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The Wuerl Grift

Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Today Show screengrab)

Pay attention. This is serious.

Writing in First Things, Matthew B. O’Brien lays out a case for how Cardinal Donald Wuerl misled the Papal Foundation, the U.S.-based charitable foundation established by Cardinal Ted McCarrick under John Paul II’s papacy to provide a source of revenue for the use of the Holy Father. Excerpts:

In 2017, Cardinal Donald Wuerl provided false and misleading information to the board of the Papal Foundation to secure a $25 million grant for the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), a scandal-plagued hospital in Rome.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin requested this grant from the Papal Foundation in June 2017, on behalf of Pope Francis. When the Papal Foundation board met in December 2017 to discuss the grant, Wuerl made two false assertions which were recorded in the meeting minutes. First, he claimed that the Italian religious congregation that oversaw the IDI’s descent into insolvency through fraud and embezzlement (the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception) was no longer involved with the IDI. Second, he understated the amount of debt encumbering the IDI and its affiliates since the hospital group emerged from state-administered insolvency proceedings in April 2015. He painted a picture of a hospital that was experiencing momentary cash-flow problems, but was otherwise sound.

But the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception was not separated from the IDI. It retains indirect ownership today, in partnership with the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, through the non-profit Fondazione Luigi Maria Monti and a limited liability subsidiary, Luigi Maria Monti, S.r.l. Together they own and operate the IDI and its affiliates. Moreover, IDI’s debt was far greater than Wuerl suggested: Though Wuerl mentioned that the IDI group owed $26 million in payables, he did not mention that it also owed $60 million in mortgage debt. Because Wuerl resisted lay board members’ requests to obtain financial statements from the IDI hospital, the Papal Foundation board had to rely upon Wuerl’s remarks about its ownership and financial situation when evaluating the $25 million grant request.

Wuerl’s actions are especially questionable in light of what he knew at the time about then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s interest in securing the grant. The Holy See, Wuerl, and McCarrick—an ex-officio member of the Papal Foundation board—knew that McCarrick was at the time under investigation in New York for sexually abusing a minor, according to two sources with personal knowledge of the situation. Wuerl was aware that McCarrick stood to win leniency in his sex abuse case if the Papal Foundation secured $25 million for the Vatican’s Secretary of State.

O’Brien says he spoke with several members of the Papal Foundation board — wealthy American Catholic laymen — who were outraged by the scamming, and who provided to him details of the meeting, and more. The article is quite detailed. The gist of it is that Cardinal Wuerl appears to have used tens of millions of donor dollars in a dishonest way — a way that, in fact, might have broken US tax law governing non-profit entities — to increase his personal influence in the Roman curia. If he’s right, Matthew O’Brien has sketched out the anatomy of a grift.


The sex abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church is not just about sex. Nor is it just about clericalism.  It’s also about money. The controversy over the Papal Foundation’s $25 million grant reveals how sexual abuse, its cover-up, and money are intertwined.

That’s right. If O’Brien is onto something — and it sounds very much that he is — then Cardinal Wuerl, Bishop Bransfield, and defrocked Cardinal McCarrick ought to be investigated by law enforcement. This is not something that happened many years ago, beyond the statute of limitations. This is something fresh. This looks like an example of princes of the Church screwing the laity out of charitable contributions for the sake of advancing their clerical careers by quietly bailing out a shady Italian operation that meant a lot to Pope Francis.

Read the whole thing. Sexual abuse, its cover-up, and money are intertwined. Remember that.    

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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