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Pope Francis praises Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘timely’ message of peace

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2021 / 10:20 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said on Monday that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream “of harmony and equality for all people” is still relevant today.

“In today’s world, which increasingly faces the challenges of social injustice, division and conflict that hinder the realization of the common good, Dr. King’s dream of harmony and equality for all people, attained through nonviolent and peaceful means, remains ever timely,” the pope said on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In a message addressed to King’s daughter, Bernice A. King, Francis said that it was imperative to see people “in the truth of our shared dignity as children of Almighty God.”

“Only by striving daily to put this vision into practice can we work together to create a community built upon justice and fraternal love,” he said, praying for “divine blessings of wisdom and peace” upon participants in the Beloved Community Commemorative Service, marking MLK Day.

Hosted by The King Center, the streamed service on Jan. 18 featured as a keynote speaker T.D. Jakes, bishop of The Potter’s House, a megachurch in Dallas, Texas.

Quoting his 2020 encyclicalFratelli tutti,” the pope said that “each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths of dialogue.”

 

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On Dr. King's birthday, @Pontifex blessed our 20-21 MLK Nike City Edition jersey to honor our shared commitment to making positive change in social equality, economic empowerment and love.

?: https://t.co/ob7sSp0J9H#EarnTheseLetters pic.twitter.com/Hy8xts7t9y

— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) January 15, 2021  

Last week, Pope Francis blessed a special MLK jersey of the NBA basketball team the Atlanta Hawks. The uniform features the initials “MLK” across the front in honor of King, who was born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929.

The Hawks will wear the special edition uniform when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 18.

The jersey sent to the pope had a number one and “Francis” written across the back. After blessing the shirt, the pope also signed it.

The Atlanta Hawks wrote on Twitter that the jersey was in honor of their “commitment to making positive change in social equality, economic empowerment and love.”

Bernice King told Vatican News in June 2020 that she felt a strong sense of harmony between her father and Pope Francis, whom she met twice in 2018.

She said that if Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today he “would be guided by his philosophy of nonviolence, which corresponded with his following of Jesus Christ.”

“He would, as he often did while he was living, share that we cannot cure violence with violence, which he said is a descending spiral. Of course, I believe he would compel us to embrace nonviolence, which is strategic, courageous, love-centered and organized,” she said.

Vatican says trial of Italian woman for alleged embezzlement will begin soon

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced on Monday that the trial of an Italian woman for alleged embezzlement would begin soon. 

A statement issued on Jan. 18 by the Holy See press office also indicated that the Vatican was dropping its request for the extradition of Cecilia Marogna from Italy.

It said: “On Jan. 13, 2021, the investigating judge of the Tribunal of Vatican City State, accepting the request made by the Office of the Promoter of Justice, revoked the precautionary measure previously ordered against Ms. Cecilia Marogna, against whom a trial is about to take place for alleged embezzlement committed in conjunction with others.” 

It continued: “The initiative intends, among other things, to allow the defendant -- who has already refused to defend herself by not appearing for questioning before the Italian judicial authority, requested by the Promoter of Justice through a rogatory procedure -- to participate in the trial in the Vatican, free from the pending precautionary measure against her.” 

The Vatican issued the statement on the day that Italian judges had been due to rule on whether to allow Marogna’s extradition. 

Marogna, a 39-year-old Sardinian, has been accused of misappropriating Vatican funds from payments of more than 500,000 euros (around $600,000) she received from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State through her Slovenia-registered company in 2018 and 2019.

Marogna has said that she worked for the Secretariat of State as a security consultant and strategist. She acknowledged receiving hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican but insisted that the money was for her Vatican consultancy work and salary.

Marogna was held in custody following her arrest on Oct. 13 on an international warrant reportedly issued by the Vatican through Interpol.

A court of appeal in Milan decided on Oct. 30 to release Marogna from the city’s San Vittore jail on condition that she registered her presence daily with local police, the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.

In December, the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court, annulled a lower court’s validation of the precautionary measure against Marogna.

Italian media alleged that funds intended for humanitarian purposes were used for personal expenses, including stays at luxury hotels and purchases of designer label handbags. But Marogna insisted that expensive gifts “were used to create cooperative relationships.” 

Media have also claimed that the payments were made under the direction of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the former sostituto of the Secretariat of State and a fellow Sardinian.

Becciu resigned from his curial position and gave up his rights as a cardinal on Sept. 24, reportedly in connection with multiple financial scandals dating back to his time as the second-ranking official at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. 

He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

In October, lawyers representing Becciu denied Italian media reports that the former curial official had been summoned by the Vatican in connection with payments to Marogna.

“In the interest of His Eminence the Cardinal, the defense attorneys once again reiterate that their client has not received any communication from the competent authority,” said lawyers Fabio Viglione and Agostinangelo Marras.

Pope Francis: The greatest joy for every believer is to respond to God’s call

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that great joy is found when one offers his life in service to God’s call.

“There are different ways of carrying out the plan that God has for each of us, which is always a plan of love. … And the greatest joy for every believer is to respond to this call, to offer all of himself at the service of God and his brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Jan. 17.

Speaking from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the pope said that each time that God calls someone it is “an initiative of His love.”

“God calls to life, He calls to faith, and He calls to a particular state in life,” he said.

“God’s first call is to life, through which He makes us persons; it is an individual call because God does not make things in sets. Then God calls us to faith and to become part of His family as children of God. Lastly, God calls us to a particular state in life: to give of ourselves on the path of marriage, or that of the priesthood or the consecrated life.”

In the live video broadcast, the pope offered a reflection on Jesus’ first encounter and call of his disciples Andrew and Simon Peter in the Gospel of John.

“The two follow Him and remained that  afternoon with Him. It is not difficult to imagine them seated asking Him questions and above all  listening to Him, feeling their hearts inflamed ever more while the Master spoke,” he said.

“They sense the beauty of the words that respond to their greatest hope. And all of a sudden they discover that, even though it is evening, … that light that only God can give burst within them. … When they leave and return to their  brothers, that joy, this light overflows from their hearts like a raging river. One of the two, Andrew, tells his brother Simon - whom Jesus will call Peter when he meets him: ‘We have found the Messiah.’”

Pope Francis said that God’s call is always love and should always be responded to only with love.

“Brothers and sisters, faced with the call of the Lord, which can reach us in a thousand ways even through people, happy or sad events, sometimes our attitude can be one of rejection: ‘No, I'm afraid” -- rejection because it seems contrary to our aspirations; and also fear, because we consider it too demanding and uncomfortable: ‘Oh I won't make it, better not, better a more peaceful life… God there, I am here.’ But God's call is love, we must try to find the love that is behind every call, and respond to it only with love,” he said.

“At the beginning there is an encounter, or rather, there is ‘the encounter’ with Jesus who speaks to us of His Father, He makes His love known to us. And then the desire to communicate it to the people we love will spontaneously arise within us too: 'I met Love.' 'I met the Messiah.' 'I met God.' 'I met Jesus.' 'I found the meaning of life.' In a word: ‘I found God.’”

The pope invited each person to remember the moment in his life in which “God made himself present more strongly, with a call.”

At the end of his Angelus address, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the people of the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, which was hit by a strong earthquake on Jan. 15.

“I pray for the dead, for the wounded and for those who have lost their homes and jobs. May the Lord comfort them and support the efforts of those who are committed to helping,” the pope said.

Pope Francis also recalled that the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” will begin Jan. 18. This year’s theme is “Remain in my love and you will bear much fruit.”

“In these days, let us pray together so that Jesus' desire may be fulfilled: ‘That all may be one.’ Unity is always superior to conflict,” he said.

Pope Francis prays for Indonesia after deadly earthquake

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2021 / 06:19 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis sent a telegram Friday with his condolences for Indonesia, after a strong earthquake killed at least 67 people on the island of Sulawesi.

Hundreds of people were also injured in the 6.2-magnitude quake, according to Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Indonesia.

Pope Francis was “saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life and the destruction of property caused by the violent earthquake in Indonesia.”

In a telegram to the apostolic nuncio in Indonesia, signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope expressed his “heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this natural disaster.”

Francis “prays for the repose of the deceased, the healing of the injured and the consolation of all who grieve. In a particular way, he offers encouragement to the civil authorities and those involved in the continuing search and rescue efforts,” the letter stated.

The death toll is expected to rise, according to local search and rescue teams, who say that many people are still trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings, CNN reported.

The telegram concluded with the pope’s invocation of “divine blessings of strength and hope.”

Sulawesi, governed by Indonesia, is one of the four Greater Sunda Islands. The western side was struck by the 6.2-magnitude quake at 1:28 a.m. local time about 3.7 miles northeast of the city of Majene.

Eight people died and at least 637 people were injured in Majene. Three hundred houses were damaged and 15,000 residents displaced, according to Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management.

The affected area is also a COVID-19 red zone, provoking concerns about spreading the coronavirus amid the disaster.

Vatican court due to hold sentence hearing for ex-Vatican bank president

Rome Newsroom, Jan 15, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican court is due to hold a sentence hearing next week in a criminal trial against the former president of the Institute for Religious Works.

Angelo Caloia, the 81-year-old ex-president of the institute commonly known as the “Vatican bank,” has been on trial for two years for money laundering and self-laundering, and embezzlement.

The HuffPost reported last month that the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, is seeking an eight-year jail term for Caloia, the first time the Vatican has sought a prison sentence for financial crimes.

The Jan. 21 hearing is reportedly being held to issue the court’s sentence after the two-year trial.

Caloia was president of the institute -- also known by its Italian initials, IOR -- from 1989 to 2009.

The Jan. 21 hearing will also include Caloia’s lawyer, the 96-year-old Gabriele Liuzzo, and Liuzzo’s son, Lamberto Liuzzo. The lawyer was tried on the same charges as Caloia and is also facing a possible eight years in prison. His son was tried for money laundering and self-laundering and may get up to six years in prison, according to the HuffPost.

Diddi also reportedly asked for the confiscation of 32 million euros ($39 million) already seized from the accounts of Caloia and Gabrielle Liuzzo also at the institute.

In addition, Diddi is said to have requested the confiscation of the equivalent of a further 25 million euros ($30 million).

The Vatican court ordered Caloia and Liuzzo to stand trial in March 2018. It accused them of participating in “unlawful conduct” from 2001 to 2008 during “the disposal of a considerable part of the institute’s real estate assets.”

The HuffPost said that the two men allegedly sold the IOR’s real estate assets to themselves through offshore companies and firms in Luxembourg via “a complex shielding operation.”

Former IOR director general Lelio Scaletti, who died on Oct. 15, 2015, was part of the original investigation, launched in 2014 after complaints were lodged by the IOR.

In February 2018, the institute announced that it had joined a civil suit, in addition to the criminal proceedings, against Caloia and Liuzzo.

The trial began on May 9, 2018. At the first hearing, the Vatican court announced plans to appoint experts to assess the value of properties that Caloia and Liuzzo were accused of selling at below-market rates, while allegedly making off-paper agreements for higher amounts to pocket the difference.

Caloia was present at the nearly four-hour hearing, though Liuzzo was absent, citing his age.

According to the HuffPost, hearings over the next two and a half years drew on appraisals by the Promontory Financial Group, at the request of Ernst von Freyberg, IOR president from February 2013 to July 2014.

The hearings also reportedly considered three letters rogatory sent from the Vatican to Switzerland, with the most recent response arriving on Jan. 24, 2020. Letters rogatory are a formal request from courts in one country to the courts of another country for judicial assistance.

The Institute for Religious Works was founded in 1942 under Pope Pius XII but can trace its roots back as far as 1887. It aims to hold and administer money designated for “religious works or charity,” according to its website.

It accepts deposits from legal entities or persons of the Holy See and of Vatican City State. The IOR’s main function is to manage bank accounts for religious orders and Catholic associations.

The IOR had 14,996 clients as of December 2019. Nearly half of clients are religious orders. Other clients include Vatican offices, apostolic nunciatures, episcopal conferences, parishes, and clergy.

Vatican ambassador Callista Gingrich has farewell meeting with Pope Francis

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2021 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- The United States ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, met with Pope Francis Friday as she prepares to leave Rome in tandem with the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.

She will leave the post Jan. 20 to return to the United States. Deputy Chief of Mission Patrick Connell will be Chargé d’ Affaires until a new ambassador is appointed, an embassy official confirmed to CNA.

Gingrich was nominated for the position by President Trump in May 2017, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate the following October.

During her three years in Rome, Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, drew attention to issues such as human trafficking, Christian persecution, and religious freedom, by hosting symposiums and other events.

On Twitter, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See said Jan. 15 the “Ambassador and Speaker Gingrich were honored to have a farewell visit with Pope Francis today.”

Ambassador and Speaker Gingrich were honored to have a farewell visit with Pope Francis today. (Vatican Media Photos) pic.twitter.com/c4pDIY6n6M

— U.S. in Holy See (@USinHolySee) January 15, 2021 The two also met with other Vatican officials Friday. Gingrich wrote on Twitter Jan. 15 that she had a “beautiful visit today with Cardinal Parolin” and a “beautiful visit” to the Apostolic Palace.

In an interview on the website of the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, published in September 2020, Gingrich said “it has been an incredible and fulfilling experience serving as our nation’s ambassador to the Holy See.”

“The United States and the Holy See collaborate on many important foreign policy objectives. From advancing religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, to combatting human trafficking, to delivering humanitarian assistance, to preventing conflict and violence, our partnership with the Holy See is a worldwide force for good,” she stated.

Gingrich, who is a life-long Catholic, also noted that working in Rome and the Vatican had “greatly strengthened” her faith.

“Every time I participate in a meeting at the Vatican or attend a papal liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica, I feel honored and blessed,” she said.

In May 2020, Gingrich called attention to the role of faith-based organizations in delivering U.S government relief funds to assist people who were suffering due to the coronavirus in Italy.

“The United States is funding NGOs and faith-based organizations that can effectively deliver critical assistance,” she told EWTN News.

“It’s important that American money be put to good use. Faith-based organizations are effective and trustworthy partners. They’re inspired by a sense of purpose and dedication to help those most in need,” the ambassador said.

In a column for CNA in 2019, Gingrich reflected on 35 years of diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

“Although our embassy was officially established in 1984, ties to the Holy See date back to our nation’s founding,” she said.

“Throughout our history, U.S. presidents have recognized the important role of the Holy See in advancing peace and justice,” she continued. “From 1870 to 1984, several personal envoys were dispatched to the Vatican for discussions on humanitarian and political issues. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt’s envoy to Pope Pius XII worked with the Holy See to feed European refugees, provide aid to Eastern Europe, and assist allied prisoners of war.”

Gingrich said that with the Cold War and the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II “realized that an unofficial relationship between the United States and the Holy See was no longer adequate to meet the dangers posed by Communism.”

The two leaders met in Vatican City in 1982, and within two years, official diplomatic relations had been established, she recounted.

“When Ambassador Wilson presented his credentials to Pope John Paul II on April 9, 1984, the Pope told him that renewed collaboration between the United States and the Holy See should mean ‘exerting common efforts to defend the dignity and the rights of the human person,’” Gingrich said.

“For the last 35 years,” she said, “this unique partnership has done just that. It has existed, in President Reagan’s words ‘to the benefit of peace-loving people everywhere.’”

Callista Gingrich is the president of both Gingrich Productions in Arlington, Va. and the charitable non-profit Gingrich Foundation, and is a former Congressional aide.

She is also a long-time member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Newt and Callista married in 2000, after having a six-year affair while Newt was married to his previous wife. Newt converted to Catholicism in 2009 and explained, in an interview that year with Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic.com, how Callista’s witness as a Catholic brought him towards the faith.

The couple worked on a documentary together that was released in 2010, “Nine Days That Changed the World,” that focused on Pope St. John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage to Poland when the former Soviet bloc country was under a communist government.

What changes to the Vatican may the replacement of the Archpriest of St Peter's Basilica bring

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2021 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis might soon choose a new Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, to replace Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who turned 77 in September. His replacement, according to Vatican observers, may bring a broader generational change that could involve at least five Vatican dicasteries.

Comastri, who had a private audience with Pope Francis on Jan. 11, is a well-known preacher whose books are good sellers. During the lockdown due to the pandemic, Cardinal Comastri began to pray the rosary at noon in St. Peter's Basilica.

St. John Paul II appointed Comastri as his general vicar for the Vatican City State, President of the Fabric of St. Peter, and coadjutor Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica in 2005. In 2006, Benedict XVI appointed Comastri Archpriest of the St. Peter's Basilica. He succeeded Cardinal Francesco Marchisano.

One clue of Comastri's upcoming retirement is Pope Francis' decision to postpone the election of the members of the Chapter of St. Peter, the college of priests that governs the Basilica under the guidance of the archpriest. The elections were supposed to take place at the end of the summer or during the fall, but the Pope asked to hold them after Jan. 11.

The Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica is in charge of the worship and pastoral activity of the basilica. The position is very ancient and has always been assigned to a cardinal. Since 1991, the Archpriest of the St. Peter's Basilica is also the Pope's vicar for the Vatican City State.

The position is important not only because the Archpriest is one of the Pope's closest collaborators, but also because he manages and organizes the worship of the most emblematic temple in the Catholic world.

St. Peter's Basilica includes 45 altars and 11 chapels, while the Vatican Grotto has several Marian chapels.

The daily Mass schedule in St. Peter's Basilica lists one Mass per hour from 9 to 12 am, in Italian, at the Altar of the Chair. There is another Mass in Italian at 8.30 am at the altar of the Most Holy Sacrament, while every day at 5 pm, there is a Mass in Latin.

On Sundays, there are 5 Masses celebrated in Italian and one in Latin.

Beyond the regular Mass schedule, there is the possibility to celebrate Mass in every chapel of St. Peter's Basilica. The chapels are booked by groups of pilgrims or individuals who celebrate Mass in their own language. In fact, every day, St. Peter's Basilica is filled with celebrations in several languages at the same time.

The new Archpriest will be called to manage this. Will he keep things as they are?

There is a broad discussion among members of the Chapter of the Basilica regarding whether to keep the possibility to celebrate private masses in the Basilica or instead ruling that the pilgrims who want to take part in a Mass must be at the Masses already scheduled. The debate is also about a possible abolition of the daily Mass in Latin. The Mass is celebrated according to the Paul VI missal, so it is not a Mass in the extraordinary form.

A Vatican source with knowledge of the facts, who asked to remain anonymous, stressed with CNA that these discussions were also behind the power struggle that led to allegations of mismanagement at the Fabric of St. Peter. This institution takes care of the maintenance of St. Peter's Basilica.

Following these allegations and investigation initiated by the Vatican prosecutor, Pope Francis made the unprecedented decision to put the Fabric of St. Peter under an extraordinary commissioner, Archbishop Mario Giordana.

According to Vatican sources, there seems to be two candidates to replace Comastri. One is Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the Papal Almoner. Krajewski is in the Pope's inner circle, and the Pope strongly appreciates his work for the poor. Among his initiatives are the installation of showers for the homeless in the St. Peter colonnade, the opening of two dormitories for the homeless in Vatican facilities around St. Peter Basilica, and the doctor and barbershop services on the side of the colonnade.

The other candidate would be Cardinal Mauro Gambetti. Cardinal Gambetti was the exiting Custodian of the Sacred Convent of Assisi. A Franciscan Conventual, Gambetti has no posts assigned yet. After his creation as cardinal, he went back to Assisi, waiting for the Pope's call.

If Gambetti indeed becomes Comastri’s successor, his appointment could be the first step in a generational change in several Vatican top positions. Cardinals Marc Ouellet, Leonardo Sandri, Luis Ladaria, Giuseppe Versaldi, Beniamino Stella, and Giuseppe Bertello are all older than the retiring age. The pope could be already looking for their successors at the helm respectively of the Congregation for Bishops, for the Eastern Churches, for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the Catholic Education, for the Clergy, and at the Vatican City State administration.

Cardinal Pell: 'Clear headed' women will help 'sentimental males' clean up Vatican finances

Rome Newsroom, Jan 14, 2021 / 01:50 pm (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell welcomed Thursday Pope Francis’ inclusion of lay women on the Vatican’s economy council, saying he hopes “clear headed” women will help “sentimental males” do the right thing concerning Church finances.

In August 2020, Pope Francis named 13 new members, including six cardinals, six lay women, and one lay man, to the Council for the Economy, which oversees Vatican finances and the work of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Speaking during a Jan. 14 webinar about financial transparency in the Catholic Church, Pell praised the appointees as “highly competent women with great professional backgrounds.”

“So I’m hopeful they will be very clear headed on the basic issues and insist that we sentimental males get our act together and do the right thing,” he said.

“Financially I’m not sure the Vatican can continue losing money the way we’re losing money,” the Australian cardinal continued. Pell, who was prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy from 2014 to 2019, pointed out that “on top of that, there are very real pressures … from the pension fund.”

“Grace won’t exempt us from these things,” the cardinal stated.

Pell, who was acquitted this year after becoming the highest-ranking Catholic cleric to be convicted of sexual abuse, was the guest speaker at a webinar entitled “Creating a Transparent Culture in the Catholic Church,” hosted by the Global Institute of Church Management (GICM).

He addressed the question of how to have financial transparency in both the Vatican and in Catholic dioceses and religious congregations.

He described financial transparency as letting “the light in on these things,” adding, “if there’s a mess, it’s good to know about it.”

A lack of transparency about missteps just makes the Catholic laity disconcerted and worried, he warned. They say they need to know about things “and that’s got to be respected and their basic questions answered.”

The cardinal said he is strongly in favor of regular external audits for dioceses and religious congregations: “I do think some form of audit is possible in nearly every situation. And whether we call it accountability or whether we call it transparency, there are different levels of interest and education among the lay people about wanting to know about the money.”

Pell also posited that many of the Vatican’s present financial troubles, especially the controversial purchase of a London property, might have been prevented, or “would have been recognized earlier,” if an external audit by Pricewaterhouse Cooper had not been canceled in April 2016.

About recent changes to finances at the Vatican, such as the transfer of management of investments from the Secretariat of State to APSA, the cardinal noted that when he was at the Vatican, he said it was less important who was controlling certain sections of the money, than that it was being managed well, and that the Vatican was seeing a good return on investments.

The transfer to APSA needs to be done well and competently, he stated, and the Secretariat of Economy needs to have the power to be able to stop things if they need to be stopped.

“The pope’s plan to set up a board of experts to manage the investments, coming out of Covid, coming out of the financial pressures we are presently experiencing, that will be absolutely vital,” he added.

According to Pell, the pope’s charitable fund, called Peter’s Pence, “faces a gigantic challenge.” The fund is intended for the charitable activities of the pope and to defray some of the costs of running the Roman Curia.

The fund should never have been used for investments, he stated, noting that he has “fought for years for the principle that if donors give money for a specific purpose, it should be used for that specific purpose.”

As financial reform continues to be enacted at the Vatican, the cardinal emphasized the importance of having the right personnel.

He said having competent people in charge of financial affairs is an essential first step toward changing the culture to one of more accountability and transparency.

“There’s a close connection between incompetency and being robbed,” Pell commented. “If you have competent people in place who know what they’re doing, it’s much harder to be robbed.”

In a diocese, one important aspect is having a finance council made up of experienced people who “understand money,” who meet often, whom the bishop consults, and whose advice the bishop follows.

“One hazard of course is if your finance council doesn’t understand that you’re a Church and not a business.” The first priority is not financial profit, but care of the poor, the unfortunate, the sick, and social assistance, he said.

The cardinal praised the contribution of lay people, saying, “at every level, from diocese, to archdiocese, to Rome I’ve been impressed at the large number of competent people who are willing to give their time to the Church for nothing.”

“We need lay leaders there, Church leaders there, who do know the basics of management of money who can ask the right questions and find the right answers.”

He also encouraged dioceses to not wait for the Vatican always to lead the way on enacting financial reform, even if it should.

“We’ve made some progress in the Vatican and I agree the Vatican should be taking the lead -- Pope Francis knows that and is trying to do that. But just like any organization, you can’t always make everything happen as quickly as you want,” he opined.

Pell warned that money can be “a tainting thing,” and fascinates many clerics. “I had been a priest for decades when someone pointed out to me the dangers of money being about hypocrisy,” he said. “It’s not the most important thing we’re doing.”

“For the Church, money is not of first importance or of every importance.”

Pell was initially convicted in Australia in 2018 of multiple counts of sexual abuse. On April 7, 2020, Australia’s High Court overturned his six-year prison sentence. The High Court ruled that he should not have been found guilty of the charges and that the prosecution had not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Pell spent 13 months in solitary confinement, during which time he was not permitted to celebrate Mass.

The cardinal still faces a canonical investigation at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, though after his conviction was overturned, several canonical experts said it was unlikely he would face a Church trial.

Vatican Museums hope to reopen in February

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Vatican Museums are expected to reopen in February if coronavirus restrictions permit it, according to the museums’ director.

Starting on Feb. 1, visitors are likely to be able once again to see masterpieces like Caravaggio’s “The Entombment of Christ,” the ancient Roman Laocoön sculpture, and the recently restored Raphael Rooms within the Vatican walls.

The Vatican Museums have been closed since Nov. 5, when the Italian government implemented tighter coronavirus restrictions, closing all museums in Italy. A draft text of a new decree expected to be announced on Jan. 15 contains a provision to allow museums to open in some regions of Italy.

Throughout the pandemic, the Vatican Museums have followed the Italian government’s measures. During a national lockdown in the spring of 2020, the Vatican Museums were closed for a total of 12 weeks before reopening on June 1.

Vatican Museums director Barbara Jatta said that the more than four miles that make up Vatican Museums’ halls should not pose a “health problem,” given the small number of visitors projected. She said this was especially so given that there were few visitors during the summer reopening when interregional travel was allowed in Italy and much of Europe.

Jatta took part in an online conference on Jan. 14 called “More Museum: The future of museums between crisis and rebirth, changes and new scenarios.” Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister for Cultural Heritage and Tourism, opened the conference.

Franceschini said that he was proposing that museums reopen “at least on weekdays” in regions of Italy where the spread of coronavirus is less severe. 

       

View this post on Instagram                       A post shared by Vatican Museums (@vaticanmuseums)

 

With the repeated museum closures, Jatta said that the Vatican Museums have seen growth in their online audience on Instagram and YouTube. The Vatican Museums’ Instagram page, @vaticanmuseums, features a different work of art each day with a description in both English and Italian.

The Vatican Museums have also released videos on YouTube highlighting the work of restorers and curators, who have continued working within the museum during the months of the most recent closure. 

“We are taking the opportunity of this time in which exhibitions and events are suspended, to focus on the collections, on the maintenance of the exhibition spaces and deposits, on the catalog, on research and publications,” Jatta said in an interview with Vatican News.

Travel within Italy is expected to remain limited under the revised coronavirus restrictions on Jan. 15, which could also include stricter rules for restaurants. 

The Italian Ministry of Health reports 561,380 positive cases of COVID-19 in Italy as of Jan. 14 with 77,980 cases in Lazio, the Italian region where Rome is located. The country has recorded a total of more than 2.3 million cases and 80,848 deaths related to COVID-19.

Pope Francis and Benedict XVI receive first dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2021 / 04:50 am (CNA).- Pope Francis and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Vatican confirmed on Thursday.

Responding to questions from reporters on Jan. 14, Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, said: “I can confirm that as part of the Vatican City State vaccination program to date, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been administered to Pope Francis and the pope emeritus.”

The two men are expected to receive the second dose in about three weeks.

Benedict XVI’s personal secretary said on Tuesday that the 93-year-old pope emeritus would receive the coronavirus vaccine as soon as it was ready.

Archbishop Georg Gänswein told CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, on Jan. 12 that Benedict XVI would be vaccinated “as soon as the vaccine is available.”

“I will also be vaccinated along with the whole household of the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery,” said Gänswein, referring to the Vatican monastery where Benedict XVI has lived since resigning as pope in 2013.

The Vatican began administering vaccinations against COVID-19 on Jan. 13. 

Vatican residents and employees and their families are receiving their doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine in the atrium of the Paul VI Audience Hall. 

Vatican City State, the world’s smallest independent nation-state, has a population of around 800 people. But together with the Holy See, the sovereign entity that predates it, it employs more than 4,000 people.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, a total of 27 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vatican City State. Among them were at least 11 members of the Swiss Guard. 

Dr. Andrea Arcangeli, head of the Vatican health service, said on Jan. 2 that the Vatican had purchased a low-temperature refrigerator to store the vaccine.

“Priority will be given to health and public safety personnel, to the elderly and to personnel most frequently in contact with the public,” he said.

In a television interview broadcast on Sunday, Pope Francis said that he had booked an appointment to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“I believe that, ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine. It is an ethical option because it concerns your life but also that of others,” he commented.

Recalling the introduction of the polio vaccine and other common childhood immunizations, he said: “I don’t understand why some say this could be a dangerous vaccine. If doctors present it to you as something that can be fine and has no special dangers, why not take it?”

The 84-year-old Pope Francis is generally healthy, though he suffers from sciatica and had eye surgery for cataracts in 2019. When he was young, he had a portion of a lung removed because of an infection.

At his traditional Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” blessing, the pope called for COVID-19 vaccines to be made available to the world’s neediest people.

He said: “I ask everyone -- government leaders, businesses, international organizations -- to foster cooperation and not competition, and to seek a solution for everyone: vaccines for all, especially for the most vulnerable and needy of all regions of the planet. Before all others: the most vulnerable and needy!”