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Two Vatican officials sign agreement to cooperate on fighting corruption

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2020 / 08:45 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and auditor general signed a memorandum of understanding Friday on the fight against corruption.

According to a message from the Holy See press office Sept. 18, the agreement means the offices of the Secretariat for the Economy and the auditor general “will collaborate even more closely in identifying the risks of corruption.”

The two authorities will also work together to implement Pope Francis’ new anti-corruption law, issued in June, which aimed at increasing oversight and accountability in the Vatican’s procedures for awarding public contracts.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero, S.J., head of the Secretariat for the Economy, and Alessandro Cassinis Righini, interim head of the Office of Auditor General.

According to Vatican News, Cassinis called the signing “a further concrete act that demonstrates the desire of the Holy See to prevent and combat the phenomenon of corruption inside and outside the Vatican City State, and that has already led to important results in the past months.”

“The fight against corruption,” Guerrero said, “in addition to representing a moral obligation and an act of justice, also allows us to fight waste in such a difficult time due to the economic consequences of the pandemic, which affects the whole world and affects the weakest in particular, as Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded.”

The Secretariat for the Economy has the task of overseeing the Vatican’s administrative and financial structures and activities. The Office of Auditor General oversees an annual financial assessment of each dicastery of the Roman Curia. The statutes of the auditor general’s office describe it as the “Vatican anti-corruption body.”

A Vatican representative addressed the subject of corruption at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Sept. 10.

Archbishop Charles Balvo, head of the Holy See delegation to the OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum, denounced “the scourge of corruption” and called for “transparency and accountability” in financial governance.

Pope Francis himself acknowledged corruption in the Vatican during an inflight press conference last year. Speaking about Vatican financial scandals, he said that officials “have done things that do not seem ‘clean.’”

The June law on contracts aimed to show that Pope Francis is serious about his frequently stated commitment to internal reform.

The new regulations also focus on controlling spending, as the Vatican faces a projected 30-80% reduction in income in the next fiscal year, according to an internal report.

At the same time, the Holy See is facing investigations by Vatican prosecutors, who are looking into suspicious financial transactions and investments at the Vatican Secretariat of State, which could trigger increased oversight by European banking regulators.

From Sept. 29, Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, is due to conduct a two-week onsite inspection of the Holy See and Vatican City -- the first since 2012.

Carmelo Barbagallo, president of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, has described the inspection as “especially important.”

“Its outcome may determine how the jurisdiction [of the Vatican] is perceived by the financial community,” he said in July.

Pope Francis accepts resignation of Bishop Bevard of US Virgin Islands

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2020 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis accepted the resignation Friday of Bishop Herbert Bevard of the U.S. Virgin Islands after he was hospitalized and airlifted to the U.S. mainland for medical treatment.

“Regrettably, I have experienced some new and unanticipated medical conditions that unfortunately preclude my ability to continue to maintain my position in the Diocese of Saint Thomas,” Bevard wrote in a letter to the diocese Sept. 18. 

“I have loved serving the People of God; the clergy, religious, laity and the entire Virgin Islands community in the Diocese of Saint Thomas and will treasure the fond memories that we share together. It is this same love and concern for them, recognizing my own limitations, that now compel me to make this request,” he said.

Bevard, who turns 75 in February, noted that he had already submitted his resignation to Pope Francis on July 6, before following up to request an immediate resignation in light of his medical conditions “so as not to inhibit the effective ongoing pastoral leadership and care of the Diocese of Saint Thomas.”

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Saint Thomas until Bevard’s successor is appointed. 

The Diocese of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands was established in 1977 and is the sole suffragan see of the Archdiocese of Washington. 

Bevard led the diocese for 12 years. The diocese is made up of 30,000 Catholics across the islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, Saint Thomas, and Water Island. 

Born in Baltimore, Bevard was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1972 after converting from Presbyterianism. He served in parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as a priest for 36 years before Pope Benedict XVI appointed him bishop of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands in 2008. 

Bevard was the fifth bishop to lead the diocese. His predecessor, Bishop George Murry, who served as bishop of Saint Thomas from 1998 until he was appointed Bishop of Youngstown in 2007, died earlier this year on June 5. 

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has asked for prayers for Bishop Bevard, noting his transfer to the U.S. mainland for medical treatment for a condition unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a long-time and beloved spiritual leader in our community, Bishop Bevard has provided guidance and solace to many Virgin Islanders, and we are praying for his speedy recovery and return to the Territory,” Bryan said, according to the Freedom City Times.

Analysis: How a papal handshake became an ‘extraordinary turning point’ for LGBT activists 

Denver Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- L'Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, reported yesterday that Pope Francis "at the end of an audience" greeted a group of some 40 people, some of whom identify as LGBT, along with their parents.

The pope told the parents that “God loves your children as they are” and “the Church loves your children as they are because they are children of God.”

Although none of the reported words from Pope Francis are new, or doctrinally problematic, they have not been confirmed by the Holy See.

But the episode drew media attention.

The Spanish blog "Religion Digital," directed by laicized Catholic priest José Manuel Vidal offered its own version of the episode, quoting anonymously one of those who met the pope: "In the painful journey that each one of us have made as LGBT believers, I confess that I would not have imagined that we would have reached this stage; to meet in audience with the Holy Father."

"These are the words of one of the representatives of the Italian association Tenda di Gionata (Jonathan’s Tent), of LGBT parents and children. About 40 of its members were received at the Vatican yesterday," Religión Digital wrote, suggesting that the group had a formal, private meeting with the pope.

The Spanish blog report of the events was tweeted by Fr. James Martin, generating more media buzz.

In fact, the group Tenda di Gionata was not received in a private audience, but met briefly by the pope during the massive greetings that follow his Wednesday general audiences. 

During the minute-long encounter, Mara Grassi, vice president of the association, presented Pope Francis with a Spanish translation of the booklet “Genitori Fortunati” (“Fortunate Parents”), a collection of mostly negative experiences that parents of those identifying as LGBT have had with the Catholic church. The groups also presented the pope a rainbow-colored T-shirt with the words “In love there is no fear,” a quote from 1 John 4:18.

Most of the initial coverage about the reported words of Pope Francis to Tenda di Gionata came either from L'Avvenire or the Italian socialist newspaper La Reppublica, both of which interviewed Grassi, a mother of four children, one of whom, who is 40, identifies as gay.

La Repubblica’s report included remarks from Grassi that suggest the Church’s doctrine is arbitrary or unfair.

“After I came to know that my son was homosexual, I suffered a lot because the rules of the church made me think that he was excluded from the love of God,” she said.

The L'Avvenire version of the meeting was described by journalist Luciano Moia as a historic event.

Moia offered this description of the encounter: "In the Church of Pope Francis, who wants to tear down walls and build bridges of acceptance and understanding especially with the most fragile and marginalized people, this morning's meeting appeared to many parents as an extraordinary turning point, confirming that what is written in some recent ecclesial documents, from Amoris Laetitia to the Final Report of the Synod of Youth, can truly be translated into pastoral practice."

Moia, the author of the book "Chiesa e Omosessualitá, Un’inchiesta alla luce del magistero di papa Francesco," (Church and Homosexuality, an investigation under the light of Pope Francis' Magisterium"), is longtime editor of a monthly insert in the official Catholic newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference. He has been a proponent for the Catholic Church to change its doctrine on homosexuality as expressed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially the concepts that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” and that they are "contrary to the natural law, and therefore, that "under no circumstances can they be approved."

The pope’s reported remarks on Wednesday were an expression of the Church’s most basic truth: That God loves all people, and that his love is not conditional. Neither those remarks, nor his brief conversation with Tenda di Gionata, suggest an endorsement of the group’s positions, a change in Catholic doctrine, or a “turning point” of some kind in the pope's pastoral ministry. Reports to the contrary may indicate more about the agenda of reporters than about the Gospel proclaimed by Pope Francis.

Analysis: China and the Vatican - What if the US recognizes Taiwan?

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- Officials in Rome and Beijing are now confidently predicting an extension to the 2018 Vatican-China deal, despite continued persecution of Catholics in the country and little visible progress on the appointment of bishops. 

The Vatican-China agreement continues to be viewed by many as a bad deal for the Holy See. Rome appears to have little leverage in the talks, and few cards to play. While the U.S. has made clear its own bleak assessment of the situation, there is one dramatic diplomatic maneuver from the Trump administration that could strengthen Rome’s hand, and rebalance the relationship between all three powers.

The pivot point for such a move is Taiwan. And it may be under consideration.

Sources tell CNA that some in the White House, and in foreign policy conversations, believe Trump might be considering strengthening official diplomatic relations with Taiwan before the election, a path already begun with a 2018 act of Congress and the signing of a 2019 consular agreement. Taking more steps toward full recognition and relations with Taiwan would have far-reaching global effect, and could have considerable impact on the Vatican-China deal. 

The Republic of China, as Taiwan is formally known, is the one of China’s foremost domestic and foriegn policy priorities. Seen by Beijing as a rebel province, despite never having been under Communist control, diplomatically isolating the small island democracy has been a constant priority for the mainland. 

For decades, China has pressured the United Nations and other member states to de-recognize Taiwan and recognize the People’s Republic as the “only” China. Today, only a handful of nations have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, with those few now falling away under economic pressure by China. 

The Holy See is the last remaining European country to recognize Taiwan, and the heart of Vatican-China relations remains working towards one unified Catholic Church in China, with the Vatican adopting Beijing’s “one China” diplomatic policy. The signs are that this may be happening.

In recent months, as the Holy See and China have negotiated an extension of the 2018 agreement, Vatican support for Taiwan has been noticeably quiet. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Holy See was the only diplomatic ally of Taiwan which did not make an appeal to allow Taiwan to participate in the World Health Organization’s assembly meetings. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in May that the Vatican would voice its support for Taiwan through other channels.

But in July, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post quoted a Vatican source saying that “Taiwan should not be offended if the embassy in Taipei is moved back to its original address in Beijing.” 

This week, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said that it had received assurances from the Vatican that the renewal of the Vatican-China deal would not have formal diplomatic repercussions for Taiwan. This is likely true, for now, but unlikely to be because of any diplomatic commitment by the Secretariat of State to Taiwan. 

The most likely reason Rome will decline to break formally with Taipei in favor of Beijing, at least for now, is that it remains one of the strongest cards it has to play in driving for a deal that might secure real freedom for the Church in China, where Xi Jinping’s campaign for the Sinicization of religion continues to impose draconian measures on Catholics. 

The Vatican’s willingness to play that card, and Xi’s willingness to offer something real in return, could change dramatically if President Trump took more steps towards full recognition of Taiwan - something at once diplomatically unthinkable, and entirely plausible.

This week, the Trump administration heralded new diplomatic progress in gaining the recognition of Israel by Arab nations. The most recent announcement, that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain would assume full diplomatic ties with Israel, is the latest in a series of unlikely coups for U.S. diplomacy in the region, following the dramatic decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

When Trump announced his intention to move the U.S. embassy, many observers predicted it would provoke outrage and backlash from the Arab world, and harm prospects for peace in the region. So far, the reverse seems to have proven the case - to the surprise of many.

The administration continues to pursue aggressive trade policies with China, and has made clear its displeasure with Chinese opacity during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, China has pursued a genocidal campaign against the Uyghurs internally, while driving an aggressive foreign policy - staging increasingly bellicose claims to international waters and even sailing warships into western ports unannounced - largely without international repercussions.

But Trump has been signalling movement toward a “two Chinas” policy. In August, HHS Secretary Alex Azar met with Taiwan’s president in Taipei, the highest-ranking U.S. cabinet official to visit Taiwan since diplomatic ties were broken 1979. This week, the U.S. sent a state department official to attend a memorial service for a Taiwanese official.

If Trump continues down this path in weeks to come, and encourages other countries to follow suit, much as he did with Israel, the predictions would likely be dire. Many would forecast an immediate worsening of relations with Beijing and a slew of cyber attacks on U.S. agencies and companies. But Trump might also find willing allies in countries recently subject to intimidating and retaliatory behavior by China, like Australia and India.

From Rome’s point of view, American recognition of Taiwan would reset the playing field between the Church and Beijing.

In the first place, China would suddenly have a much greater incentive to keep the Vatican at the negotiating table. 

Thus far, Pope Francis has remained on the sidelines regarding China’s treatment of the Church on the mainland, its network of concentration camps in Xinjiang province, and its crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong, letting regional leaders like Cardinal Joseph Zen and Cardinal Maung Bo talk tough over the Roman silence. But faced with a concerted international campaign recognizing a free and democratic Taiwan and isolating Beijing, keeping the pope quiet could suddenly become a much more urgent goal for China.

Conversely, American recognition of Taiwan would free up Rome’s hand and bring China to the negotiating table in earnest. 

In the face of a concerted push by America to isolate Beijing, China could actually be more incentivized than ever to open formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and consider making actual concessions on issues like religious freedom within the country. 

While observers might assume that Xi Jinping considers Vatican relations a sideshow, if he actually considers them at all, the Vatican deal might matter for Xi’s political future.

Although his tenure in leadership is supposed to be life-long, in China Xi’s position is not considered nearly as secure as is widely assumed in the West.

The full effects of the coronavirus in China may not have been reported in official statistics, but they have been severe and deeply traumatic. The economic consequences of the pandemic for China have also been - at least by some estimates - as severe as anywhere, if not worse. Intense summer flooding, even to the point of visible strain on the Three Gorges Dam, have also taken thousands of lives and devastated essential industrial areas.

Xi’s internal crackdown on dissent and free expression, most visible in Hong Kong but actually more widespread, has not been accepted easily. And sources in China report widespread unease with Xi’s antagonist foreign policies, including his courting conflict along the Indian border while also trying to stake claims to international waters in the South China Sea. 

It is not an uncommon opinion in China - albeit one not commonly expressed - that, with a growing sense he’s overplaying his hand at home and abroad, Xi could face a more-or-less serious challenge to his position during the next meeting of the communist party’s National Congress. 

In this context, even a threatened American recognition of Taiwan could leave Xi scrambling for diplomatic victories, and reassessing the risks of provoking a Church which he considers a potentially systemic ideological threat. The Vatican’s insistently modest requests for the barest measure of progress may suddenly appear a price well worth paying for a small victory.

For the U.S., strengthening the Church’s ability to negotiate with China, and winning even the narrowest breathing space for Chinese Catholics, would likely do more to advance civil liberties in China then decades of free trade.

Such a change to the diplomatic order may appear wildly improbable. But there is a U.S. Under Secretary of State in Taipei right now for a memorial service. And Trump, who is known for doing the unexpected, holds the only cards that will decide what happens next.

In diplomacy there is always a crucial distinction between the unlikely and the impossible.

Pope Francis' new prayer card features grandmother and grandchild from Romania

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2020 / 09:32 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ newest prayer card, which he hands out to the people he meets, features a grandmother and grandchild from his trip to Romania in early summer 2019.

Pope Francis was moved by the smile of a woman he saw among the crowds from his popemobile in the city of Iaşi.

Though brief, that moment made an impression on Francis, who mentioned her in his speech soon after, from the square in front of the Palace of Culture.

“I do not want to neglect to tell you about an experience I had just as I was coming into the square,” he told those gathered in the square June 2, 2019. “There was an elderly lady, quite elderly, a grandmother. In her arms was a grandchild, about two months old, not more.”

“As I passed by, she showed him to me,” the pope described. “She smiled, and smiled with a knowing smile, as if she was saying to me: ‘Look, now I can dream!’ I was very moved in that moment and I didn’t have the courage to go and bring her up here.”

Francis tied the encounter to his message about the importance of the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

The pope often speaks to young people about the importance of being close to their familial, cultural, and religious roots, as learned from their grandparents. He also said in Romania the young are important for the elderly: “when young and old meet, the elderly are not afraid to dream,” he said.

A photo was snapped of the grandmother and child by a Vatican photographer as he passed by, and now, at Francis’ request, has been made into a prayer card.

On the back of the card are the pope’s impromptu comments in Romania about the experience.

Pope Francis spoke again about his experience seeing the grandmother and grandchild in his comments aboard the papal plane from Romania to Rome the next day.

He said “I am happy because yesterday I referenced that grandmother... it was a gesture of understanding with the eyes.”

“At that moment I was so emotional, that I did not react and then the popemobile went ahead and I could not tell this grandmother to come, to show this gesture, and I said to the Lord Jesus: ‘It is a pain, but you have the ability to solve it!’”

Francis said he was glad the Vatican photographer saw this moment happening and snapped the photo, and said he was happy to see the image had been made public.

He added that he felt like the elderly woman was saying to him “these are the roots. This will grow, it will not be like me, but I give my [roots].”

Pope Francis has had other touching encounters with elderly women while on foreign trips. In Trujillo, Peru, in January 2018, he stopped the popemobile when he saw the sign of a woman which read: “My name is Trinidad I’m 99 years old. I cannot see. I want to touch your hand.”

Francis embraced her and gave her his blessing.

Pope Francis thanks sick and elderly priests for proclaiming Gospel of life

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis thanked sick and elderly priests for their quiet witness to the Gospel Thursday in a message that conveyed the sanctifying value of frailty and suffering. 

“It is especially to you, dear confreres, who experience old age or the bitter hour of illness, that I feel the need to say thank you. Thank you for the testimony of faithful love of God and the Church. Thank you for the silent proclamation of the Gospel of life,” Pope Francis wrote in a message published Sept. 17.

“For our priestly life, frailty can be ‘like a refiner’s fire or a fuller’s lye’ (Malachi 3:2) which, raising us towards God, refines and sanctifies us. We are not afraid of suffering: the Lord carries the cross with us!” the pope said.

His words were addressed to a gathering of elderly and sick clergy Sept. 17 at a Marian shrine in Lombardy, the Italian region hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. 

In his message, Pope Francis recalled that during the most difficult period of the pandemic -- “full of a deafening silence and a desolate emptiness” -- many people raised their gaze to heaven.

“In the past few months, we've all experienced restrictions. The days, spent in a limited space, seemed interminable and always the same. We missed the dearest affections and friends. The fear of contagion reminded us of our precariousness,” he said.

“Basically, we have experienced what some of you, as well as many other elderly people, experience every day,” the pope added.

The elderly priests and their bishops met at the Santa Maria del Fonte Sanctuary in Caravaggio, a small town in the province of Bergamo where the number of deaths was six times higher in March 2020 than in the previous year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

In the Diocese of Bergamo at least 25 diocesan priests died after contracting COVID-19 this year.

The gathering to honor the elderly is an annual event organized by the Lombardy bishops’ conference. It is now in its sixth year, but this fall it takes on an additional significance in light of heightened suffering experienced in this region of northern Italy, where thousands died amid an eight-week ban on funerals and other liturgical celebrations.

Pope Francis, who is 83 years old himself, said that the experience of this year had been a reminder “not to waste the time that is given to us” and of the beauty of personal encounters. 

“Dear brothers, I entrust each of you to the Virgin Mary. To her, Mother of priests, I remember in prayer the many priests who died of this virus and how many are going through the recovery process. I send you my blessing from the heart. And, please, do not forget to pray for me,” he said.

China-linked hackers accused of targeting Vatican network weeks before deal renewal

CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 06:10 am (CNA).- State-sponsored hackers targeted Vatican computer networks just weeks before the provisional agreement between China and the Holy See is due to be renewed, according to a report released Tuesday.

The analysis, published Sept. 15, said that hackers had continued to focus on the Vatican and other Catholic organizations even after their activities were publicized in July.

The report was compiled by the Insikt Group, the research arm of the U.S.-based cybersecurity company Recorded Future. 

Earlier this year, the organization announced that it had uncovered “a cyberespionage campaign attributed to a suspected Chinese state-sponsored threat activity group,” which it referred to as RedDelta.

In an update on its investigation, the Insikt Group said that it had recorded a burst of activity by RedDelta shortly before an official signaled that People’s Republic of China (PRC) was open to extending a two-year provisional agreement with the Vatican over the appointment of bishops. 

“On September 10, 2020, China’s Foreign Ministry announced that the 2018 PRC-Holy See deal had been ‘implemented successfully,’ with a renewal of the deal expected to be announced in the coming weeks,” the Insikt Group said. 

“The timing of this announcement was preceded by RedDelta activity targeting the Vatican network dying down one week prior, and follows a Rome visit in late August from Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, suggesting that the group’s intelligence tasking requirement may have been achieved or no longer required.” 

Researchers said it was not clear whether RedDelta had succeeded in regaining access to the Vatican network. But they argued that the group’s efforts to do so underlined the Chinese Communist Party’s determination to increase its oversight of Catholics in China.

When they released their initial report in July, investigators said that RedDelta had homed in on the Vatican and the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong from early May. Other Catholic targets included the Hong Kong Study Mission to China and the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Italy. 

The Insikt Group cited a prior report that hackers had used a condolence message, purportedly written by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and dated May 14, as a “lure document.” 

Parolin and the Secretariat of State did not respond to CNA’s request for comment on the claim when it was reported in July.

The Insikt Group also identified two other “phishing lures.” The first was a news report attributed to the news agency Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) about the new Hong Kong security law. The second was taken from an article in Italian about the Iranian city of Qom by the academic Franco Ometto.

In its new study, the Insikt Group said that RedDelta ceased its activities immediately after the publication of its initial report July 28. 

“However, this was short-lived, and within 10 days, the group returned to its targeting of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese mail server, and within 14 days, a Vatican mail server,” it said. 

“This is indicative of RedDelta’s persistence in maintaining access to these environments for gathering intelligence, in addition to the group’s aforementioned high risk tolerance.”

Parolin said Monday that he expected that the Vatican would renew the China deal, which was signed on Sept. 22, 2018 and is due to expire in October.

“With China, our current interest is to normalize the life of the Church as much as possible, to ensure that the Church can live a normal life, which for the Catholic Church is also to have relations with the Holy See and with the Pope,” Parolin said Sept. 14, according to Italian bishops’ news agency SIR.

The Insikt Group concluded that RedDelta was willing to risk exposure in order to gain access to confidential information. 

It said: “Given the continued RedDelta activity despite extensive public reporting, we expect the group to continue operating with a high operational tempo with minor tweaks in TTPs [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures].” 

“In previous reporting, we highlighted the group’s targeting of entities such as religious organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which often lack the ability or will to adequately invest in security and detection measures. This likely further fuels the group’s willingness to reuse publicly known infrastructure and TTPs.”

Mincione asks UK court to rule he ‘acted in good faith’ in Vatican deal

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 16, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Italian businessman at the center of the Vatican’s London property scandal is asking a British court to rule that he acted in good faith. Lawyers for Raffaele Mincione are arguing that the Holy See is trying to nullify the deal, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to new reports.

Mincione filed two suits in the High Court of England and Wales earlier this year against the Holy See Secretariat of State and the holding company through which it controls the building at 60 Sloane Ave. in London, purchased in stages from Mincione for some $300 million.

Details of the suits had not previously been made public, but on Sept. 15, Law360 reported that Mincione is seeking declaratory relief from the court, asking that a judge rule he did not behave improperly in his dealings with the Vatican.

On June 17, Mincione’s company WRM Capinvest filed suit against the Jersey-registered holding company, 60 SA Ltd., through which the Vatican owns the building. In a separate action, Luxembourg-based Athena Capital Fund SICAV-FIS SCA, a unit of Athena Capital Fund, which is also owned by Mincione, filed a commercial contract claim against the Secretariat of State. It is unclear when that second action was first filed.

Mincione’s lawyers argue in court documents that he and his companies "acted in good faith in and about the transactions and the negotiation and execution of the contractual documents," according to Law360.

A spokesman for Mincione did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

On July 15, Vatican prosecutors, working with Italian authorities, executed a search and seizure warrant against Mincione at an hotel in Rome. Investigators seized electronic devices, including cellular phones and iPads. 

The search and seizure was authorized by Roman magistrate Maria Teresa Gerace, following a request by the Vatican Promoter of Justice Gian Piero Milano and his deputy Alessandro Diddi. The search was carried out by Italian state police. Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reported that Mincione, accompanied by his lawyers, presented himself to police by prior arrangement, after the warrant was issued.

The secretariat’s involvement with Mincione dates back to 2014, when it invested some 200 million euros in Mincione’s Athena Global Opportunities Fund. The funds included lines of credit extended by two Swiss banks, Credit Suisse and BSI, against other funds under the control of the secretariat.

CNA has previously reported that, in addition to an initial 45% stake in the London building, owned by Mincione, the funds were also invested in other companies and projects owned or connected to Mincione. On June 6, Vatican News described Mincione’s management of Vatican investments as “speculative” and a “conflict of interest.”

The Vatican cut ties with Mincione in 2018, acquiring the whole of the London property and withdrawing its remaining investment with Athena. The final stage of the sale was brokered by another London-based Italian, Gianluigi Torzi, which he did using his own Luxembourg holding company, Gutt SA, as a pass-through, earning Torzi some 10 million euros in the process.

Following Torzi’s arrest, Mincione sought to distance himself from Torzi, calling him a “counterpart,” not a “partner,” and characterizing their personal connection casually as “two Italians in London.” 

CNA subsequently reported that in the months before Torzi was asked by the Holy See to act as middle man for the final purchase of the London property, a company owned by Mincione secured a multi-million-euro loan from a company controlled by Torzi. Both men have denied that the loans played any part in Torzi’s role in the Vatican’s purchase of the London building from Mincione.

CNA has also reported that Fabrizio Tirabassi, a lay secretariat official who oversaw investments, was appointed a director of Gutt while Torzi was finalizing the Vatican’s purchase of the London property from Mincione. On June 5, Torzi was arrested in Vatican City and charged with extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering. He was released on bail June 15.

Tirabassi was one of five secretariat employees suspended in October 2019, following a raid conducted by Vatican gendarmes, who seized computers and documents related to financial dealings at the department. 

In Feb. 2020, another former senior official at the Secretariat of State was suspended following raids on his home and office by Vatican investigators. Msgr. Alberto Perlasca served for nearly a decade as head of the administrative office of the secretariat’s First Section until July 2019, when he was transferred to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

The Holy See subsequently confirmed that the raid had been ordered by Vatican City prosecutors following the “interrogation” of the previously suspended staff members.

According to the Sept. 15 report by Law360, Mincione’s lawyers argue that the Vatican is seeking to distance itself from Gutt’s involvement and claiming that Perlasca did not have the authority to sign any agreements authorizing the building’s final purchase through Torzi and that “ultimately the Holy See is looking to plead that the transaction was invalid.”

Pope Francis to release new encyclical on Oct. 4

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis will release his new encyclical Oct. 4, the Vatican announced Wednesday. 

The Holy See press office said Sept. 16 that the encyclical Fratelli tutti, on fraternity and social friendship, would be issued at noon Rome time on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

The Vatican announced earlier this month that Pope Francis would sign the third encyclical of his pontificate during a visit to Assisi on Oct. 3.

Pope Francis will offer a Mass at the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi privately at 3 p.m. before signing the encyclical, the Holy See press office said Sept. 5.

In an article published on the front page of the Sept. 17 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Andrea Tornielli addressed a debate over whether the encyclical’s title, which means “All brothers” in Italian, excludes women.

“Since it is a direct quotation from St Francis (taken from the Admonitions, 6, 1: FF 155), the Pope has obviously not changed it. But the formulation of the title in no way intends to exclude women, that is, more than half of the human race,” wrote the editorial director for the Vatican Dicastery for Communication.

“On the contrary, Francis chose the words of the Saint of Assisi to initiate a reflection on something he cares about very deeply: namely, fraternity and social friendship. He therefore addresses all his sisters and brothers, all men and women who populate the earth: everyone, inclusively, and in no way exclusively.”

He explained that the Vatican would use the original Italian title, without translation, when the text is released in multiple languages. 

Human fraternity has been an important theme for Pope Francis in recent years. The pope signed “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” during a trip to Abu Dhabi in Feb. 2019. Pope Francis’ message for his first World Day of Peace as pope in 2014 was “Fraternity, foundation and pathway for peace.”

Pope Francis’ previous encyclical, Laudato si’, published in 2015, had a title taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun” prayer praising God for creation. Prior to that he published Lumen fidei, an encyclical begun by Benedict XVI before his resignation as pope in 2013.

This report has been updated to include comments by Andrea Tornielli, editorial director for the Vatican Dicastery for Communication.

Pope Francis appoints Maltese bishop as secretary general of Synod of Bishops

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2020 / 06:10 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed a new secretary general of the Synod of Bishops Wednesday.

The Holy See press office said Sept. 16 that the pope had named Maltese Bishop Mario Grech to the post after accepting the resignation a day earlier of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who had served as secretary general since 2013.

Grech, the emeritus bishop of Gozo, was appointed pro-secretary general of the Synod of Bishops on Oct. 2, 2019, serving alongside Baldisseri.

The Italian cardinal said at the time of the appointment that Grech would assume the full position of secretary general when his own mandate expired.

One of Grech’s main tasks will be preparing for the forthcoming synod on synodality, scheduled for Oct. 2022. He took part in last year’s Amazon synod.

Baldisseri, who turns 80 on Sept. 29, has been secretary general of the Synod of Bishops since September 2013. In that role, he has led the two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015, the youth synod in October 2018, and the Amazon synod in October 2019.

Born in Qala, Malta, Grech was ordained a priest in 1984 at the age of 27, for the Diocese of Gozo.

He was one of two authors of the Maltese bishops’ controversial pastoral guidelines on Amoris laetitia, which stated that divorced and remarried Catholics, in certain cases and after “honest discernment,” could receive Communion.

He was also one of two Maltese bishops to speak out against divorce and in defense of the Christian view of marriage in 2010.

Pope Francis named him a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on July 4 this year.

Baldisseri was born in 1940 in the Italian town of Barga, and in 1963 was ordained a priest, while still only 22 years of age, for the Archdiocese of Pisa.

He holds a license in dogmatic theology, a doctorate in canon law, and is a pianist who studied at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music under the late Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci. From 1971 to 1973 he studied at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy to become a Vatican diplomat.

Baldisseri served in numerous nunciatures, including those to Guatemala, El Salvador, Japan, Brazil, Paraguay, France, Zimbabwe, and Haiti.

In 1992 he was consecrated a bishop and appointed apostolic nuncio to Haiti, which had just experienced a coup. He later served as apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, India, Nepal, and Brazil.

In Brazil, Baldisseri achieved an agreement regulating the juridical status of the Church which is now a model for every religious group wishing to forge an agreement with the Brazilian state. In securing the arrangement, Baldisseri had to coordinate with 11 different ministries of the Brazilian administration.

After this achievement, Benedict XVI appointed him in 2012 secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, as well as secretary of the College of Cardinals.

In this latter role, he acted as secretary of the 2013 conclave. At the end of the conclave, the newly elected Pope Francis gave Baldisseri his red zucchetto, indicating that he soon would be made a cardinal. 

The pope appointed him to the College of Cardinals on Feb. 22, 2014. 

The Synod of Bishops was created in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, who charged the synod with encouraging close union between the pope and the world’s bishops, to “ensure that direct and real information is provided on questions and situations touching upon the internal action of the Church and its necessary activity in the world of today.”

Ordinary synods take place every three years on issues voted upon by synod delegates elected or appointed from each continent, and from certain Vatican offices. There have been 15 ordinary synods to date. There are also extraordinary synods and special synods.

The synod that took place in October 2019 was a special Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region.

Following that synod, the pope stressed that “synodality is an ecclesial journey that has a soul that is the Holy Spirit.”

“The practice of synodality, traditional but always to be renewed, is the implementation in the history of the People of God on the way, of the Church as a mystery of communion, in the image of the Trinitarian communion,” he said.