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Vatican documents detail suspicious investments at Secretariat of State

Vatican City, Oct 20, 2019 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- A confidential report from the Vatican’s anti-corruption authority shows that the Secretariat of State has used about $725 million, most of which came from the pope’s charity fund, in off-books operations.

Italian weekly L’Espresso published a report Oct. 20, revealing information from three confidential Vatican documents, one of which is a report from the pope’s anti-corruption authority, called the Office of the General Auditor, claiming to have found serious financial crimes and corruption within the Secretariat of State.

The documents, L’Espresso reported, detail the use and management of extra-budgetary funds by the Secretariat of State, “deriving in large part from the donations received by the Holy Father for charitable works and for the sustenance of the Roman Curia.”

At least most of the money was drawn from Peter’s Pence, the annual collection through which Catholics are invited to support the charitable activities of the pope.

L’Espresso reported these funds are being used “in reckless speculative operations,” and that the same report by the General Auditor says about 77% of the assets (about $558 million) were put into Swiss and Italian branches of the investment bank Credit Suisse.

A second confidential document acquired by L’Espresso is the 16-page decree authorizing the Oct. 1 search of the offices of the Secretariat of State and the Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF). The raid was ordered by the Vatican City’s prosecutors, called “promoters of Justice,” and led to the suspension of five Vatican officials and employees.

At the time of the raid, a Vatican statement said documents and devices were taken in connection to an investigation following complaints made last summer by the Institute for Religious Works (IOR)— commonly called the Vatican Bank— and the Office of the Auditor General.

The search decree indicates, according to L’Espresso, that the complaints indicated by the Vatican originated from the general auditor and the director of the IOR, Gian Franco Mammi. In the same document, the prosecutors, Gian Piero Milano and Alessandro Diddi, state that they believe they have found “serious indications of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, money laundering and self-money laundering.”

Other reports provide details into the Vatican’s 200 million euro ($223 million) investment purchase of a 17,000 square meter apartment building in London.

L’Espresso said that documents show a connection with Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, who was reportedly first approached and asked to invest 200 million euros, on behalf of the Vatican, in an oil company in Angola.

This was the idea of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then bishop and second-ranking official of the Secretariat of State, according to L’Espresso. Becciu is a former papal nuncio to Angola.

When this project fell apart, Mincione reportedly proposed instead making the investment in the London property, converting a former Harrod’s warehouse into luxury apartments.

The deal went through with the Vatican purchasing 45% of the property in 2012 through Mincione’s Athena Capital Global fund. When the London real estate market took a downturn, the Vatican, in 2018, pulled out of Mincione’s fund and purchased the remaining 55% of the property.

CNA asked Becciu this week for comments about allegations made in relation to his role in the London real estate transaction; the cardinal has not yet responded.

The London property deal was reportedly signed by Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, at the time an official at the Secretariat of State, in November 2018. The Vatican’s London investment was then given over to a different Italian investor, Gianluigi Torzi.

Those are the investments which IOR director general Gian Franco Mammi supposedly reported to the Vatican prosecutors in 2018, leading to the investigation and this month’s raid on the Secretariat of State and subsequent suspension of five officials and employees.

The L'Espresso report claimed that another person involved in the deal was Fr. Mauro Carlino, once a personal secretary of Cardinal Becciu, who was one of the five employees suspended from the Secretariat of State this month.

Carlino was named head of information and documentation at the Secretariat of State by Pope Francis this summer. 

The L’Espresso report was written by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, one of five people investigated and charged by the Vatican for the publication of confidential documents in the 2015 scandal referred to as “Vatileaks II.” Fittipaldi and a fellow journalist were later acquitted on the basis of a lack of jurisdiction.

The Secretariat of State is the central governing office of the Catholic Church and the department of the Roman Curia which works most closely with the pope. It is also responsible for the governance of the Vatican City state. The Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority oversees suspicious financial transactions, and is charged with ensuring that Vatican banking policies comply with international financial standards.

Grant offered for creation of artificial wombs to help premature babies

s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, Oct 20, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A university in the Netherlands has been awarded a $3.3 million grant for the development of a working prototype of an artificial womb that will closely resemble biological conditions and aid in the development of premature babies.

The Horizon 2020 EU program awarded the grant to researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands for their continued development of the artificial wombs, in which the baby will be immersed in fluids and will receive oxygen and nutrients via an artificial placenta attached to their umbilical cord, The Guardian reported.

These wombs differ from previous models of artificial wombs in that they more closely resemble the actual biological environment of a real womb, the researchers have said. A photograph in the Guardian of an artist’s rendition of what the artificial wombs could look like shows large red suspended balloon-like structures, with several intravenous tubes connected to them.

Guid Oei, a professor at Eindhoven and a gynecologist, told The Guardian that current protocols for premature babies deliver oxygen and nutrients directly to yet-underdeveloped organs, putting them at risk for damage.

“When we put the lungs back underwater then they can develop, they can mature, but the baby will receive the oxygen by the umbilical cord, just like in the natural womb,” he said, according to The Guardian.

An artificial womb would allow the child to continue to develop in an environment that closely mimics a real womb, Oei added, including environmental factors such as a replication of the mother’s heartbeat.

“When they are in this environment, they just feel, and see, and smell, and hear the same sounds as when they are in the womb of the mother,” he told The Guardian.

Typically, human babies are considered premature if they are born before the 37th week of pregnancy. Normal pregnancies last for about 40 weeks. Babies born on or before the 25th week of pregnancy are considered particularly at risk for complications and death.

According to USA Today, the earliest premature baby ever recorded to survive outside of the womb, born in San Antonio, Texas, turned 3 years old in 2017 and at the time was a “healthy toddler.”

Researchers hope to have the first-of-its-kind artificial womb ready for real-world use within five years.

Artificial wombs called “biobags” were successfully used on premature lambs by researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2017. After roughly a month inside the fluid-filled bags, the premature lambs had continued developing normally as if they had been in their natural womb.

Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, a lawyer at the University of Manchester, told The Guardian that artificial wombs raise ethical questions that should be thought through before their debut in clinics and their use on human babies.

“The law treats fetuses and babies very differently, so how does the subject of the artificial womb fit in? Is it possible to turn off the artificial womb, and in what circumstances?” she told The Guardian.

“It is clear that the legal and ethical issues emerging from the technology must be talked about now, in advance of the artificial womb becoming a reality,” she added.

Because they are not yet used in real-world clinics, there is little information available on the ethics of an artificial womb from a Catholic perspective. Guiding principles for Catholic morality regarding reproductive problems include not separating the sexual act from the reproductive act, and respect for the human dignity of both the parents and the child. For example, under these principles, in vitro fertilization and surrogate pregnancies are morally impermissible.

In 2014, Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that in the case of a woman who had successfully given birth after a womb transplant, the procedure was licit by Catholic principles and “would be analogous to a situation where a kidney fails to function,” and a donor provides a healthy organ to someone in need.

The womb was donated by a woman who was past her reproductive years, and the pregnancy resulted from the recipient’s own ovaries. Had the womb been donated with a contraceptive mentality on the part of the donor (such as donating a functioning womb during childbearing years in order to avoid conception), or had the pregnancy resulted from the use of the donor’s ovaries instead of from the birth mother’s ovaries, the procedure would be considered problematic from a Catholic perspective, the priest noted.

But in the case at hand, “by donating the uterus she (the donor) is not compromising her reproductive function nor is she compromising any significant hormonal function,” he said.

According to a 2010 article by David T. Reiber on artificial wombs, published in The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, “the most obvious benefit of (artificial wombs) would be the ability to save the lives of babies born at extremely early gestational ages, and as I have stated, the technology would be morally permissible when used for this purpose.”

However, he added, the technology also raises important ethical questions, including “if a miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, were to occur because of profound fetal anomaly, would it be appropriate to use AWT to attempt to rescue the fetus, or should the child be allowed to die as perhaps God intended? If AWT actually functions as it is imagined, would it be ethical to use it to bring to term a severely disabled child who would not have survived without it?”

Other considerations would include whether it would be moral to transfer a premature baby to an artificial womb for corrective, but not life-saving, surgery, or to transfer multiples from the natural womb in order to give them a better womb environment and to prevent complications.

Potential abuses of artificial womb technology, Reiber stated, would include women who want to deliver early for convenience or comforts’ sake, or if employers would force women to deliver early and use artificial wombs in order to allow them to come back to work earlier than if they had given birth naturally.

On World Mission Day, pope urges Catholics to share Christ's love with all

Vatican City, Oct 20, 2019 / 04:48 am (CNA).- Jesus Christ desires that all people know him and his love, and every Catholic has the mission of sharing this love with the world, Pope Francis said Sunday at Mass for World Mission Day.

“Those who bear witness to Jesus go out to all, not just to their own acquaintances or their little group. Jesus is also saying to you: ‘Go, don’t miss a chance to bear me witness!’” the pope said Oct. 20.

“My brother, my sister, the Lord expects from you a testimony that no one can give in your place,” he continued. “‘May you come to realize what that word is, the message of Jesus that God wants to speak to the world by your life…. lest you fail in your precious mission.’”

Pope Francis spoke about the missionary mandate of the Church during a special Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Mass also falls during the Church’s celebration, in October, of the Extraordinary Missionary Month.

The Mass also took place during the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian region, a meeting of bishops and others at the Vatican Oct. 6-27, to discuss the Church’s life and mission in the Amazon region.

In his homily, Pope Francis emphasized the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

He noted other occasions when scripture refers to God’s desire for all people to be saved, such as in 1 Timothy, when St. Paul writes that God desires “all to be saved,” and in Isaiah and the Psalms, when it says, “all peoples.”

“The Lord is deliberate in repeating the word all. He knows that we are always using the words ‘my’ and ‘our:’ my things, our people, our community... But he constantly uses the word all. All, because no one is excluded from his heart, from his salvation,” Francis stated.

He told Catholics to consider whether they take the time to have a personal encounter with the people they run across in their daily lives. “Do we accept the invitation of Jesus or simply go about our own business?” he asked.

The instruction Catholics have received from the Lord, to “make disciples,” is simple, he said, but care must be taken to make people “his disciples, not our own.”

The Church must live out this discipleship herself in order to proclaim the Gospel well, he said, explaining that a disciple “follows the Master daily and shares the joy of discipleship with others.”

This does not mean “conquering, mandating, proselytizing,” he stated, but “witnessing, humbling oneself alongside other disciples and offering with love the love that we ourselves received.”

The pope acknowledged that this is not easy, like climbing a mountain, but requires prayer and effort, as well as a shedding of the unessential. “To proclaim, you must first renounce,” he said.

A credible proclamation of the Gospel requires striving after an “exemplary life,” he said. “a life of service that is capable of rejecting all those material things that shrink the heart and make people indifferent and inward-looking; a life that renounces the useless things that entangle the heart in order to find time for God and others.”

Francis said: “We can ask ourselves: how am I doing in my efforts to go up? Am I able to reject the heavy and useless baggage of worldliness in order to climb the mountain of the Lord?”

Catholics must think about God and about their brothers and sisters, the pope said, because “this is our mission: to give pure and fresh air to those immersed in the pollution of our world.”

Concluding his homily, he urged Catholics to “have courage!” saying “Jesus expects so much from you!”

The Lord wants everyone to know they are his beloved children, he said. “Do you want to quell Jesus’ concern? Go and show love to everyone, because your life is a precious mission: it is not a burden to be borne, but a gift to offer. Have courage, and let us fearlessly go forth to all!”

Following Mass, Pope Francis shared a brief message and prayed the Angelus from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

In his message, the pope said the day’s celebration of World Mission Day is a good time for all the baptized to consider the necessity of their participation in proclaiming the Word of God, and to make a renewed commitment to do so.

“Believers are called to bring everywhere, with new enthusiasm, the good news that, in Jesus, mercy overcomes sin, hope overcomes fear, fraternity overcomes hostility,” he said. “Christ is our peace and in Him every division is overcome, in Him alone is there the salvation of every man and every people.”

Francis added that to share Christ effectively, however, prayer is “indispensable,” and asked Catholics to pray in a special way for the Church’s missionaries, including those who go to far places to share God’s Word.

 

Pope Francis at Ethnological Museum: 'Beauty unites us'

Vatican City, Oct 19, 2019 / 06:25 am (CNA).- Pope Francis paid a visit Friday to the renovated wing of the Vatican Ethnological Museum, which he praised for being “a place where everyone can feel represented.”

“Beauty unites us. It invites us to live human brotherhood, countering the culture of resentment, racism, nationalism, which is always lurking,” Pope Francis said at the “Anima Mundi” museum Oct. 18.

“I think the Vatican Museums are increasingly called to become a living home, inhabited and open to everyone, with the doors wide open to the people of the whole world ... a place where everyone can feel represented,” the pope said.

The Anima Mundi Ethnological Museum contains 80,000 artistic works and objects from non-European cultures throughout history ranging from prehistoric artifacts to current gifts given to the pope. Among its displays are works of art from Islamic civilizations and the indigenous peoples of America.

“All peoples are here, in the shadow of the dome of St. Peter, close to the heart of the Church and of the pope,” Pope Francis said.

“Whoever enters here should feel that in this house there is also room for him, for his people, his tradition, his culture: the European as the Indian, the Chinese as the native of the Amazon or Congolese forest, of the Alaskan or the Australian deserts or the Pacific islands.”

The pope’s visit to the Vatican Ethnological Museum coincided with its exhibition dedicated to the Amazon: “Mater Amazonia - The deep breath of the world.”

The Amazon exhibit -- on display in the Vatican museum until January 2020 -- includes portraits and names of some of the Catholic missionaries who lived among the Amazonian peoples, as well as objects from everyday life in the rainforest.

Pope Francis said that in the museum one should feel that God’s art has the same value and is treated and preserved with the same passion that is reserved for Renaissance masterpieces or for Greek and Roman sculptures.

“Since works of art are the expression of the spirit of peoples … one must always look at each culture, at the other, with an open mind and with benevolence,” he said.

Pope Pius XI first organized an exhibition to display “the artistic and spiritual traditions of all peoples” in 1925. After the temporary exhibition drew over one million visitors, the pope decided to make it a permanent exhibit in the Lateran Palace. The collection was transferred to the Vatican Museums in the 1970s as the Missionary Ethnological Museum.

“May this Ethnological Museum preserve its specific identity over time and remind everyone of the value of harmony and peace between peoples and nations. And may the art gathered here make the voice of God resonate in those who visit this collection,” Pope Francis said.

Questions raised as Satanic Temple asks to hold meeting at Naval Academy 

Annapolis, Md., Oct 19, 2019 / 03:17 am (CNA).- As an outside group is asking to hold “satanic religious services” at the U.S. Naval Academy, questions have arisen as to its actual motives for doing so.

The Satanic Temple (TST), a group recognized as a church by the Internal Revenue Service, has threatened legal action against the U.S. Naval Academy if Midshipmen are not allowed to hold “satanic services” on campus as members of other religions are allowed to do.

However, Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA that the group’s efforts at the Naval Academy are “misleading” because what they wish for “is not a satanic service.”  Rather, what certain Midshipmen wish to host “is a discussion about how the supernatural doesn’t exist.”

On Oct. 8, an internal email was sent to the Brigade of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy announcing that “‘satanic services’ would start this week,” according to a Wednesday statement issued by Commander Alana Garas, public affairs officer at the United States Naval Academy.

“This email was sent without the review and approval of the Naval Academy’s Command Chaplain, as required by command policy; it did not represent the U.S. Naval Academy’s Command Religious Program,” Garas said.

The academy had previously walked back an original email announcement of satanic services and had said that services would not be taking place on campus.

The Satanic Temple then said on Wednesday that it would pursue legal action if the group was “discriminated against” on campus by being denied official services at the academy.

Lucien Greaves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, called the idea of the group being denied services at the Naval Academy on the grounds that it constituted political advocacy “self-evidently absurd.”

Under that reasoning, he said, the academy would also “be obligated to deny the services of Catholics for their Church’s political lobbying against abortion, the services of LDS-affiliated Mormons for their political activism related to gay marriage, and most every Protestant denomination for both.”

Controversy over the Satanic Temple has been ongoing for years, with critics arguing it is a political-cultural stunt, while temple founders have repeatedly asserted that it is a religion and not merely a hoax or performance.

The group’s mission statement does not include any statements of satanism, but rather claims that it exists “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits by the individual will.”

In a 2013 interview with Vice, the temple’s leader, Lucien Greaves, revealed himself to be a man named Doug Mesner. He said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State Debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

“So at the inception, the political message was primary,” Mesner said, though he acknowledged that there are self-identified Satanists who deserve “just as much consideration as any other religious group.”

An October 2017 story at Vox portrayed the Satanic Temple as “equal parts performance art group, leftist activist organization, and anti-religion religious movement.” It claimed that though it began as “internet trolling going mainstream,” the organization is becoming “more serious” and “more complicated” to outline. It said chapter leadership members debate which historic works about Satan to recommend and whether it should host more ritual.

Lorence contended that despite adopting the name of The Satanic Temple and using satanic imagery, the group is just “anti-supernatural and rationalistic” rather than satanic like the Church of Satan.

Previously, the group tried to push an “After School Satan” program in 2016, which Lorence saw as an effort to undermine Christian after-school programs at public schools. The group’s strategy, which cited religious freedom laws to demand a space at public schools alongside other religious after-school programs, aimed to use fear of the promotion of satanism as a means to shut down all religious after-school programs.

“The Satanic Temple does not worship Satan,” Lorence said. “They use this ‘Satanic Temple’ label to confuse people.”

And the group could be trying to adopt a similar strategy at the Naval Academy, Lorence said. As a public institution, the academy “is by law open to groups that are student-oriented and student-led.”

According to the academy, a group of Midshipmen whose “beliefs aligned with those practiced by The Satanic Temple” did make a request for a space at the academy, but they asked for a “study space” and not a space to hold “satanic services,” Commander Garas said.

The academy’s official statement on Wednesday said that the Command Religious Program “provides for the exercise of diverse beliefs.”

Furthermore, “[a]rrangements were being made to provide the Midshipmen with a designated place to assemble as chaplains facilitate for the beliefs of all service members,” per the Navy instructions, Garas said. However, the group would not be able to “engage in partisan political activities.”