I tweeted a few days ago that in my study of church history sexual immorality and financial corruption have always been side by side when the church is on the slide.
You may remember last year when Pope Francis asked the USA based Papal Foundation for $25m to bail out a scandal ridden hospital in Rome called the Immaculate Dermatological Institute. (IDI) Just as a reminder, the Papal Foundation was established by Pope John Paul II to help fund special papal projects to assist the poor in the developing world. Most of their grants were for small, local projects and amounted to about $200,000 to $300,000.
I first came across the Papal Foundation through a friend whose brother works for the foundation, and I was blessed to visit one of their pet projects in El Salvador. It was an inspiring village where the poor were enabled to buy homes, get jobs, educate their kids and practice their faith. It was real. It was local and it was working.
When I heard that Pope Francis asked not for a reasonable small grant for a local project for the poor, but for $25m to bail out a hospital in Rome it all seemed pretty fishy.
John Allen has investigated and tells the whole story here.
In just three years, IDI has received three major infusions of cash from the Vatican and the Italian government, amounting to well over $70 million, and each time opinions were split between those who wished to save the institution and those ready to pull the plug.
What was once a Roman story drew global attention when the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, charged with financing the pope’s charitable initiatives, was asked by Pope Francis to help IDI with a $25 million payment. The request divided the foundation, with mostly clerics on one side supporting the pope and mostly lay people on the other skeptical of an institute many see as a poor investment at best, corrupt at worst.
While $13 million of that payment has already been sent to IDI, the remaining $12 million, approved in April 2018, remains for the time being in the foundation’s own account, inside sources told Crux.
Allen recounts the history of the hospital and how it gained a prestigious reputation over the years. Then the shady business started:
The hospital offered a walk-in service that offered treatment with no appointment and, as its fame grew throughout Europe, between 300 and 600 people would purchase a ticket every day.
“The daily income was guaranteed and monstrous,” a former employee who asked to remain anonymous told Crux.
Since the congregation that owned the hospital was a non-profit entity, all the money coming in had to be spent, hence employees took home massive checks and IDI was able to purchase the best and latest machinery.
The hospital was strongly unionized, to the extent that at the height of its power, mayoral candidates would visit for their campaigns. IDI began to expand, creating auxiliary clinics around Rome and increasing the number of departments.
The 2008 global financial crisis hit IDI hard, and the hospital eventually declared bankruptcy. But what really crippled the institute, sources say, came from within. Several sources close to IDI told Crux that starting in 2011, Father Franco Decaminada, the congregation’s representative at IDI, began to bring in “strange characters.”
“They looked out of place,” one IDI insider told Crux. The men had bodyguards and spoke with a heavy Neapolitan accent the source said, and rumors abounded that shoe boxes full of cash were being secreted out of the hospital.
Subsequent reporting by Italian journalists, especially the Italian public television service RAI and the news magazine L’Espresso, led to the discovery that money was being funneled out of the hospital to tax havens around the world and even to fund oil extraction projects in Africa.
Eventually the hospital went bankrupt and looked to the Vatican and Italian government to bail them out. When those efforts faltered Pope Francis turned to the Papal Foundation and none other than an old friend and ally–you guessed it–Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Allegedly he and his successor Cardinal Donald Wuerl pressured the wealthy donors of the Papal Foundation to cough up $25m to bail out the IDI.
This caused the uproar a year ago and since then Cardinal McCarrick–who was instrumental in setting up and oiling the wheels of the Papal Foundation–has been disgraced.
The whole complicated story can be read at CRUX here.
As with the other secrets and lies that have been going on one wonders just where the money from the Roman hospitals trickled out to, and into whose pockets would the Papal Foundations’ millions have ended up?
The wealthy Americans gave the money to help the poor in the developing world, and gave the funds trusting the pope to use them wisely.
But another pope along with his seminarian cuddling cardinal and his disgraced successor pressure the Catholic laymen for a whopping $25m?
It feels like there is more than one mafia operating within the Vatican–and this one isn’t lavender.