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Vatican, former auditor give differing accounts of resignation

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The first person to serve as the Vatican’s independent auditor said he was forced to resign after opponents of Pope Francis’ financial reforms mounted a campaign against him.

Pope Francis meets Libero Milone, then the Vatican’s auditor general, at the Vatican April 1, 2016. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

But the Vatican press office responded Sept. 24, saying Libero Milone, “going outside his competencies, illegally hired an external company to undertake investigative activities about the private lives of representatives of the Holy See.”

“This, besides being a crime, irremediably strained the trust placed in Dr. Milone,” the statement said. It added that the Vatican’s internal investigation of his actions was conducted with care and respect.

Without providing an explanation, the Vatican in June announced that Milone turned in a letter of resignation, which was accepted by Pope Francis. Milone had been in office just two years, although he had a five-year contract.

The position of auditor general was seen as a key component of Pope Francis’ efforts to reform Vatican finances and bring greater transparency in financial dealings. According to statutes issued by Pope Francis, the auditor general has the power to audit the books of any Vatican office and reports directly to the pope.

Milone, 68, an Italian accountant and expert in corporate risk management, was chairman of Deloitte Italy and served three years as a member of the audit committee of the United Nations’ World Food Program.

The Vatican statement Sept. 24 expressed surprise that Milone had gone to the news agency Reuters and other news outlets when, at the time he left the Vatican, he had agreed not to discuss the circumstances of his leaving.

Milone told Reuters his troubles had begun on the morning of Sept. 27, 2015, when he suspected that his office computer had been tampered with. He contacted an external company that had done work for him before to check for surveillance devices “because there are no such specialized people” in the Vatican.

The company discovered that his computer had been the target of an unauthorized access, and that his secretary’s computer had been infected with spyware that copied files, he told Reuters.

But Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican undersecretary of state, told Reuters there was proof that the outside contractor had been helping Milone to spy on others, “including me.” The archbishop added, “If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him.”

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Pope Francis invites Syrian refugees to lunch with him

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — At a luncheon that was part reunion and part progress report, Pope Francis invited 21 Syrian refugees to join him at the Vatican Aug. 11. Read more »

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Top official defends Vatican employees against allegations of corruption

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is not “a den of thieves,” and such insinuations are an injustice to employees who are proud to serve the pope and the church, said Archbishop Angelo Becciu, a top official in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Archbishop Angelo Becciu (CNS file photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Archbishop Angelo Becciu (CNS file photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Necessary economic and administrative reforms and countermeasures have been taken to address any problems, he told the Italian weekly Panorama in an interview published in the issue dated Jan. 20.

“I must reiterate firmly that we are not a bunch of corrupt and incompetent people,” he said in a lengthy interview conducted at the Vatican Dec. 31.

“The Vatican is not a den of thieves. To represent it as such constitutes an absolute falsehood. I find it extremely unjust that our employees, proudly carrying out a service for the pope and the church, have gotten to the point, for some time now, of being ashamed to tell people they work here,” he told the weekly.

Archbishop Becciu, 67, has been substitute secretary for general affairs in the Vatican Secretariat of State, a job similar to a chief of staff, since 2011.

A large portion of the Q & A interview focused on accusations of financial mismanagement illustrated in recent books by Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of “Merchants in the Temple,” and Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of “Avarice.”

The two authors are on trial at the Vatican for “soliciting and exercising pressure” on their alleged sources in order to obtain confidential documents and news. Also standing trial on accusations of forming an “organized criminal association” with the aim of “committing several illegal acts of divulging news and documents” are Spanish Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See; and Nicola Maio, who had served as personal assistant to Msgr. Vallejo.

Archbishop Becciu said “stealing those documents was a crime, a deplorable act that does not help.”

“The right of journalists to publish news they come to have is not in question. The misgivings concern the way in which this news was obtained. There is a trial underway that will find out,” he said.

Regarding Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui, the archbishop said their “betrayal was a slap in the face to the Holy Father. They had sworn on the Gospel to not reveal to anyone what they saw, heard and read in carrying out their assignment” as members of the commission to reform Vatican financial practices.

When asked why money donated by the faithful for Peter’s Pence is being used primarily to fund the Roman Curia, only about two euro out of ten donated goes to charity, the archbishop said if the Vatican were to earmark, for example, 60 percent of the funds to charity “we would have to immediately fire 400 people” out of the current 4,000 Vatican employees. “We prefer not to load the Italian government with this further burden” of unemployment and to abide by the pope’s request to reform without layoffs, he said.

The charitable fund’s balance sheets are “public and approved by the Holy Father and the council of cardinals,” adding that it can be seen the money is used to support Vatican Radio, the Vatican newspaper and the various Vatican diplomatic representatives abroad who channel the pope’s financial support to mission churches and the poor.

The archbishop was asked to comment on the fact cardinals living in Rome reside in very large apartments while Pope Francis has chosen to live in a small set of rooms in a Vatican guesthouse. The archbishop said the apartments date back to the 1930s “when the cardinals were in effect considered princes of the church and were treated as such.”

He said Nuzzi’s suggestion of moving the cardinals into the more modest Vatican guesthouse would be “populist bordering on the ridiculous.”

There would be the problem of where to then house the priests who are living at the guesthouse, he said; “We would have to build another building to house them,” which would be a “huge waste” of resources, and all the large cardinal residences would be left empty.

When asked why the property would be left unoccupied, the archbishop said only Vatican citizens and employees are allowed to live in Vatican-owned properties.

“Imagine the pandemonium that would be let loose if by accident they ended up being rented to tax evaders or in any case individuals wanted by the law who could benefit from immunity” by living in Vatican City State instead of Italy, he said.

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