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Sex, Money, Clericalism & The Papal Foundation

A theory about the Vigano testimony, Uncle Ted, and the Pope of the poor shaking down wealthy American donors
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Here’s a theory. That’s all it is: a theory. But if I had the investigative resources, I would be looking into it.

I learned this week that under John Paul II, there were three people who always showed up at the Vatican with lots of money: Father Marcial Maciel, Cardinal Bernard Law, and Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who was made a cardinal by JP2. In 1988, McCarrick helped start the Papal Foundation, which raised money from wealthy American Catholics for the Pope’s favored projects. Last month, the Washington Post reported:

“The Papal Foundation was a huge point of leverage for him in terms of going to Rome,” said Steve Schneck, the longtime head of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University. Schneck worked often with McCarrick. “There is not a Catholic organization in the United States he hasn’t raised money for.”

The Papal Foundation has grown to be quite large, with assets of over $206 million. According to this report in the National Catholic Register:

The foundation is governed by a board of trustees, comprised of the eight U.S.-domiciled cardinals, who serve as ex officio members and who approved the seven bishops and archbishops and nine laypeople who serve as elected members.

Grants are to be allocated to needs that are of particular significance to the Holy Father, and, often, they have been made to institutions and organizations in Third World countries.

In 2017, for example, grants included $70,000 to construct a primary school in Bangladesh, $90,000 to complete a library for high-school students and the local community in Nicaragua, and $100,000 for an orthopedic and physiotherapy unit for the St. John Paul II Medical Center in Ghana.

Back in February, Lifesite News published a huge scoop about Pope Francis and the Papal Foundation. Excerpts:

Leaked documents obtained by LifeSiteNews connect the Pope himself to a new Vatican financial scandal and raise serious questions about his global reputation as the “pope for the poor.”

LifeSiteNews has obtained internal documents of the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, a charity with a stellar history of assisting the world’s poor, showing that last summer the Pope personally requested, and obtained in part, a $25 million grant to a corruption-plagued, Church-owned dermatological hospital in Rome accused of money laundering. Records from the financial police indicate the hospital has liabilities over one billion USD – an amount larger than the national debt of some 20 nations.

The grant has lay members of the Papal Foundation up in arms, and some tendering resignations.

Most of the board is composed of cardinals and other bishops, who greatly outnumber lay stewards. More:

According to the internal documents, the Pope made the request for the massive grant, which is 100 times larger than its normal grants, through Papal Foundation board chairman Cardinal Donald Wuerl in the summer of 2017.

Despite opposition from the lay “stewards,” the bishops on the board voted in December to send an $8 million payment to the Holy See. In January, the documents reveal, lay members raised alarm about what they consider a gross misuse of their funds, but despite their protests another $5 million was sent with Cardinal Wuerl brooking no dissent.

On January 6, the steward who until then served as chairman of the Foundation’s audit committee submitted his resignation along with a report of the committee’s grave objections to the grant.

“As head of the Audit Committee and a Trustee of the Foundation, I found this grant to be negligent in character, flawed in its diligence, and contrary to the spirit of the Foundation,” he wrote in his resignation letter accompanying the report. “Instead of helping the poor in a third-world country, the Board approved an unprecedented huge grant to a hospital that has a history of mismanagement, criminal indictments, and bankruptcy.”

“Had we allowed such recklessness in our personal careers we would never have met the requirements to join The Papal Foundation in the first place.”

Here is a link to one of the three leaked documents published by LifeSite. It’s a report from the Audit Committee of the Papal Foundation, and it’s a doozy. It says that all the bishops on the foundation board voted as a bloc to fund Pope Francis’s request to bail out the corrupt hospital, and that Cardinal Wuerl strongarmed it through. The Audit Committee said this grant was so unjustified, and so reckless, that the Papal Foundation would have trouble recruiting future donors.

The $25 million grant caused such internal dissent that after the Foundation paid half of it, Cardinal Wuerl wrote to the Pope asking him to decline the rest.

The Pope responded by cancelling the Papal Foundation’s annual stewards’ audience with him — a remarkable insult considering that the Americans had given him millions, both toward the hospital bailout, and to fund the Foundation’s usual projects for the poor. The stewards all promise to donate at least $100,000 per year for 10 years to the Papal Foundation. Most of that money goes to fund projects to help the world’s poor. Francis snubbed them all.

In March, Christopher Altieri of the Catholic Herald wrote a commentary about the scandal.   In this excerpt, he quotes a document written by James Longon, a lay member of the board and head of its audit committee:

Longon’s summary says: “This is a badly run business venture, not a helping of our Church or a helping of the poor. Cardinal Wuerl stated that the Holy Father is simply turning to the Papal Foundation for assistance to get through that bridge time while the hospital gets back on its feet. Sounds like a business loan to me.”

In the wake of the row, the cardinals walked back their promise of assistance. Cardinal Wuerl has requested that the Vatican not accept the outstanding $12 million. The cardinals have also promised increased lay involvement to approve requests greater than $1 million.

That’s all fine, but when a group of successful business leaders raise issues over the prudence of a measure involving the money they earned, one tends to think it wise to heed them. So, how did this happen?

The answer is, in a word, clericalism. The stewards upon whose generosity the Papal Foundation depends are businessmen of great acumen, long years’ experience and extraordinary accomplishment. More to the point, they are stewards ­– at least they are styled so – and do not take kindly to being treated as cash cows. “It felt like irresponsible and immoral stewardship,” Longon told the Wall Street Journal. “I’m 73,” he added, “and getting close to Judgment Day.”

Frankly, when churchmen who have spent their entire careers playing with house money hear such objections and reply to the effect that there’s nothing to see here, one tends to think that perhaps there is.

James Longon resigned from the Papal Foundation board in disgust. If you compare the list of 2016 board members with the current list, you’ll see who replaced Longon on the board: Timothy Busch, a wealthy conservative California lawyer and philanthropist who, among other things, founded the Napa Institute. Readers will remember that the Napa Institute gave disgraced Archbishop John Nienstedt a place to land after he resigned as leader of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Catholics over his handling of sex abuse.

Nienstedt and Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, author of the controversial testimony, are old friends. Vigano was accused of trying to quash the Archdiocese’s investigation of Nienstedt’s alleged homosexual promiscuity, though he denied doing so.

In 2016, both Vigano and Busch were honored at a dinner at Rome’s North American College, where elite American seminarians are trained. Point is, they know each other. In fact, Busch told The New York Times this week:

Two weeks ago, Archbishop Viganò privately shared his plan to speak out with an influential American friend: Timothy Busch, a wealthy, conservative Catholic lawyer on the board of governors of the media network in which Archbishop Viganò ultimately revealed his letter.

“Archbishop Viganò has done us a great service,” Mr. Busch said in a phone interview Sunday night. “He decided to come forward because if he didn’t, he realized he would be perpetuating the cover-up.”

Mr. Busch said he believed Archbishop Viganò’s claims to be “credible,” and that he did not know in advance that the archbishop would choose to publish his attack in the National Catholic Register, which is owned by the Eternal Word Television Network, where Mr. Busch is on the board of governors.

So, let’s wrap this up:

  1. Pope Francis asks rich American donors, via the Papal Foundation, to bail out a scandal-ridden Catholic hospital in Rome.
  2. Lay stewards at the Foundation balk at the unprecedented size of the request — $25 million, dwarfing previous gifts — as well as the fact that the Foundation doesn’t fund projects like this. Nor had the Foundation done due diligence on this hospital to make sure it’s money was going to a worthwhile cause.
  3. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, along with all the cardinals and bishops on the board, steamroll approval of the gift.
  4. The money causes such consternation on the Foundation board that Cardinal Wuerl writes to Pope Francis, after half the money was sent, telling him that the rest of it won’t be coming.
  5. Francis in return cancels the board’s annual audience with him in Rome.
  6. One of those board members, Tim Busch, is friends with Archbishop Vigano, and consults with Vigano about his plan to publish a testimony alleging that Pope Francis knew all about Cardinal McCarrick’s molesting ways, yet drew him in as an adviser and emissary.
  7. Vigano chooses a Catholic media outlet connected to Busch as one of the three platforms to which he releases the testimony.

The theory here is that Vigano is telling the truth about gay sex, the Catholic hierarchy and a papal cover-up, but that it may be connected to a bitter fight over money. Tens of millions of dollars, and fury at the Pope, Cardinal Wuerl, and the American prelates on the Foundation board for shaking down wealthy laity to get the Pope’s Roman cronies out of a jam, then the poor-people’s pontiff slamming the door in their faces after he didn’t get what he wanted. Could it be that Busch was sick and tired of clericalism, cronyism, and corruption, and had a hand in encouraging, or at least publicizing, Vigano’s exposé of the network? Might this be a case of telling the truth about sex as payback for arrogant senior clerics pushing around the laity and picking their pockets?

Maybe Busch (and others on the Foundation) just got sick of their money, which they gave to be used to help the poor, being used by men like Ted McCarrick and Donald Wuerl to advance their clerical careers by buying influence in Rome.

If I were a full-time investigative reporter instead of a harried scribe moldering on the Louisiana bayou in the late summer heat, I would be chasing down these leads. I told a Washington reporter friend last month that if the full story of Theodore McCarrick is ever told, it’s going to be a seamy tale of gay sex, money, power, and cutthroat conspiracy. That was an informed guess. Now that more is coming to light, it’s turning out to be exactly that.

UPDATE: Robert Moynihan reports in his Letter #44:

And the Napa Institute, led by Timothy Busch — who was in touch with Vigano two weeks before the publication of his text — has announced that they will assemble a group of Catholic laymen in America to meet in Washington D.C. at Catholic University on October 1 and 2 to discuss all of these events, and to propose ways that laymen can perhaps “take over” some of the oversight functions of the US bishops in running the Church in the US (link).

I do not know whether we should call this a potentially revolutionary conference, or not… or whether we might call it a conference to “declericalize” or “re-clericalize” the Church. I will try to attend the meeting.


Because the battle that has been triggered by Vigano‘s text is a specific crystallization of a century-old battle between two concepts of reality, one “material” and one “spiritual” — a crystallization which is bringing the long battle to a climax. (Yes, the 100-year-old battle between “modernist” and “orthodox” Catholics believers.)

So the battle, seemingly, has finally in these days been joined, and the result, for better or worse, may determine the Church’s direction for decades to come.

It’s all becoming clearer, isn’t it?

If you are a Church progressive, you may see what’s happening as a coup attempt against Pope Francis and his liberalizing agenda, led by conservative Churchmen (Archbishop Vigano and powerful laymen).

If you are a Church conservative, you may see this an attempt by a fed-up laity (and a disgusted archbishop) to stop the chaos in the Church unleashed by Francis, and to sort out a corrupt hierarchy that is incapable of reforming itself because it is so sexually compromised and weakened by clericalism.

However you see it, the battle is joined. The one thing that nobody can deny is that corruption in the Church — specifically, the sexual abuse of boys and seminarians by priests and even cardinals — has rotted the Catholic institution.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Pope Francis and the other curial cardinals named by Vigano have not defended themselves because they have no defense. They are guilty as charged. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, that dirty old moneygrubbing lecher, is a living symbol of their corruption.

Tonight I watched Akira Kurosawa’s great film Ran, which is Shakespeare’s King Lear as imagined in the world of samurai warriors. As the film reached its bloody climax, with brothers and their armies tearing each other apart, I thought: Benedict XVI is a Lear figure. He resigned thinking he could retire in peace, and let a stronger, younger man come in and do the reforms that we was too exhausted to carry out. But the forces unleashed by his act now have the Catholic Church in civil war. As Moynihan says, this battle has been building for a century, so it would have happened at some point. One can’t entirely blame Benedict. Had the cardinals elected a different successor, things might have been different today. But the die has been cast.

Oh, and one more thing: Busch had to cut Nienstedt loose after TAC called the Napa Foundation out on complaining about corruption in the Church while sheltering an Archbishop who resigned in disgrace over his handling of sex abuse. No way Team Busch could have carried this out with a compromised Archbishop on the payroll.

UPDATE.2: A couple more details.

Reuters reports:

Last March, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano dined on the outskirts of Rome at the home of a conservative Italian Catholic journalist. Over pasta, fish and white wine, the prelate poured out his concern for the future of the Roman Catholic Church.

It was the start of about five months of contacts and collaboration between Vigano and several conservative journalists and media outlets that would lead to one of the greatest crises for the Church in modern times.

The story about the Pope and Cardinal Wuerl’s attempted shakedown of the Papal Foundation broke in late February. The discussions between Vigano and unnamed conservative media began in March. Is there a connection? I honestly don’t know. I think it’s a question worth pursuing, though.

Second, one of the leaked Papal Foundation internal documents says that Pope Francis made the initial $25 million request in the summer of 2017, and was sent $8 million straightaway. When, precisely, was this request made, and when was the $8 million sent? I ask because Cardinal George Pell returned to his native Australia on July 10 to face charges of cover-up in a child sex abuse investigation.

What was Pell doing in Rome before he had to go back to Australia to answer charges? He was cleaning up financial corruption in the Vatican. What’s being done on that front in his absence? The Sydney Morning Herald reported this past May:

Before charges were laid and Pell left for Australia last year, he was one of the most powerful men in the Vatican.

He led the Secretariat, tasked with cleaning up the Vatican’s finances, rooting out corruption and embezzlement, and auditing the corners of the Holy See where money has been secreted with minimal accountability or transparency.

But that body is now on “autopilot”, Allen said.

Since Pell’s absence, it has been run by his second in command, who is not a cardinal. And it could be another 18 months before Pell is free to return, whether or not he is found guilty at trial.

“If you don’t have a cardinal in charge of something, nothing’s really happening,” Allen said.

“[Pope] Francis created [the Secretariat] to be the tip of the spear on financial reform but it’s on life support right now. If he wants to send a signal he’s serious about it, he would have to bring in new leadership.

“And George Pell is genuinely committed to financial reform in the Vatican, so I think he would be the first to acknowledge this.”


Another well-connected Vatican observer, the National Catholic Register’s Ed Pentin, said the “old guard” at the Vatican would be pleased with the committal.

“The longer Cardinal Pell is away from Rome the more likely it is that the financial misconduct of the ‘old guard’ will continue, and the finance reforms Pell was working on further stalled or reversed,” Pentin said.

Now, the legal process against Cardinal Pell was well underway in Australia before July 2017. It is, nevertheless, an interesting coincidence that Pell, an anti-corruption bulldog who was closing in on curial crookedness, was taken out around the same time that the Pope asked for this massive payment from the Papal Foundation. It might be a stretch, but if I were a Rome-based journalist, I would ask some questions about whether or not these events are connected.