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Pope Francis appoints former European Central Bank chief to pontifical academy

Vatican City, Jul 10, 2020 / 06:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed the former president of the European Central Bank to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences Friday.

The pope named Mario Draghi July 10 as one of three new members of the pontifical academy founded in 1994 by Pope John Paul II to promote the study of social sciences.

Draghi, 72, is an Italian economist best known for serving as president of the European Central Bank (ECB) from 2011 to 2019. 

When he took over the helm of the ECB, he was faced with the European sovereign debt crisis. There were fears that mounting debt problems could force countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece to exit the eurozone.  

In a 2012 speech, Draghi famously said that the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro during the crisis. The phrase is credited with helping to save the currency. As a result of his interventions, he earned the nickname “Super Mario.”

He will serve as an “ordinary member” of the pontifical academy, along with the Chilean sociologist Pedro Morandé Court and Kokunre Adetokunbo Agbontaen Eghafona, a sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Benin, Nigeria, who were also appointed July 10. 

The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is one of 10 pontifical academies in Vatican City. Its headquarters is the Casina Pio IV, a villa in the Vatican Gardens, and its current president is another Italian economist, Stefano Zamagni.

Conjoined twins can have 'normal lives' after Vatican hospital performs separation surgery

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Twins who were conjoined at the head are likely to return home within months from the Vatican’s pediatric hospital where their bodies were successfully separated by doctors, and they have a high chance of living normal lives, the hospital’s chief neurosurgeon told CNA.

The Bambino Gesù Hospital announced the successful separation surgery July 7, saying it was the first operation of its kind in Italy and probably the world.

 

Separate due gemelle siamesi unite per la testa. È il primo intervento di questo tipo in Italia e, probabilmente, l'unico al mondo per una delle più rare e complesse forme di fusione a livello cranico e cerebrale. Oggi stanno bene e possono crescere come le bimbe della loro età pic.twitter.com/1S3YwHkuq8

— Bambino Gesù (@bambinogesu) July 7, 2020  

The final stage of surgery, which took place on June 5, lasted 18 hours and involved more than 30 medical staff. The two-year-old sisters are expected to make a full recovery.

"We have been able to accomplish an extraordinary result despite such a complex malformation, being able to separate with an optimal clinical result. From a neurological standpoint, the two little girls are doing very well and have excellent prognosis for normal lives in the future," Dr. Carlo Efisio Marras, director of neurosurgery of the Bambino Gesù hospital told CNA July 8.

“This accomplishment is the fruit of more than a yearlong work of investigation and preparation involving several specialties and professions within the hospital. There were many difficult phases since several surgical procedures were needed, each one with its own challenges,” Marras told CNA

“But the most difficult one involved the venous system, that is, the network of vases that brings blood from the heart to the brain to bring oxygen to it. If we would have not succeeded in deal with this system shared by both babies, the result would had been catastrophic."

"But the two little twins are well: we believe they can be released in a few months. They will have to go through a rehabilitation phase to learn the motions they were not able to perform previously. I wholeheartedly wish them a happy future. They are now in the condition to return to a normal life.” 

“I have to thank my hospital, which is known for bringing together research, development and solidarity, for this extraordinary experience,” Marras added.

The hospital said the twins, Ervina and Prefina, were born on June 29, 2018 in a village about 60 miles outside Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. They were joined together with “one of the rarest and most complex forms of cranial and cerebral fusion,” known as total posterior craniopagus.

Mariella Enoc, president of the Bambino Gesù, met the twins in July 2018, during a visit to Bangui, where the sisters had been transferred after their birth. Enoc was helping to oversee the expansion of pediatric services in the country, which is one of the world’s poorest, in response to an appeal from Pope Francis. She decided to bring the girls to Rome for surgery.

“When you encounter lives that can be saved, it must be done. We cannot and must not look away,” she said at a press conference Tuesday.

The twins arrived in Italy with their mother, Ermine, on September 10, 2018. Initial tests confirmed the sisters were healthy, but had different blood pressures, indicating that one of the girls’ hearts had to work harder to maintain the healthy functioning of their organs, including their brains.

The hospital said the twins were joined via the back of the head, including the nape, sharing both skin and cranial bones. But the greatest challenge for doctors was that they were joined at a deeper level, sharing membranes inside the skull as well as the venous system, through which blood used by the brain is transported back to the heart.

The hospital emphasized that the sisters had distinct personalities, describing Prefina as “playful and lively,” and Ervina as “more serious and observant.”

A multidisciplinary team, including neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists, and plastic surgeons, prepared for more than a year for the operation to separate the twins. The hospital’s ethics committee contributed to a plan ensuring that the girls would have the same quality of life.

The separation took place in three stages. In the first, in May 2019, neurosurgeons started to separate and rebuild the membranes and venous systems.

The second, a month later, focused on the confluence of sinuses in the brain. The hospital said it was a critical phase of the treatment as “the operating space is a few millimeters.”

The two operations prepared the girls for the third and final phase of complete separation on June 5.

“It was an exciting moment, a fantastic, unrepeatable experience. It was a very ambitious goal and we did everything we could to achieve it, with passion, optimism and joy. By sharing each step, studying every single detail together,” Marras said.

Bambino Gesù, colloquially known as the “Pope’s hospital,” is among the most important pediatric hospitals in the world. Founded in 1869 by the Duchess Arabella Salviati, the hospital was donated to Pius XI in 1924, with the aim of giving it a more stable future. While the hospital is located in Rome, rather than Vatican City, it is situated in an extraterritorial area administered by the Holy See.

The hospital said Tuesday: “A month after the final separation, the twins are doing well. … On June 29 they celebrated their second birthdays, looking into each other’s eyes, moving their little hands to the rhythm of music, in the arms of their mother.”

“They have undergone very difficult operations; the wounds will take some time to heal; the risk of infection is still present. The neurorehabilitation program continues and for a few months they will have to wear a protective helmet.”

“But post-operative checks indicate that the brain is intact. The recreated system works, the blood flow has adapted to the new path.”

Speaking at the press conference, the girl’s mother, Ermine, said: “If we had stayed in Africa I don’t know what fate they would have had. Now that they are separate and well, I would like them to be baptized by Pope Francis who has always taken care of the children of Bangui. My little ones can now grow up, study and become doctors to save other children.”

 

 

Pope Francis calls on Christians to recognize the face of Christ in migrants

Vatican City, Jul 8, 2020 / 06:05 am (CNA).- Pope Francis offered Mass Wednesday asking the Virgin Mary to help Christians recognize the face of Christ in each migrant and refugee.

“As we undertake to seek the face of the Lord, we may recognize Him in the face of the poor, the sick, the abandoned, and the foreigners whom God places on our way. And this encounter becomes for us a time of grace and salvation, as it bestows on us the same mission entrusted to the Apostles,” Pope Francis said in the Casa Santa Marta chapel July 8.

“May the Virgin Mary, Solacium migrantium, ‘Solace or Comfort of Migrants,’ help us discover the face of Her Son in all our brothers and sisters who are forced to flee from their homeland because of the many injustices that still afflict our world today,” the pope said in his homily.

Invoking the new Marian title added to the Litany of Loreto in June, Pope Francis prayed for the migrants who are in detention camps in Libya and elsewhere who are often subject to abuse and violence.

He recommended words of Christ that can be used as a part of one’s daily examination of conscience: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The pope said: “The encounter with the other is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us. It is He who knocks on our door, hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, seeking an encounter with us and requesting our assistance.”

Pope Francis offered Mass at his residence to mark the seventh anniversary of his visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, only the staff of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican Department for Promoting Integral Human Development were in attendance. 

“Today’s responsorial Psalm urges us always to seek the Lord’s face: ‘Rely on the mighty Lord, constantly seek His face,’” he said. “This quest is a fundamental attitude in the life of all the faithful, who have come to realize that the ultimate goal of their existence is the encounter with God.”

During his homily, the pope told the story of his encounter with an Ethiopian migrant during his visit to Lampedusa in 2013, recalling that he later found out that his translator at the time had “distilled” the migrant’s story because of the intensity of the suffering recounted.

“This happens today with Libya,” he said. “They give us a ‘distilled’ version. The war is bad, we know it, but you cannot imagine the hell they live through there in those detention camps. And these people only came with hope to cross the sea.”

Pope Francis has frequently spoken out about the plight of migrants detained in Libya this year. On June 14 the pope called on the international community to “take their plight to heart” and to identify pathways and means to provide them with the protection that they need for a dignified condition, adding that the health situation with the coronavirus pandemic has aggravated the migrants’ already precarious conditions.

Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy, is located 160 nautical miles from the Libyan capital of Tripoli. It is a primary destination for migrants from Africa seeking entry to Europe.

Pope Francis visited the Mediterranean island on July 8, 2013. The trip, his first pastoral visit outside Rome, signaled that concern for migrants would be at the center of his pontificate.

The pope quoted part of his Lampedusa homily in the livestreamed Mass. He said: “The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.” 

“In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.”

The pope then responded with a reflection on how the Apostles’ lives were transformed by their encounter with Christ.

“The personal encounter with the Lord, a time of grace and salvation, immediately entails a mission: ‘As you go, Jesus tells them, make this proclamation: The kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” he said. “Encounter and mission cannot be separated.”

Bishop's brother appointed brother bishop in Savannah

Vatican City, Jul 8, 2020 / 05:35 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed Fr. Stephen D. Parkes as the next bishop of Savannah, Georgia, Wednesday.

The Holy See press office announced July 8 that Parkes, a priest of the Diocese of Orlando, would succeed Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, who was appointed archbishop of Atlanta in March.

Parkes, 55, currently serves as pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church in Longwood, Florida. His older brother, Gregory Parkes, is bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida.

 

A day of great joy as my brother, Fr. Stephen Parkes, is appointed Bishop of Savannah by Pope Francis! Blessed to be brothers. Blessed to be brother Bishops! #courageouslyliving @DioStPete pic.twitter.com/yYxTDSVGVi

— Bishop Parkes (@BishopParkes) July 8, 2020  

The bishop-elect was born on June 2, 1965, in Mineola, New York. He attended Massapequa High School in New York and gained a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from the University of South Florida in Tampa. He worked in business and banking before pursuing a vocation to the priesthood.

In a 2015 Legatus Magazine interview, he said: “After college I started working for a bank. I always felt that I was seeking something more. I knew that I wasn’t fulfilled working for the bank, and I felt God was calling me to a life of service to the Church.”

“It wasn’t a quick, easy decision. I attended a weekend discernment retreat, but it took me two years before I picked up an application for seminary.”

He studied philosophy and theology at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Orlando on May 23, 1998. 

His first appointment was as parochial vicar to Annunciation Catholic Church in Longwood. In 2005, he was named parochial administrator at Most Precious Blood Church in Oviedo, Florida.

From 2004 to 2011, he served as spiritual director for Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Parkes was appointed pastor at Annunciation Catholic Church in 2011. A speaker of both English and Spanish, he has served as spiritual director of the Catholic Foundation of Central Florida since 2009, and as Dean of the North Central Deanery from 2010.

The Diocese of Savannah covers 37,038 square miles in the state of Georgia, with a total population of  2,934,000 of which 75,603 are Catholic, according to a July 8 press release from the USCCB.  

The diocese announced July 8 that his episcopal ordination and installation will take place at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, Savannah, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, the feast of St Padre Pio.

In a message to members of the diocese Wednesday, Diocesan Administrator Fr. Daniel F. Firmin wrote: “We are deeply grateful to our Holy Father for this gift to our diocese.”

“How fortunate we are to welcome a seasoned and gifted pastor! In his 22 years of priestly ministry, he has served in parishes, directed souls, and was the campus minister at the University of Central Florida for nearly a decade. His pastoral zeal and concern are immediately evident when meeting him.”

Vatican cardinal: peace is threatened as health and economic crises continue

Vatican City, Jul 7, 2020 / 07:40 am (CNA).- A Vatican cardinal has said that the world is facing a “tsunami” of humanitarian crises caused by the coronavirus emergency, conflict, and decreased security around the globe.

Echoing Pope Francis, Cardinal Peter Turkson called July 7 for a global ceasefire during the pandemic so that assistance can safely be provided to those in need, especially in countries with ongoing conflict such as Yemen and Venezuela.

Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, also noted a critical need for disarmament, proposing that money used to finance arms be redirected toward supporting healthcare systems instead.

The global health emergency, economic recession, and ongoing climate crisis mean “diminishing access to water, diminishing access to food, increasing social unrest, violence, breakdown of law and order, and unfortunately, the normalization of insecurity, distrust, and uncertainty,” the cardinal said.

“The confluence of all of these crises has engendered a veritable tsunami of humanitarian crises,” he continued, “which has spread and spared no human life [or] institution from its disruptive consequences especially its impact on harmony and peace.”

Turkson spoke during a press conference about the Vatican’s COVID-19 Commission, which he leads. In particular, the cardinal addressed the focus of the commission’s second working group, which is security.

On the subject of a global ceasefire, he said that he supported appeals made by Pope Francis and by the UN Secretary General António Guterres. There are countries already suffering from conflict now with additional grave needs due to the coronavirus crisis, he said, but “intervention itself is rendered difficult by the violence.”

Turkson said that strategies the commission is using to appeal for a ceasefire include the advocacy of local peace and justice commissions, along with calls for reconciliation and global solidarity, and creating a “redefinition of peace,” following the example of St. Pope John XXIII in the 1963 encyclical Pacem in terris, framing peace in terms such as “food security,” “solidarity,” and an “inclusive public health system.”

Other steps he said the commission was taking include working with on-the-ground groups such as Caritas Internationalis and Sant’Egidio to help find peaceful resolutions to conflicts.

Sister Alessandra Smerilli, a member of the COVID-19 commission and an economics professor, noted in her presentation Pope Francis’ request “to prepare the future and not only be prepared for the future.”

The global economic recession is expected to displace billions of jobs, she said, noting that “the pandemic knows no borders. Then, we need solutions without borders.”

She said that the economic taskforce of the commission had been meeting weekly to think about and discuss different economic issues connected to the pandemic.

The religious sister added that she was not a fan of the word “recovery” in reference to the economy, but preferred to say “regenerate the economy,” because of its focus on doing something new.

Alessio Pecorario, another commission member, called the security taskforce, which he coordinates, the “network of the network.”

Pecorario said that members were working to bring together different experts and Catholic non-violence groups to bring together concrete proposals on the issue of peace and security.

Pope Francis to celebrate Mass marking anniversary of Lampedusa visit

Vatican City, Jul 6, 2020 / 06:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis will celebrate Mass Wednesday marking the seventh anniversary of his visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The Mass will take place at 11 a.m. local time July 8 in the chapel of the pope’s residence, the Casa Santa Marta, and will be livestreamed.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance will be restricted to staff of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Department for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Pope Francis visited the Mediterranean island on July 8, 2013, shortly after his election. The trip, his first pastoral visit outside Rome, signaled that concern for migrants would be at the center of his pontificate. 

Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy, is located approximately 70 miles away from Tunisia. It is a primary destination for migrants from Africa seeking entry to Europe.

Reports say that during the coronavirus outbreak migrant boats have continued to land on the island, which has received tens of thousands of migrants in recent years.

The pope chose to visit the island after reading harrowing reports of migrants dying while attempting the crossing from North Africa to Italy.

Upon arrival, he threw a wreath into the sea in memory of those who had drowned.

Celebrating Mass close to a “boat cemetery” containing the remains of shipwrecked migrant boats, he said: “When I first heard of this tragedy a few weeks ago, and realized that it happens all too frequently, it has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart.”

“So I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated. Please, let it not be repeated!”

On October 3, 2013, more than 360 migrants died when the vessel carrying them from Libya sank off Lampedusa.

The pope marked the sixth anniversary of his visit last year with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In his homily, he called for an end to rhetoric that dehumanized migrants.

“They are persons; these are not mere social or migrant issues!” he said. “‘This is not just about migrants,’ in the twofold sense that migrants are first of all human persons, and that they are the symbol of all those rejected by today’s globalized society.”

Pope Francis commends UN Security Council for global ceasefire resolution

Vatican City, Jul 5, 2020 / 06:20 am (CNA).- Pope Francis applauded the United Nations Security Council Sunday for its recent resolution calling for an immediate global ceasefire amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The call for a global and immediate ceasefire, which would allow the peace and security necessary to provide the urgently needed humanitarian assistance, is commendable,” Pope Francis said after his Angelus prayer July 5.

“I hope that this decision will be implemented effectively and promptly for the good of many people who are suffering. May this Security Council resolution become a courageous first step towards a peaceful future,” he said.

The ceasefire resolution applies to conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya, South Sudan, and Congo, according to the Associated Press. It demands “a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days” to ensure that medical and humanitarian aid will reach those in need as the coronavirus continues to spread.

The 15 countries that make up the Security Council passed the resolution July 1 after months of disagreement between China and the United States over whether the text would include references to either the World Health Organization or “transparency.”

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres first called for a global ceasefire on March 23 with Pope Francis echoing this appeal the following week.

The UN Secretary General said that a global ceasefire would “help create corridors for life-saving aid” and “bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” He pointed out that refugee camps and people with existing health conditions are most at risk of suffering “devastating losses.”

On March 29, Pope Francis said: “Conflicts are not resolved through war.” He added that conflicts must be overcome through “dialogue and a constructive search for peace.”

The pope said in his Angelus address July 5 that Jesus offers “the weary and oppressed” much more than “psychological solace or a lavish handout.”

“The joy that Jesus gives us. It is unique. It is the joy that he himself has,” he said.

“The world exalts those who are rich and powerful, no matter by what means, and at times tramples upon the human being and his or her dignity. And we see this every day, the poor who are trampled underfoot,” Pope Francis said. “And it is a message for the Church, called to live works of mercy and to evangelise the poor, to be meek and humble. This is how the Lord wants His Church, that is, us, to be.”

Pope Francis said that Jesus placed himself among “those who labor and are burdened” because he was “meek and humble of heart.”

“May Mary, the humblest and highest of creatures, implore from God wisdom of the heart for us … that we may discern its signs in our lives and be sharers in those mysteries which, hidden from the proud, are revealed to the humble,” the pope said.

Pope Francis makes donation to World Food Programme as pandemic causes rising hunger

Vatican City, Jul 3, 2020 / 08:35 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has made a donation to the World Food Programme as the organization works to feed 270 million people this year amid rising hunger caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus infection levels have been rising in Latin America and Africa at a moment when food stocks in some parts of the world are already low, leaving more people vulnerable to food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme website.

The Vatican announced July 3 that Pope Francis would donate 25,000 euros ($28,000) as “an expression of his closeness to those affected by the pandemic and to those who are engaged in essential services for the poor and weakest and most vulnerable people in our society.”

With this “symbolic” gesture, the pope desires to express “paternal encouragement towards the organization's humanitarian work and toward other countries willing to adhere to forms of support for integral development and public health in this time of crisis, and to combat social instability, food insecurity, rising unemployment, and the collapse of the economic systems of the most vulnerable nations.”

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has issued a call for $4.9 billion in funding to bring food assistance where governments are asking for more support. 

“The impact of COVID-19 on people is demanding us to step up and scale up our efforts to ensure more food-insecure people receive assistance,” Margot van der Velden, director of emergencies for WFP, said July 2.

Van der Velden said that she was particularly worried about Latin America, which has seen a threefold rise in the number of people requiring food assistance as the outbreak spreads across the region.

South Africa, which has documented more than 159,000 COVID-19 cases, has also experienced a 90% rise in the number of food-insecure people, according to WFP.

“The front line in the battle against the coronavirus is shifting from the rich world to the poor world,” WFP head David Beasley said June 29.

“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos,” he said.

European bishops call for EU support of persecuted Christians in Nigeria

Vatican City, Jul 3, 2020 / 05:30 am (CNA).- The president of the European bishops’ commission has promised persecuted Christians in Nigeria that he will advocate for increased support from the European Union. 

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who leads the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), wrote a letter to the Nigerian bishops stating that the commission will advocate for EU assistance and cooperation with the Nigerian authorities to combat violence and persecution. 

The cardinal expressed solidarity with Nigerian Christian communities, who, he wrote, are “living a situation of continuous attacks by terrorists, insurgents and militias, that in some cases reaches levels of genuine criminal persecution,” according to a European commission statement July 2.

An estimated 6,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed since 2015, mostly by Boko Haram and militant Fulani herders, the European commission reported.

More than 600 Christians have been killed so far in 2020, according to a International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) report on May 15. Christians have been beheaded and set on fire, farms set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.

A Boko Haram attack on a village in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno left at least 81 people dead June 9. The attack was the latest in an ongoing Islamist group against the country’s Christian population. Earlier in June a Christian pastor and his pregnant wife were killed on their farm in the northeastern region of the country.

In January, militants kidnapped four Catholic seminarians from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, killing one of them, Michael Nnadi. On March 1, Nigerian priest Fr. David Echioda was kidnapped by gunmen after offering Sunday Mass, but was released days afterward.

The European bishops’ conferences commission has been vocal in calling on EU member states to “increase their efforts in order to stop the violence in Nigeria, bring criminals to justice, support the victims and promote dialogue and peace,” according to the COMECE statement.

In May 2020, the bishops “urged the international community to use diplomatic, political and financial instruments to assist Nigerian authorities to stop the violence, bringing the criminals to justice, supporting the victims and fully including Christians (47% of the national population) in all state structures and levels of administrations -- including the police and armed forces.”

Leaders within the United States have also called for further support of Nigeria’s Christians. On June 25, former Rep. Frank Wolf said that the U.S. should send a special envoy to Nigeria to coordinate the protection of the Christian population and prevent further destabilization of the area.

In February, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CNA that Nigeria was one of the countries of highest concern when it came to violations of religious freedom. 

Brownback said he was concerned that the situation in Nigeria would spread to nearby countries if nothing was done to crack down on religious persecution. 

“There's a lot of people getting killed in Nigeria, and we're afraid it is going to spread a great deal in that region,” he told CNA. “It is one that's really popped up on my radar screens -- in the last couple of years, but particularly this past year.”

Cardinal Hollerich said that he was particularly concerned for the people who are forced from their homes by the increased violence in Nigeria. He said it was important that Europe welcomes and protects them.

“My thoughts and my heart are with the many young people who are forced to leave the country because of violence and lack of socio-economic prospects,” Hollerich said.

Vatican financial watchdog hails ‘rising trend’ in reports to Promoter of Justice

Vatican City, Jul 3, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s financial watchdog authority reported Friday that it received 64 suspicious activity reports in 2019, 15 of which it forwarded to the Promoter of Justice for possible prosecution. 

In its annual report, released July 3, the Financial Intelligence Authority (Autorità di Informazione Finanziaria, or AIF) hailed “the rising trend in the ratio between reports to the Promoter of Justice” and cases of suspicious financial activity.

The report comes ahead of a scheduled inspection by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, which has put pressure on the Vatican to prosecute breaches of financial regulations. 

Unlike in previous years, the report was not presented at a Vatican press conference.

The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee Vatican financial transactions. It is charged with ensuring that internal banking policies comply with international financial standards.

The number of suspicious activity reports (SARs) is seen as an important indicator of the AIF’s performance. In 2017, there were 150, while in 2018 there were 56. 

The AIF forwarded 11 reports to the Promoter of Justice in 2018, four fewer than in 2019. 

In the introduction to the new report, AIF director Giuseppe Schlitzer wrote: “Overall, the tendency towards higher quality SARs is strengthening, thanks to the guidelines on more specific anomaly indicators which was provided and a more conscious implementation of a risk-based approach.”

In the introduction Schlitzer said that in 2019 the AIF had “intensified its action in every branch of activity, while consolidating forms of collaboration with other states and jurisdictions.” 

“At the system-wide level, also thanks to the Vatican authorities’ strong commitment to fighting money laundering and the financing of terrorism, there was further progress towards a better functioning and international recognition of the jurisdiction,” he wrote.

He noted that the AIF had carried out two onsite inspections at the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), commonly known as “the Vatican Bank.” 

The first, in June, “aimed at assessing the technical compliance with the legal and regulatory framework for payment services.” The second, in August, “consisted in a general compliance assessment in the fields of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.” 

The annual report said that the AIF exchanged 66 requests for information with foreign financial intelligence units concerning 373 subjects. 

It also said: “Domestic cooperation with the competent authorities of the Holy See and the Vatican City State is intense and led to 24 requests for information and concerned 423 subjects.”

“A marked increase in exchanges with the authorities of the Holy See and Vatican City State was observed as compared with the previous year, which confirms the trend of greater domestic cooperation and exchange of information, as well as greater involvement of Holy See and Vatican City State authorities in countering money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.”

Moneyval was due to carry out a scheduled inspection of the Vatican in spring 2020. But the inspection was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a July 3 statement on the AIF's annual report, the watchdog’s president Carmelo Barbagallo said that the Moneyval evaluation team would begin its inspection of the Holy See and Vatican City State Sept. 29.

“The inspection, which will last about two weeks, was actually scheduled to begin in April but was postponed because of the pandemic. AIF has been tasked with heading the Vatican’s delegation,” he said.

He continued: “Several years have gone by since Moneyval’s first inspection of the Holy See and Vatican City State, which took place in 2012. During this time span, Moneyval has remotely monitored the many advances made by the jurisdiction in the fight to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism. As such, the upcoming inspection is especially important. Its outcome may determine how the jurisdiction is perceived by the financial community.”

“The Moneyval inspection will be broad-based. It will cover both the legislative framework and its effective implementation. It is crucial to arrive well prepared, to highlight the progress achieved in recent years in the system of controls, and to underscore what has been done in recent months to assure further progress.”

Last year was a turbulent period for the financial watchdog. 

On Oct. 1, Vatican gendarmes raided the AIF’s offices in connection with a controversial London property deal. This led to the suspension of five employees and officials, including Tommaso Di Ruzza, the AIF’s director. They were also blocked from entering the Vatican.

The Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work, suspended the AIF Nov. 13.

René Brüelhart, a Swiss lawyer who had served as president of the AIF since 2012, resigned Nov. 18.

Marc Odendall, a Swiss-German banker and member of the AIF board, resigned the same day, citing the Egmont Group’s decision and Brüelhart’s departure.

“We cannot access information and we cannot share information. There is no point in staying on the board of an empty shell,” he told the Associated Press.

During an in-flight press conference Nov. 26, Pope Francis confirmed that Di Ruzza remained suspended because of suspected “bad administration.”

“It was AIF that did not control, it seems, the crimes of others. And therefore [it failed] in its duty of controls. I hope that they prove it is not so. Because there is, still, the presumption of innocence,” Pope Francis said.

Barbagallo, an auditor and Italian banking consultant, was named Brüelhart’s successor Nov. 27.

Barbagallo announced in January that the Egmont Group had lifted its suspension of the AIF.

Addressing the incident in his statement on the AIF's annual report, Barbagallo said: “The suspension was lifted after only two months, once adequate reassurance was provided to Egmont. Crucial to this aim was the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by AIF and the Promoter of Justice.”

“With this memorandum, we were able to assure our foreign counterparts that, should the need arise to seize confidential documents and information, the seizure would be carried out in accordance with the confidentiality standards established by the Egmont Group concerning financial intelligence.”

The Vatican announced the appointment of Schlitzer as director of the AIF April 15. He succeeded Di Ruzza, who completed his five-year term of office January 20, according to the Vatican.

In his July 3 statement Barbagallo said that the AIF hoped to issue “a new statute and the first internal regulation.”

“First and foremost, pursuant to the new statute, the name of the Authority would change to the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (SFIA), a name that highlights the Authority’s dual nature as intelligence unit and supervisory (and regulatory) authority,” he wrote.