ON BOARD THE PAPAL PLANE – Pope Francis said on Tuesday that the latest wave of Vatican financial scandals is in fact successful, as the situation came to light thanks to an internal Vatican investigation, which he said shows that new controls are working.
The pontiff also called the possession and deployment of nuclear weapons “immoral,” saying this point should be added to the Catholic catechism, and suggested that it might be time to rethink the veto exercised by a handful of United Nations countries. Advice.
His comments came during an airborne press conference on the return flight to Rome from his November 19-26 trip to Thailand and Japan.
Vatican financial scandals
“There is corruption,” Francis conceded when asked about a recent scandal over the purchase of a former Harrod’s warehouse in London’s Chelsea by the Vatican secretary of state, using funds from the annual “Peter’s Pence” collection touted as a way to support papal charities.
Initially, around $ 220 million was spent to acquire a share of the property, and later the Secretary of State attempted to shell out an additional $ 170 million to buy it outright. According to the Italian magazine The Espresso, the Vatican was overcharged for the operation by several Italian intermediaries.
Five Vatican employees were suspended following an October 1 raid by Vatican gendarmes on their offices, including members of the Secretariat of State and the director of the Vatican Financial Authority (AIF). Two weeks later, Domenico Giani, longtime Vatican security chief and Francis’ personal bodyguard, resigned following the leak of the document related to a magistrate’s investigation into the deal.
During the hour-long press conference, Francis said the five Vatican officials suspected of corruption will soon be questioned by the promoter of justice, if the process has not already started.
“They did things that didn’t look clean,” Francis told reporters on Tuesday. âBut the allegation does not come from outside. This reform of economic methodology began with [Pope] Benedict XVI and continued.
It was the Vatican auditor general, he said, who noticed there was something fishy in the accounts and brought a written allegation to the Pope, asking Francis what to do. The Pope said he had directed him to the Vatican’s promoter of justice.
“I was happy because it means that today the Vatican administration has the resources to shed light on the bad things happening inside,” he said. âThere have been cases of corruption.
(The current auditor general, Italian secular Alessandro Cassinis Righini, holds the interim post. He took over when his former boss, Italian financial expert Libero Milone, left in 2017, claiming he had been kicked out. due to efforts to reveal suspicious transactions.)
Francis said there was a presumption of innocence for the five people involved, but in all cases the money was not properly administered.
Francois defended the use of Peter’s Pence funds, saying “putting money in a drawer” is not administering it wisely.
It makes sense to invest it, he said, to ensure that the capital does not lose its value. However, the money must go to safe and moral projects, he said, and not to a “gunmaker”. Investments should also be short term, so that the money is spent in the year new donations arrive.
Francis said it was lawful to use the fund to buy property and then rent and sell it, without actually naming the London property. However, he said, âAfter that, what happened happened. Scandal.
The fact that the corruption took place in the Vatican, he said, is “ugly,” but he again stressed that the system itself found it.
“I thank God, not for the fact that there is corruption in the Vatican, but because the internal system works,” he said.
The name of RenÃ© BrÃ¼lhart, a Swiss lawyer and anti-money laundering expert who stepped down as president of the IAF just before the trip to Thailand and Japan, was prominent, although never mentioned during of the press conference. His exit has been variously described as the normal end of his term, resignation in protest or dismissal.
FranÃ§ois declared to have summoned the “president of the AIF”, who tendered his resignation.
“It was the AIF, it seemed, who did not monitor the crimes of others,” Francis told reporters.
The pontiff insisted that progress has been made with regard to the Vatican’s finances, citing the fact that the so-called Vatican bank today can operate like any other bank in the world, this which was not possible a year ago, when many financial institutions did not recognize it.
Francis also mentioned, after being interviewed, the Egmont Group, a global network of financial intelligence units. Although internationally recognized, the group has no regulatory authority. According to the Pope, this is a task for Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering agency, which is expected to publish its latest report on the Vatican in early 2020.
The Pope also said BrÃ¼lhart requested the return of documents seized by Vatican security forces at the request of the Egmont group, but said that could not be done.
“I asked an Italian judge what justice should do,” said Francis. âJustice, after an accusation of corruption, is sovereign in a country. “
After insisting that he wanted the five corruption suspects cleared, the Pope stressed that “the lid has been lifted from the jar from the inside”, and praised the courage of the Auditor General to write a allegation against five people.
Regarding the Egmont group, Francis said he didn’t want to offend them because they “do a lot of good”, but in this case, “sovereignty is more important than private interests”.
On nuclear weapons and nuclear energy
Several questions focused on nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ principle of just war. Peace today, FranÃ§ois said after a question from a French journalist, “is weak, very weak”.
Urged on by a Japanese journalist who asked how the Pope felt during his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he recalled that he had condemned the use of nuclear weapons “as immoral”.
âIt must go to catechism,â said the Pope. “And not just using them, but having them.”
Owning such weapons, he said, is dangerous, because accidents happen but also because “someone’s madness can destroy mankind.” He quoted Albert Einstein, who said that World War IV will be fought with “sticks and stones”.
Regarding nuclear power plants, Francis insisted on the possibility of an accident, of which Japan was aware due to the triple disaster of 2011, namely the earthquake, the tsunami and the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant which resulted from the previous two.
Nuclear power, he said, “is the limit”. Nuclear weapons “are destructive”, but the use of nuclear energy is “at the limit” because “we have not yet achieved total security” for its deployment.
Stressing that this was a personal opinion, Francois said he would not use nuclear energy until such security was achieved to prevent the disaster it can cause to mankind. and the environment.
Asked about a papal encyclical rumor about violence, the pontiff said the idea is “in a drawer,” but he doesn’t feel the problem has matured enough to write it down himself. even, in addition to a lack of time.
The pontiff said that while international organizations such as the United Nations have done a lot of good, they have not been able to control guns.
“If there is a problem of security, of weapons, and all countries vote yes [to control them]and one with a veto says no, then it’s stopped.
“I have heard, I am not able to judge whether it is good or not, but maybe the United Nations should give up on certain nations of the Security Council having a right of veto,” he said. -he declares. âAnything that is done to stop the construction of weapons, to stop the war, to conduct negotiations,â he said, âmust always be doneâ.
Latin America in flames and “I love China”
Asked to share his thoughts on the protests in Hong Kong, Francis said it was far from the only place with long-lasting unrest. He mentioned Chile, the yellow vests in France, Nicaragua and other Latin American countries, âlike Brazilâ, with similar situations.
“I ask for peace in these countries which have problems,” he said, adding that we must call for dialogue.
A reporter asked Francis if he wanted to visit China, and he said he would very much like to visit Beijing because âI love Chinaâ.
Spanish-speaking journalists focused on the continent of the Pope’s origin, with one reporter mentioning upheavals in Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile and Nicaragua, including churches burned down or attacked.
Francis said he didn’t think he could give an analysis, but quoted “someone” as suggesting that the situation is not much different from the 1970s and 1980s, when Chile, Argentina, Uruguay , Paraguay and Brazil all had military governments and a situation that was “in flames”.
The Pope declared that the situation in Chile scares him particularly, because it results from a “problem of [clerical]abuse that made us suffer a lot, and now [thereâs] a problem of a kind we don’t fully understand but it’s on fire.
Francis said he had yet to find a good analysis of the situation in Latin America, but said that there are “weak, very weak governments that have not yet been able to bring the peace “.
Follow InÃ©s San MartÃn on Twitter: @inesanma
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