding the vote; he challenged the use of the word “preeminent” to describe the concern of abortion, saying that “it is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world.”
 
Archbishop Charles Chaput, now the archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, stated his opposition to that line of thinking, saying that it “sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father, which isn’t true.”
 
In January 2020, Archbishop Naumann told Catholic News Service that he discussed the importance of the issue with Pope Francis during his ad limina visit, and that Pope Francis agreed that the issue was a preeminent one and a human rights concern.
 
Naumann also noted in his statement that this year marks the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium vitae, on the value and inviolability of human life.

The encyclical was a “masterfully articulated defense of the right to life for children in their mothers’ wombs, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and the marginalized,” he said, and it “provides a blueprint for building a culture of life and civilization of love.”
 
He called on Catholics to take to heart the teachings of the Gospel and put them into action during Respect Life Month.
 
“The important work of transforming our culture begins by allowing the Gospel of Christ to touch and transform our own hearts and the decisions we make,” he said. “Through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, may Our Lord grant us the grace to live courageously and faithfully his Gospel of life.”

New details emerge about Cardinal Becciu’s management of Vatican finances

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Following his resignation yesterday, new reports reveal details of how Cardinal Angelo Becciu managed Vatican financial affairs, developing a story CNA first broke last year.

Portfolio statements show that Becciu used millions of euros of Vatican charity funds in speculative and risky investments, and that he directed Vatican and Italian bishops’ money to go toward “loans” for projects owned and operated by his brothers.

Becciu resigned as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals Sept. 24.

The cardinal previously served as “sostituto,” or second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, from 2011 to 2018.

After his resignation, Becciu told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero he was “shocked” and “troubled.” He called his resignation “a blow for me, for those who know and respect me, and for my family.”

CNA has reported that during his tenure as “sostituto,” Becciu used loans from several Swiss banks, including BSI and Credit Suisse, to at least partially finance the controversial purchase of a building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London. 

Becciu said Friday that the Vatican “found nothing” on him regarding the London building transaction, and other accusations “have no criminal offence.”

“Out of a spirit of obedience and out of love for the Church and the pope, I accepted his request to step aside,” he said. “But I am innocent and I will prove it. I ask the Holy Father to have the right to defend myself.” 

A new report by the Italian weekly L’Espresso showed that Becciu gave financier Enrico Crasso, a former manager of Credit Suisse, control over millions of euros of Vatican investment funds from the Secretariat of State and from the papal charity Peter’s Pence.

Crasso is also the manager of Centurion Global Fund, an investment fund used by the Secretariat of State, with links to two Swiss banks investigated or implicated in bribery and money laundering scandals. As CNA reported, this is the same fund in which the Vatican Secretariat of State invested millions of euros, including with money donated to Peter’s Pence. 

Reports show that the fund’s investments lost money while its managers, who include Crasso, recouped millions in fees. Centurion investment fund has been under investigation by Vatican authorities since December 2019.

According to L’Espresso, Crasso directed Vatican money into highly speculative funds with low return margins and based in tax havens.

The weekly said that Becciu also used Peter’s Pence money and funds from the Italian bishops’ conference to finance projects owned and operated by three of his brothers.

L’Espresso reported that Becciu obtained two loans from the Italian bishops’ conference to pay out two non-repayable loans of 300,000 euros each to Spes Cooperative in 2013 and 2015.

Spes Cooperative is the operational arm of the diocesan Caritas of Becciu’s former diocese of Ozieri in Sardinia. The owner and legal representative of Spes Cooperative is Becciu’s brother, Tonino.

In 2018, Becciu gave a third sum to Spes Cooperative of 100,000 euros from Peter’s Pence, of which he had control as “sostituto.” 

There appear to be questions around whether these funds were used for their ostensible charitable purposes.

The bishop of Ozieri and president of the diocesan Caritas, Corrado Melis, said in a statement addressed to Becciu Sept. 24 that the diocesan Caritas “has never been the beneficiary” of undue or illegitimate favor, and that it has “never used a single penny” of funds given for charitable works for other purposes.

Becciu himself denied any guilt, saying that he “may have made a mistake out of too much love for my diocese, but I do not see the crime. I am ready to shout the truth,” Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.

A second instance of Becciu working in the favor of a brother reportedly occurred when he was papal nuncio in Angola and later in Cuba, when the carpentry company of Becciu’s brother, Francesco, was hired to furnish and repair several churches in the two countries.

Becciu also reportedly helped to bring in customers for Angel’s srl, a specialty food and beverage distributor, of which another brother, Mario, is majority partner and legal representative.

The Becciu family put out a statement Friday saying that news reports that members of their family received financial favors from their brother, the cardinal, were “unfounded and maliciously false, in particular for the imaginative and unprovable references to alleged donations from Peter’s Pence.”

Reportedly, the large proceeds of the companies of the Becciu brothers were later reinvested in low-risk safe-haven equity, holding and financial packages. Income generated from these investments was then reinvested in funds previously invested in by the Secretariat of State, such as the Centurion Fund. 

Through Crasso, Becciu also became acquainted with Lorenzo Vangelisti, CEO of Valeur Group, an asset management, advisory, trading, and real estate company.

Vangelisti was involved in the Vatican’s purchase of the Sloane Avenue property in London, together with the director of Valeur capital, Alessando Noceti, who used to work for Suisse Credit in London.

This was not the only time that Becciu has faced accusations that he used his position to benefit family members. CNA reported last year about the hiring of Becciu’s niece, Maria Piera Becciu, as the personal secretary of Fr. Franco Decaminada, the former president of an Italian hospital, also linked to a Vatican financial scandal.

Decaminada had approached Becciu in 2011, shortly after he started his role at the Secretariat of State, asking him for support on a proposal that the Vatican supply the failing Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), with 200 million euros.

Decaminada was then a senior member of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, the order which then owned and oversaw the IDI. He was arrested in 2013 and sent to prison for his part in the massive fraud and corruption around IDI’s collapse, and eventually laicized.

As reported by CNA in 2019, Becciu has also been accused of attempting to disguise millions of euros in loans on the Vatican balance sheets by canceling them out against the value of the London property, an accounting maneuver prohibited by financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014. 

The loans, acquired through Swiss banks, triggered an internal dispute between the Secretariat of State and Vatican financial authorities, in particular, with Cardinal George Pell, who was then responsible for the Secretariat for Economy.

In a statement following Becciu’s resignation Thursday, Pell said he hoped that “the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria.”

“The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances. He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments,” he said from Sydney, Australia.

What does it mean for Becciu to lose his rights as a cardinal?

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2020 / 07:15 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Thursday night that Cardinal Angelo Becciu had resigned from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals, but it did not specify which rights the cardinal had lost.

Examining previous cases of cardinals who have renounced their rights can give some idea of what this means for Becciu, who is embroiled in allegations of financial malpractice, which he denied at a press conference Sept. 25.

In 2015, Pope Francis accepted a similar renunciation from Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who in 2013 admitted to serial sexual misconduct. As a result, O’Brien did not attend public ecclesiastical events and was not eligible to participate in a papal conclave.

At the time, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, explained that O’Brien had given up the rights and prerogatives outlined in canons 349, 353, and 356 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law. 

These canons concern a cardinal’s ability to participate in a conclave, a consistory, and to collaborate with the pope. 

The rights described in Canon 349 include the participation in the election of a pope as a cardinal elector and assisting the current pope in the work of the daily care of the universal Church.

Canon 353 addresses a cardinal’s ability to take part in ordinary and extraordinary consistories. 

A consistory is a council of cardinals that takes place when the pope needs the cardinals’ advice on some important issue, or to give solemnity to the pope’s decision. It often involves the creation of new cardinals. Pope Francis has used the consistory as a sort of advisory board on core issues, holding extraordinary consistories on issues of the family and curia reform.

Finally, Canon 356 states that cardinals are bound to actively collaborate with the pope, requiring them to live in Rome unless they hold the position of a diocesan bishop. 

It should be noted that when Theodore McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals on July 28, 2018, Pope Francis also additionally suspended McCarrick from the exercise of any public ministry and directed him to observe a life of prayer and penance, because of the grave allegations of abuse against him. 

While O’Brien, until his death in 2018, lived in similar conditions to those imposed on McCarrick, the Scottish prelate was allowed to keep his title of cardinal.

In McCarrick’s case, Pope Francis applied a suspension a divinis, which, according to canon 1333 of the Code of Canon Law, prohibits him from acts of the power of order and governance and from the exercise of the rights or functions attached to his office.

After the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found McCarrick guilty of solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, McCarrick was laicized in 2019.

While three instances of cardinals losing their rights have all occurred in the past five years, this is not a new phenomenon, though still rare in Church history.

In 1927, French Jesuit Cardinal Louis Billot resigned from the College of Cardinals following a meeting with Pope Pius XI. His resignation was accepted by the pope eight days later. The two men disagreed strongly over the French monarchist movement Action française, which Pius condemned.

Billot’s resignation parallels Becciu’s situation in that it does not involve allegations of sexual misconduct.

Becciu served as “sostituto,” or second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, from 2011 to 2018, when Pope Francis named him a cardinal and moved him to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. During his tenure in that position, he was linked to a number of financial scandals, most recently the Secretariat’s investment of hundreds of millions of euros with the Italian businessman Rafaelle Mincione and the controversial purchase of a London building.

The Order of Malta has told CNA that it is awaiting official information as to whether Becciu will remain the pope’s personal delegate to the order as it undergoes reform.

As of Sept. 25, the Holy See has yet to clarify which rights Cardinal Becciu has resigned and Becciu remains technically a cardinal. 

Cardinal Pell thanks Pope Francis after Cardinal Becciu resigns

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 06:45 am (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell thanked Pope Francis Friday following the dramatic resignation of Vatican Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

In a statement sent to CNA Sept. 25, the former prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy said: “The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances. He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments.” 

The cardinal issued the statement from Sydney, Australia, where he is living after his acquittal by Australia’s High Court in April on charges of sexual abuse. He spent 13 months in solitary confinement after he was given a six-year prison sentence following a trial in Melbourne, Victoria.

“I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria,” Pell said.

Becciu resigned Sept. 24 as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals.

The cardinal worked previously as the number two-ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, and has been connected to an ongoing investigation of financial malfeasance at the secretariat.

Pell and Becciu had clashed over the reform of Vatican finances. 

CNA has reported that in 2015 Becciu seemed to have made an attempt to disguise the loans on Vatican balance sheets by canceling them out against the value of the property purchased in the London neighborhood of Chelsea, an accounting maneuver prohibited by new financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014.

The alleged attempt to hide the loans off-books was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy, then led by Pell. Senior officials at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that when Pell began to demand details of the loans, especially those involving the Swiss bank BSI, then-Archbishop Becciu called the cardinal in to the Secretariat of State for a “reprimand.”

In 2016, Becciu was instrumental in bringing to a halt reforms initiated by Pell. Although Pope Francis had given the newly created Prefecture for the Economy autonomous oversight authority over Vatican finances, Becciu interfered when the prefecture planned an external audit of all Vatican departments, to be conducted by the firm PriceWaterhouseCooper.

Unilaterally, and without permission of Pope Francis, Becciu canceled the audit and announced in a letter to all Vatican departments that it would not take place.

When Pell challenged internally the audit’s cancellation, Becciu persuaded Pope Francis to give his decision ex post facto approval, sources inside the prefecture told CNA. The audit never took place.

Becciu held a press conference in Rome Sept. 25 at which he protested his innocence of financial wrongdoing.