Vatican Airs Dirty Laundry in Trial Over London Property

FILE - The sun sets behind St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. The Vatican’s sprawling financial trial may not have produced any convictions yet or any new smoking guns. But recent testimony in May 2022 has provided plenty of insights into how the Vatican operates. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)
FILE – The sun sets behind St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. The Vatican’s sprawling financial trial may not have produced any convictions yet or any new smoking guns. But recent testimony in May 2022 has provided plenty of insights into how the Vatican operates. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican’s sprawling financial trial may not have produced any convictions yet or any new smoking guns as prosecutors work through a first round of questioning of the 10 suspects accused of fleecing the Holy See of tens of millions of euros.

But testimony so far has provided plenty of insights into how the Vatican operates, with a cast of characters worthy of a Dan Brown thriller or a Shakespearean tragicomedy. Recent hearings showed a church bureaucracy that used espionage, allowed outsiders with unverified qualifications to gain access to the Apostolic Palace and relied on a pervasive mantra of sparing the pope responsibility — until someone’s neck was on the line.

Here are some revelations so far in this unusual airing of the Vatican’s dirty laundry:

WHAT’S THE TRIAL ABOUT?

The investigation was borne of the secretariat of state’s 350 million-euro ($370 million) investment in a London property, which was such a debacle that the Vatican sold the building this year at a cumulative loss of more than 200 million euros ($210 million).

Prosecutors have accused Italian brokers, the Vatican’s longtime money manager and Vatican officials of swindling the Holy See out of tens of millions in fees and commissions and of extorting it of 15 million euros (nearly $16 million) to finally get control of the London building.

Pope Francis wanted a trial to show his willingness to crack down on alleged financial impropriety. Three years on, though, the investigation has cast an unwelcome spotlight on some of Francis’ own decisions and how Vatican monsignors managed a 600 million-euro ($630 million) asset portfolio with little external oversight or expertise.

WHAT ABOUT THE TANGENTS?

The original investigation has spawned tangents, including one in which a once-powerful cardinal, Angelo Becciu, is accused of embezzlement for having donated 125,000 euros ($130,000) in Vatican money to a Sardinian charity run by his brother.

Linked to him is another codefendant, Cecilia Marogna, a security analyst who is accused of embezzling 575,000 euros (over $600,000) that Becciu had intended as payment to liberate a Colombian nun held hostage by al-Qaida militants. They both deny wrongdoing, as do the other defendants.

SPIES, SPIES EVERYWHERE

Marogna’s story, detailed for the first time last week, is a remarkable tale which, if corroborated, would be a chapter of its own in the storied history of Vatican diplomacy.

She and Becciu say she gained entry in the Apostolic Palace on the basis of an email she wrote Becciu in 2015 about security concerns. Based on her grasp of geopolitics and apparent connections to Italian intelligence, she became an adviser to Becciu, then the No. 2 in the secretariat of state.

According to her statement, Marogna became a conduit to Becciu for everything from Russian emissaries seeking the return of holy relics to efforts by Catalonia’s separatist leader to establish a channel of communication with the Vatican.

Becciu testified that he turned to Marogna in 2017 after a Colombian nun was kidnapped in Mali, and Marogna suggested that a British intelligence firm could help liberate her. Becciu testified that Francis approved spending up to 1 million euros for the operation and insisted that it be kept secret even from the Vatican’s own intelligence chief.

The tale suggests Becciu, with the pope’s approval, created a parallel Vatican intelligence operation using an Italian freelancer.

It’s not the only instance of espionage that pose questions about the Vatican’s status as a sovereign state: Becciu testified last week that Francis himself ordered the ouster of the Vatican’s first auditor general because he had hired an external firm to spy on the Vatican hierarchy, whom he suspected of wrongdoing.

In previous testimony, a Vatican official told prosecutors that Becciu’s replacement, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, had brought members of the Italian secret service into the Holy See t o sweep his office for bugs, again bypassing the Vatican’s own gendarmes.

MONSIGNOR PERLASCA MAKES A CAMEO APPEARANCE

No figure in the trial is as intriguing as Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who was the chief internal money manager in the secretariat of state, responsible for the Vatican’s equivalent of a sovereign wealth fund with estimated assets of 600 million euros (around $630 million).

It was Perlasca who recommended certain investments or advised against them, and it was he who signed the contracts in late 2018 giving Italian broker Gianluigi Torzi operative control of the London property. The basis for the extortion charge against Torzi is prosecutors’ allegation that he pulled a fast one on the Vatican to gain that control and only relinquished it after getting paid 15 million euros (nearly $16 million).

Perlasca was at first a prime suspect in the case. But after his first round of questioning in April 2020, Perlasca fired his lawyer, changed his story and began cooperating with prosecutors.

Despite his involvement in all the deals under investigation, Perlasca escaped indictment. Last week, the tribunal let him join the trial as an injured party, enabling him to possibly recover civil damages.

Hours after tribunal president Giupseppe Pignatone admitted him as a civil party, Perlasca showed up at the tribunal unannounced, sat in the front row of the public gallery and declared “I’m not moving.”

Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi immediately objected and Pignatone ordered him to leave, which he did.

SPARE THE POPE AT ALL COSTS

Many of the defendants have testified that, at key junctions, Francis wasn’t only informed of the issues but approved them, including the crucial moment in which the Vatican had to decide whether to try to sue Torzi to get the London property or pay him off.

Several witnesses and defendants have said Francis wanted to “turn the page” and negotiate a deal. Prosecutors say Francis was essentially duped by his own underlings, and they subsequently obtained from Francis four, secret executive decrees giving them carte blanche to investigate in ways the defense says violated the suspects’ legal guarantees and basic human rights.

But blaming the pope marks an unusual development, since Vatican culture generally seeks to spare the pope responsibility for anything that goes wrong.

Becciu explained this tradition during his testimony by invoking its Latin phrase “In odiosis non faceat nomen pontificis,” roughly meaning that the pope shouldn’t be drawn into unpleasant matters.

Becciu responded to a question about why the pope only approved of financial decisions orally, not in writing.

“I’m from the old school … where you try to protect the pope, protect his moral authority without involving him too much in earthly matters. This doesn’t mean not informing him, but not giving him the responsibility for certain decisions,” he said.

Becciu kept to that until Francis released him from the pontifical secret so he could testify in his own defense. Becciu then revealed that Francis himself had authorized the Colombian nun liberation operation and had ordered the resignation of the auditor-general.

The week ended with the testimony of one of Perlasca’s deputies, Fabrizio Tirabassi, who explained how investment decisions were made and the origins of the London property deal. His lawyers said Tirabassi’s testimony proved that there was no crime in the deal.

“The only mystery of this story is why someone wanted to have a trial about an issue that the hierarchs of the Holy See wanted to conclude with a deal,” the lawyers said.

Source: Associated Press

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfolded, Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, had an awkward Zoom meeting with Pope Francis.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfolded, Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, had an awkward Zoom meeting with Pope Francis.

The two religious leaders had previously worked together to bridge a 1,000-year-old schism between the Christian churches of the East and West. But the meeting, in March, found them on opposing sides of a chasm. Kirill spent 20 minutes reading prepared remarks, echoing the arguments of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that the war in Ukraine was necessary to purge Nazis and oppose NATO expansion.

Francis was evidently flummoxed. “Brother, we are not clerics of the state,” the pontiff told Kirill, he later recounted to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, adding that “the patriarch cannot transform himself into Putin’s altar boy.”

Today, Kirill stands apart not merely from Francis, but from much of the world. The leader of about 100 million faithful, Kirill, 75, has staked the fortunes of his branch of Orthodox Christianity on a close and mutually beneficial alliance with Mr. Putin, offering him spiritual cover while his church — and possibly he himself — receives vast resources in return from the Kremlin, allowing him to extend his influence in the Orthodox world.

To his critics, the arrangement has made Kirill far more than another apparatchik, oligarch or enabler of Mr. Putin, but an essential part of the nationalist ideology at the heart of the Kremlin’s expansionist designs.

Kirill has called Mr. Putin’s long tenure “a miracle of God,” and has characterized the war as a just defense against liberal conspiracies to infiltrate Ukraine with “gay parades.”

“All of our people today must wake up — wake up — understand that a special time has come on which the historical fate of our people may depend,” he said in one April sermon. “We have been raised throughout our history to love our fatherland, and we will be ready to protect it, as only Russians can defend their country,” he said to soldiers in another.

Kirill’s role is so important that European officials have included him on a list of individuals they plan to target in an upcoming — and still in flux — round of sanctions against Russia, according to people who have seen the list.

Such a censure would be an extraordinary measure against a religious leader, its closest antecedent perhaps being the sanctions the United States leveled against Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Source: Dnyuz

Russian Orthodox Archbishop Faces Resistance From Ugandan Hierarchs on His First Visit to Africa

Photo: mospat.ru
Photo: mospat.ru

Metropolitan Leonid of Klin has arrived in Africa for his first visit in his capacity as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s new African Exarchate.

Having arrived to the canonical territory of the Ugandan Church of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Russian hierarch is facing resistance from local Ugandan hierarchs.

“I am glad to finally be on African soil, in a different status and with other powers,” the Metropolitan told RIA-Novosti, referring to his previous service as representative of the Patriarch of Moscow to the Patriarch of Alexandria from December 2004 to May 2013.

“We have come with good goals, bringing peace and development to the continent. But the main thing is to give the clergy and flock an opportunity to remain faithful to ecumenical Orthodoxy and avoid the schism caused by the Patriarchate of Alexandria,” he explained.

Several priests of the Russian Church have already been active in Africa since the creation of the Russian Exarchate in December, including Archpriests George Maximov and Andrei Novikov, who were declared defrocked by the Alexandrian Patriarchal Ecclesiastical Court, though the Russian Church does not recognize this decision.

Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria has also threatened to defrock Met. Leonid.

Met. Leonid’s visit is the first of a Russian hierarch to the territory of the Patriarchate of Alexandria since the creation of the Exarchate. As of February, the Russian Exarchate was reported to have 10 clerics in Uganda.

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Source: OrthoChristian

International Mission Board Trustees Appoint 56 New Missionaries

Nate Bishop, second vice chair for IMB trustees, opened the May 19 meeting with welcome and prayer. Bishop is lead pastor of Forest Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky. Bishop was elected to a second consecutive one-year term. IMB Photo
Nate Bishop, second vice chair for IMB trustees, opened the May 19 meeting with welcome and prayer. Bishop is lead pastor of Forest Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky. Bishop was elected to a second consecutive one-year term. IMB Photo

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP) — International Mission Board trustees approved 56 new fully funded missionaries for appointment during their May 18-19 meeting in Orlando. The meeting was conducted in conjunction with the Celebration of Emeriti event held every five years to recognize retiring missionaries who have completed their service with the IMB.

New missionaries approved for appointment will be recognized during a Sending Celebration on Tuesday, June 14, at 9:20 a.m. PDT during the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif. Each missionary is crucial to IMB’s goal to send an additional 500 missionaries by 2025. Accounting for missionaries who complete their service, approximately 400 new missionaries are needed each year to meet the strategic objective of growth in the total mission force.

The meeting was opened in prayer by trustee Nate Bishop, second vice chair, from Kentucky.

Trustee chairman Chuck Pourciau from Louisiana introduced Tom Elliff, who attended the emeriti event with his wife, Diana. Elliff, who served as IMB president from 2011-2014, greeted trustees and commended IMB’s leadership.

“There’s not a meeting of minds and hearts more important than this one,” Elliff said. He thanked trustees and IMB staff for their hard, but eternally significant, work. “My heart safely trusts in you,” he said.

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Source: Baptist Press

Baptist Volunteers Minister Amid ‘Unimaginable’ Suffering Along Ukrainian Border

An expo center in Warsaw houses thousands of refugees. Submitted photo
An expo center in Warsaw houses thousands of refugees. Submitted photo

Southern Baptist volunteers who spent time serving Ukrainian refugees on the Ukraine-Poland border can’t unsee the horrors they witnessed and now can’t not care about the crisis.

Eleven volunteers from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama and Kansas traveled 5,000 miles to serve refugees. The group, led by Brad Horne, associational mission strategist for the Keystone Baptist Association in Pennsylvania and a former International Mission Board missionary, ministered to emotionally shell-shocked families and individuals, providing practical supplies, prayer, and the love of Jesus. Team members listened to stories that shook them to their core and returned with a burden to help more and a vision for revival in Ukraine.

Victoria (Vicka) Kolosey is a Ukrainian American and member of Kingsville Baptist Church, a Slavic congregation in Baltimore.

“Seeing my people displaced from their homes and their livelihoods running for their lives was unimaginable,” Kolosey said. “Many of these people had to split from their families. Many had sons or husbands or boyfriends fighting on the front lines, not knowing if they would survive another day. These stories were no longer something I would read on Instagram or hear about, but this was reality. Real people.

“I will never understand the depths of their sorrows or be able to put myself in a position to understand them; the most I could do was listen to them and pray with them. So many of these people still had hope in Ukraine and in God that one day they would return home. They lacked anger toward the Russians. They had no understanding of the barbarity that was thrust upon them. But they continued to have hope. That is what changed the entire experience for me. Despite everything, they all had hope.”

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Source: Baptist Press

Cardinal Says Pope Francis Ordered Auditor to Resign Over Spying Charge

FILE - Cardinal Angelo Becciu talks to journalists during press conference in Rome, Sept. 25, 2020. A Vatican cardinal testified Wednesday, May 18, 2022 that Pope Francis himself ordered the ouster of the Holy See’s auditor general, shedding light on a scandal that had sparked questions about the Vatican’s commitment to financial transparency and accountability. Cardinal Angelo Becciu opened a second day of questioning in the Vatican’s big financial fraud trial by saying Francis had recently authorized him to reveal the details of Milone’s 2017 departure as the Vatican’s first auditor-general. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)
FILE – Cardinal Angelo Becciu talks to journalists during press conference in Rome, Sept. 25, 2020. A Vatican cardinal testified Wednesday, May 18, 2022 that Pope Francis himself ordered the ouster of the Holy See’s auditor general, shedding light on a scandal that had sparked questions about the Vatican’s commitment to financial transparency and accountability. Cardinal Angelo Becciu opened a second day of questioning in the Vatican’s big financial fraud trial by saying Francis had recently authorized him to reveal the details of Milone’s 2017 departure as the Vatican’s first auditor-general. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Vatican cardinal testified Wednesday that Pope Francis himself ordered the ouster of the Holy See’s auditor-general, turning the tables on a scandal that had sparked questions about the Vatican’s commitment to financial transparency and accountability.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu opened a second day of questioning in the Vatican’s big financial fraud trial by saying Francis had recently authorized him to reveal the details of Libero Milone’s 2017 departure as the Vatican’s first auditor-general. He did so to clarify his previous testimony, during which he declined to respond to questions about Milone “out of love for the Holy Father.”

The Vatican announced June 20, 2017 that Milone had resigned two years into his mandate, without providing details. His ouster, as well as the removal of PriceWaterHouseCoopers as Vatican auditors, had long been cited by Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s former financial czar, and others as evidence of possible shady dealings by Becciu and the secretariat of state and a step back in the Vatican’s efforts at financial transparency and reform.

Three months after he left, Milone claimed in media interviews that he had been forced out after he uncovered evidence of possible illegal activity in the Vatican.

Becciu made clear Wednesday that it was Francis who ordered Milone out, because Milone had hired an outside investigative firm to spy on Vatican hierarchs like himself. He said Francis summoned him June 7, 2017 and asked him to tell Milone “that as of today he no longer had the trust of the Holy Father” and to ask him to submit his resignation.

“I have no responsibility concerning the resignation of Dr. Milone,” Becciu said. “I merely followed an order received by the Holy Father, that was taken in full autonomy without any involvement.”

It was the latest incidence in the Vatican’s sprawling financial trial of defendants asserting that Francis had approved every major undertaking related to the Vatican’s financial decisions and the scandal concerning the secretariat of state’s 350-million-euro ($367 million) investment in a London property, which is at the center of the trial.

Prosecutors accuse Italian brokers, Vatican officials and others of fleecing the Holy See of tens of millions of dollars in fees and commissions, and of extorting the Vatican of 15 million euros to get full ownership of the London building. Becciu is accused of abuse of office, embezzlement and witness tampering, charges he denies.

Becciu underwent a full day of cross-examination by Prosecutor Angelo Diddi, much of it concerning the investments made by the secretariat of state while he was the No. 2, or substitute, and signed off on fund opportunities proposed to him by technical experts in the administration office.

Source: Religion News Service

Young Ukrainian Orphan Girl and Grandmother Find Safety, Comfort in CBN Refugee Home

During the worst of the fighting, millions of Ukrainians fled to nearby Poland, including a young girl and her grandmother who found comfort at a refugee home supported by CBN’s Orphan’s Promise.

“When I heard the rockets, I was crying and shaking,” Barbara, the young girl said. “We had to hide in the basement. I felt like throwing up.”

She lost both her parents when she was only five years old. Barbara was living with her grandmother when Russia invaded Ukraine and the war broke out.

“The explosions were so powerful, and happened so often, we stayed in our basement for one month,” Barbara’s grandmother said.

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Source: CBN

Archaeologists Find Ancient Underground City Where 70,000 Christians Could Have Fled to Escape Persecution

Faithful light candles prior to the Easter Resurrection Service at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, late Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Erdem Sahin/Pool via AP)
Faithful light candles prior to the Easter Resurrection Service at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, late Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Erdem Sahin/Pool via AP)

JERUSALEM, Israel – Archaeologists have uncovered a large, 2,000-year-old underground city in Turkey that could have been a refuge for early Christians escaping Roman persecution, Live Sciences reports.

Excavators found the ancient complex inside a limestone cave in the Midyat district of Turkey’s Mardin province. The underground city contains storage chambers for food and water, homes, and houses of worship, including a church and what appears to be the remains of an ancient synagogue with a Star of David painted on the wall.

Archaeologists believe the city – officially named “Matiate” – was built sometime in the second or third centuries AD after discovering Roman-era artifacts like coins and lamps inside.

“It was first built as a hiding place or escape area,” Gani Tarkan, director of Mardin Museum and head of excavations told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.

“Christianity was not an official religion in the second century [and] families and groups who accepted Christianity generally took shelter in underground cities to escape the persecution of Rome,” Tarkan said. “Possibly, the underground city of Midyat was one of the living spaces built for this purpose.”

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Source: CBN

Insurers Suddenly Raise Stakes on the German Churches’ Sex Abuse Response

A carnival float depicting a sleeping cardinal, reading “11 years of relentless processing of cases of abuse,” is set in front of the Cologne Cathedral to protest against the Catholic Church in Cologne, Germany, March 18, 2021. Faced with accusations of trying to cover up sexual violence in Germany’s most powerful Roman Catholic diocese, the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, ordered an independent investigation. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
A carnival float depicting a sleeping cardinal, reading “11 years of relentless processing of cases of abuse,” is set in front of the Cologne Cathedral to protest against the Catholic Church in Cologne, Germany, March 18, 2021. Faced with accusations of trying to cover up sexual violence in Germany’s most powerful Roman Catholic diocese, the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, ordered an independent investigation. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

(RNS) — Germany’s Catholic and Protestant churches have been criticized for their handling of clergy sexual abuse for years now by victims, believers and the media. Now they face new pressure from an unexpected corner: the insurance industry.

VBG, a national association of accident insurance providers, recently complained to the two predominant church bodies in the country that they had not been notified of the thousands of sexual abuse cases that have been found in the church groups’ ranks.

According to German law, sexual abuse cases can fall under the rules governing the churches’ insurance policies. Policyholders must inform the company of known cases and help insurers determine how much compensation they should pay.

Church insurance policies, the VBG lawyers have determined, cover both paid employees and volunteers at church-run activities such as liturgies, youth groups or outings.

“If an altar boy is abused during work, that is a work accident,” VBG spokesman Pierre Stage told Die Zeit, the weekly that broke the story. “Those affected in the context of church volunteer work have our fullest sympathy.”

The surprised churches have responded to the VGB’s letter with an almost audible gulp. “It is undergoing careful scrutiny, which is still ongoing,” the spokesman for the Catholic bishops conference said.

The Evangelical Church in Germany, a federation of 20 Lutheran, Reformed and United regional churches, indicated it was “in contact with the VBG about this.”

The churches have good reason to tread carefully. In the dozen years since the abuse scandal broke in a Berlin Catholic school, Germany has mostly left it to them to investigate the problem and indemnify the victims.

They have issued several headline-grabbing reports, apologized profusely and offered compensation up to 50,000 euros per person.

But victims complain that this procedure is too slow, compensation is sometimes not enough, decisions on cases are made in secret and they cannot be contested in court.

A participant of a rally of the initiative Maria 2.0 holds a poster with the inscription 'No offices for cover-ups' in front of the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021 before the beginning of a penitential service of the archdiocese of Cologne in the course of coming to terms with sexual violence. (Henning Kaiser/dpa via AP)

A participant of a rally of the initiative Maria 2.0 holds a poster with the inscription “No offices for cover-ups” in front of the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, Nov. 18, 2021, before the beginning of a penitential service of the Archdiocese of Cologne in the course of coming to terms with sexual violence. (Henning Kaiser/dpa via AP)

In VBG, one of Germany’s biggest trade associations, with 1.5 million member companies — from banks to railways to architectural firms, as well as the churches — and representing 10 million insured people, the churches suddenly have a powerful critic with deep pockets and highly paid lawyers.

Its letter, sent in late April, clearly outlined what those lawyers thought victims deserved. “The earlier the accidents are reported, the earlier we can care for victims and try to lessen their psychic pain through therapy,” it said.

If the damage done has long-term effects, the victim could get a disability pension.

When handled this way, all decisions could also be contested legally. And insurance companies could ask courts to force churches to open their archives, something no church has yet had to do.

What is not spelled out, but obvious to all sides, is that this could mean the churches will have to pay significantly higher sums for coverage.

“Accident insurance companies could get the money back by charging higher premiums,” said lawyer Martin Schafhausen.

Two victims’ support groups have praised the VBG’s initiative, calling it “an important milestone along the way to more legal certainty for victims of sexual abuse in the Church.”

The abuse scandal has haunted both churches for years, with more focus on the Catholics because of higher case numbers.

The accused Catholic priest is led into the courtroom in Cologne, Germany, Friday, Feb.25, 2022. On Friday, the Cologne Regional Court sentenced a Catholic priest to twelve years in prison for the sexual abuse of children. The 70-year-old priest must also pay damages of 5,000, 10,000 and 35,000 euros to three female joint plaintiffs. (Federico Gambarini/dpa via AP)

An accused Catholic priest is led into a courtroom in Cologne, Germany, Feb. 25, 2022. The Cologne Regional Court sentenced the 70-year-old man to 12 years in prison for the sexual abuse of children. He must also pay damages of 5,000, 10,000 and 35,000 euros to three female joint plaintiffs. (Federico Gambarini/dpa via AP)

In 2018, the Catholic bishops revealed they had found 3,677 cases of minors abused by priests between 1946 and 2014. Some 1,565 victims applied for compensation last year.

But not until major dioceses such as Munich and Cologne published their own local investigations more recently did insurers see a link between churches and underage victims that could make abuse into a work accident.

The VBG letter said victims could include abused youths under 18 who act as altar servers, sing in choirs, belong to youth groups or go on outings. By contrast, attending a religious service or going to confession are considered private activities and abuse under such circumstances was not covered.

The insurers aren’t the only ones turning up the heat on sexual abuse compensation. The Catholic bishops’ slow response has also prompted surprising criticism from the new left-wing government of Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat who became chancellor in December.

Used to kinder treatment by Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat who was chancellor for 16 years, the church suddenly heard that Scholz was “appalled” by the Munich report.

“There is a consensus in the government that dealing with cases of structural child abuse cannot be left to institutions alone,” a Cabinet spokesman said.

Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the influential lay Central Committee of German Catholics, said the Bundestag, the country’s parliament, might have to set up a commission of inquiry into clerical sexual abuse. “I no longer believe the church alone can handle this,” she said.

Calling a parliamentary commission and writing a report could take months, even a year, and then the churches could take more time to respond.

With its letter, the VBG — the acronym stands for the association’s lengthy title, Verwaltungs-Berufsgenossenschaft (Administrative Trade Association) — may have shortened the time frame the churches have to work with considerably.

Pope Francis Changes Catholic Canon Law to Allow Lay Brothers to Lead Religious Orders With Priests

Pope Francis greets Father Michael Perry, then-minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, during a meeting with the superiors of the four main men's branches of the Franciscan family at the Vatican in this April 10, 2017, file photo. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
Pope Francis greets Father Michael Perry, then-minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, during a meeting with the superiors of the four main men’s branches of the Franciscan family at the Vatican in this April 10, 2017, file photo. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Granting an exception to canon law, Pope Francis said the Vatican office that deals with religious orders can permit men’s communities that are made up of both priests and brothers to choose one of the brothers to be a provincial superior or even the superior general.

A rescript from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life published by the Vatican May 18 said the approval for appointing or electing a brother to head a “clerical institute” would be given “discretionally and in individual cases.”

Pope Francis approved the change Feb. 11, said the rescript, which was signed by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, congregation prefect, and Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary.

In 2017, the heads of the four men’s branches of the Franciscan family — the Friars Minor, Capuchins, Conventual Franciscans and the Third Order Regulars — asked Pope Francis to allow them to elect brothers to leadership positions, including those with authority over ordained priests.

Father Michael Perry, who was minister general of the Friars Minor at the time, said such permission would allow the Franciscans to live the order’s ideal of leadership, which should challenge the friars — brothers among themselves, whether ordained or not — “to ‘minority,’ to not going up, but going down.”

Minority, Father Perry had told Catholic News Service, is the opposite of clericalism, which is “a drive upward as if upward mobility offered something, some security and guarantee of fidelity, a way of controlling people so they remain faithful to the truth. Franciscans, we don’t see it this way.”

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Source: America Magazine