St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Spread the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.” We’ve heard a lot of words from Pope Francis. Now we see his choices of people and organizations are polar opposites of the gospel.
On June 26, the pope established a Pontifical Commission charged with drawing up an “exhaustive” report into the activities of the Vatican Bank (formally the Institute for Religious Work or IOR). The commission’s “main aim will be to study it to help Pope Francis ensure the IOR’s activities are in harmony with the Churches’ mission.”
One of the five members chosen by Francis is Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor; the other four are senior clerics. In 1995, Pope John Paul II selected Glendon to represent the Vatican at the UN Beijing Conference on Women where she opposed the use of condoms to prevent HIV and AIDS. He also named her president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a position she still holds. Pope Benedict XVI accepted her credentials when President George W. Bush appointed her U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See in 2008.
For decades, Glendon has been in the limelight as the token female among the neocon Catholic establishment, sitting on the board of organizations such as Bill Donohue’s Catholic League, George Weigel’s Ethics and Public Policy Center and the infamous Institute on Religion and Democracy, funded by the usual neocon foundations – Castle Rock, Earhart, Olin, Scaife, Lynde and Harry Bradley.
An ardent Romney supporter, perhaps she is most famous for declining an award from Notre Dame in 2009 because the university had chosen President Obama as its commencement speaker.
The announcement of the new commission was made on the same day prosecutors in Salerno placed Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, a Vatican accountant, under investigation for alleged money-laundering through his IOR account. According to Scarano’s attorney, donors with “enormous wealth” gave the monsignor more than three quarters of a million dollars to build a home for the terminally ill. After Scarano withdraw 560,000 euros ($729,000) in cash from the IOR, he asked “56 close friends to accept 10,000 euros apiece in cash in exchange for a check or money transfer in the same amount….Scarano was then able to deposit the amounts in his Italian account” and pay off the mortgage on his personal residence.
Two days later, Scarano was arrested by Italian police "for plotting to help rich friends smuggle tens of millions of euros in cash into Italy from Switzerland."
Vatican writer Paolo Rodari said the creation of the [IOR] commission presages "a revolution not just in structures but in personnel," a point seemingly confirmed by an accompanying interview with Cardinal George Pell of Australia, another member of the pope's "Gang of Eight." [Francis chose eight cardinals as advisers. Some are notorious for shielding pedophile priests; some for supporting elitist governments.]I think Glendon is qualified to help His Holiness find personnel more "capable and competent" than Scarano; no one mentioned "moral." And since few women are as calloused towards the sick and hungry, Glendon should continue as the "female" representative of the plutocracy in the Vatican for years to come.
Asked what the core of Vatican reform would be, Pell said that key point is making sure "capable and competent" people are appointed to the various departments.
On June 20, the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See held a meeting with administrators of Vatican departments, dicasteries, congregations, tribunals, councils, "offices," and foundations. This group includes the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) which holds the Vatican’s investment and property portfolios.
The euro zone’s largest bank, Banco Santander, “offered its availability to place its contacts…at the Prefecture's disposition.” The choice of Santander as a banking facility contradicts all the pope's words about ethics and morality in finance.
April 29, 2013: Santander CEO, Alfredo Sáenz, resigned after “the Bank of Spain ordered a review into whether or not he would meet new rules governing bank executives with criminal convictions. Sáenz was convicted in 2009 for deliberately making false allegations against four businessman who owed money to his previous bank, Banesto.”
Feb. 18, 2013: “A class action lawsuit was filed against Santander Consumer USA for allegedly violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) as well as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The plaintiffs have also charged the company with breach of contract for allegedly charging improper fees.”
Feb. 4, 2013: The newspaper, Corriere della Sera, linked the IOR to problems at the Tuscan bank, Monte dei Paschi de Siena (MPS). “The bank’s troubles stem in part from the 9 billion euro ($12 billion) purchase of Antonveneta bank in 2008, just months after the Spanish bank Santander had bought it for 6.6 billion euros ($8.1 billion). The Siena magistrates are also looking into allegations of bribery related to that deal.” The deal resulting in a windfall for Santander was reportedly made with the assistance of IOR officials.
Dec. 19, 2011: “Huge Eurobank, rated ‘Britain’s worst,’ now accused of gouging U.S. consumers”
The accusations are as outrageous as they are plentiful: Hundreds of “robocalls” - in one case, 800 to a single person - to collect auto loan debts; illegal repossession of cars from active duty military deployed overseas; late fees assessed three years after the fact and then compounded into $2,000 or $3,000 bills; harassing calls to friends, neighbors, co-workers - even children - on cell phones. And now, a flurry of lawsuits filed around the country, and lawyers fighting over potential clients.Having a global giant like Santander with “the largest network of international banking offices” to handle the Vatican’s financial needs outside the IOR - which is still under investigation by Italian authorities - would certainly be useful.
The defendant in the lawsuits is Europe’s largest bank, Banco Santander S.A., which is preparing to make a big push into U.S. retail banking.
Pope Francis did something similar as cardinal primate of Argentina. According to an official of the Buenos Aires archdiocese:
When Bergoglio took over, the archdiocese was essentially broke. One reason was that the Church was a partial owner of several local banks, so it could borrow on highly favorable terms - a situation, he said, that didn’t encourage fiscal discipline….Bergoglio correctly assessed the capacity of UBS and HSBC for banking scandals.
The key move was that Bergoglio decided to sell off the archdiocese’s bank shares and to transfer its funds to international banks such as HSBC and UBS, “as a normal client” rather than a partial owner.
That step not only imposed greater restraint on borrowing and spending, but it also spared the Church the potential embarrassment of being linked as an owner to banking scandals.
June 26, 2013: “UBS France fined $13 million in probe over money laundering, fraud controls - The French banking regulator, ACP, said Wednesday that UBS France was warned by autumn 2007 about inadequate procedures and did nothing for 18 months. The statement did not specify whether there had been any illicit activity….
In 2009, UBS paid $780 million to U.S. authorities as part of a deal to end a tax evasion probe in which it stood accused of helping Americans hide billions of dollars in secret accounts."
June 12, 2013: “Argentina’s financial crimes unit fined the local branch of London-based bank HSBC some $1 million dollars…for failing to report a suspicious [money laundering] transaction carried out in 2007….
Argentina's tax authority filed criminal charges against HSBC earlier this year. At the time, the agency head accused the bank of helping businesses evade taxes and launder up to $121 million.
Last year, the bank faced similar accusations in the US, after a Senate report found that the bank had enabled Mexican drug cartels to launder their proceeds….The bank eventually agreed to pay a $1.9 billion settlement.
This is not the first time that HSBC has faced fines in Argentina. The financial crimes unit fined the bank $14 million last year, for failing to report several suspicious transactions that took place inside the country in 2008. This was followed by another $6 million fine in December 2012."
June 4, 2013: “New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing HSBC for allegedly breaching state law by not giving distressed homeowners the opportunity to negotiate loan modifications when they fell into the foreclosure process. HSBC often failed to file the requisite paperwork that would have triggered a settlement conference, but continued to charge interest and fees. This increased the amounts that homeowners owed and reduced their chances of qualifying for relief….”
Dec. 19, 2012: "Swiss banking giant UBS has agreed to pay 1.5bn dollars to US, UK and Swiss regulators for attempting to manipulate the Libor inter-bank lending rate….The London Inter-Bank Offered Rate tracks the average rate at which the major international banks based in London lend money to each other. The bank also admitted to manipulating Euribor and Tibor, the equivalent interest rates set by lenders in the Euro zone and in Tokyo."
At the June 20 meeting with Vatican administrators, Santander also offered the Prefecture for Economic Affairs its “formative resources, drawing upon the wide network of the bank's relationships with the international academic world.”
In May 2012, when Vatican gendarmes raided the apartment of Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict’s valet suspected of leaking papers exposing power plays and corruption in the curia, they found a check for 100,000 euro (about $125,000) made payable to the pope from a Spanish Catholic university among all the papal papers and documents. No one seemed surprised that a check that size wasn't missed or that a school was donating a huge sum to the pope and not vice versa. Was the school passing on money from wealthy donors to the Vatican? Is that part of the “resources” Santander was offering?
On June 13, 2013, it was reported that Pope Francis selected an official from McKinsey & Co. “to design that reform of the curia which everyone expects from Pope Francis.” From Wikipedia: "McKinsey is one of the market-leading 'Big Three' management consulting services to the Fortune 500 set, along with Bain & Company and The Boston Consulting Group."
As I previously noted, the firm has been criticized for preparing a questionable survey of US employers' response to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which became "a useful tool for critics of the ACA;" reports for developing countries on deforestation favorable to corporate interests; advice to insurers on how to avoid paying claims involving soft tissue injury and Enron being one of the firm's biggest clients before its collapse.
McKinsey senior executives Rajat Gupta and Anil Kumar were among others convicted in an ongoing government investigation into insider trading for sharing inside information with Galleon Group hedge fund owner Raj Rajaratnam.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio thrilled the world with the selection of the name Francis for widely-admired man from Assisi, telling us he wanted a poor Church for the poor.
When the local bishop ordered Francis of Assisi to return what he had taken from his father, a wealthy merchant, the young man stripped off his clothes and gave them and the money back. St. Francis dramatically rejected the world of trade and finance and would have nothing further to do with it for the rest of his life.
Pope Francis is making choices in Church management and finance representing greed and immorality.