31 December 2020

Please Explain $2bn, Bishops Ask Pope Francis

They deserve answers! AU$2bn will buy a great deal of false testimony, and a great many  corrupt judges, and venal jurymen!

From The Australian

By Dennis Shanahan

Australia's Catholic bishops are working on a direct request to the Pope to investigate and explain how $2.3bn was transferred from the Vatican City to Australia over six years without their knowledge. 

The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference is considering the request after they were "astonished at the scale of the transfers" from the Holy See's secretariat of state between 2014 and this year. 

The Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, told The Australian on Tuesday that no Australian Catholic, diocese, charity, religious order or church entity had received any of the money. 

"In the current atmosphere of dark speculation about money transfers, the lack of transparency and the way in which it was revealed is very unhelpful," he said. "We are considering asking the Holy See to explain the transfers in a way that provides clarity and transparency." 

Last Wednesday, The Australian revealed that an official report from Australia's international financial watchdog, Austrac, had found $2.3bn had been transferred from the Vatican City over the past six years. 

The Australian Federal Police is investigating some of the transfers from the Vatican to Australia. 

These transfers rapidly increased from $71.6m in 2014 to $137.lm in 2015 before doubling again to $295m in 2016 and peaking at $581.3m in 2017, the Austrac disclosures made in response to  questions asked at Senate estimate hearings. 

More than $422m was transferred in 2018, $491.8m in 2019 and $294.8m this financial year to date - in total more than 40,000 transactions, Austrac found. 

Archbishop Coleridge said: "What is certain in the middle of great uncertainties is that Australian bishops did not know about these transfers until the disclosure last week and we were astonished at the scale of transfers. 

"I have spoken to other bishops and the Papal Nuncio in Canberra and nobody knew of these transfers and we don't know of any Australian Catholic charity, diocese, order or agency receiving any of this money from the Holy See. 

"We do know that despite some speculation, the money was certainly not used for the church's costs in relation to royal commissions or for Cardinal (George) Pell's legal costs. We are baffled." 

Archbishop Coleridge, who served in the Vatican secretariat of state for four years from 1997, said he was aware of claims that "cipher accounts" were being used in the Vatican's name by people who were not part of the Holy See to make international transfers and investments. 

He said cipher accounts and obscure financial accounts were "part of the problem'' Cardinal Pell had to confront when the Pope appointed him as his financial controller in 2014. 

On Monday in Rome, Francis signed a new law that stripped the Vatican's secretariat of state of all its financial and real estate assets amid a growing scandal of dubious investments, the removal of charitable funds and a troubled $360m building project in London's Chelsea district. 

The Austrac figures also show $117.4m was sent from Australia to the Vatican, likely part of an annual fund for charities. Those transfers have risen from $17.7m in 2014 to $32.4m in 2019. Only $7.Sm had been transferred to date this year. 

The Vatican has been embroiled in scandal in recent months over allegations of embezzlement and nepotism levelled against Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a senior member of the church's bureaucracy until this year who was an opponent to Cardinal Pell's reforms at the Vatican.

 Cardinal Becciu was fired by the Pope in September over the allegations. Cardinal Becciu has denied any wrongdoing. 

There have also been allegations to Vatican investigators that money was sent to Australia to adversely affect the sexual abuse trial of Cardinal Pell. 

To date, there has been no evidence produced to show any Vatican money was transferred to influence that trial. 

After Cardinal Pell's appointment as the Vatican's treasurer with the task of cleaning up the Holy See's finances, Victoria Police investigated and charged him with two cases of historical sexual abuse in Melbourne. 

After two trials in 2018 and 2019 - one hung jury and one guilty verdict - Cardinal Pell was sentenced to six years' jail and served more than a year in prison before he was acquitted unanimously by the High Court in April. 

In October, The Australian reported Vatican investigators were examining at least four transfers from the Vatican secretariat, including two from Cardinal Becciu, between 2017 and 2018 totalling $2m to a company in Melbourne. 

While Austrac has not disclosed the individual identities of the recipients of the money in Australia, some church sources cautioned it may have been for investment in the Australian bond and equities market. 

Archbishop Coleridge said the Holy See, like other governments and sovereign funds, was entitled to invest in Australia and had in the past, "but, particularly given the large amounts, we can't understand why the bishops here would not be aware of it'.

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