Pope Francis warned missionaries raising funds for the Vatican on Saturday not to let financial corruption infiltrate their work, insisting that spirituality and the spread of the Gospel should drive their operations, not mere entrepreneurship.
Francis made the comments in a speech before the national directors of the Vatican’s Pontifical Mission Societies, which raise money for the missionary work of the Catholic Church in the developing world, building churches and funding training programs for priests and nuns. Deviating from his prepared message, Francis appeared to be referring to a recent Associated Press investigation into financial transfers at the US branch of the Pontifical Mission Societies where the former chief oversaw the transfer of at least $17 million in donated funds to a non-profit organization and a private equity fund he created and now he runs and invests in church-run agribusinesses in Africa.
“Please don’t reduce POMs to money,” Francis said, referring to the Italian acronym for the Pontifical Mission Societies. “This is a means, a means. Is money needed? Yes, but don’t reduce them (the POMs), they are bigger than money”.
He added that if spirituality is not driving the missionary efforts of the Catholic Church, there is a risk of corruption.
“Because if spirituality is lacking and it’s just a matter of entrepreneurship, corruption immediately sets in,” Francis said. “And we have seen it even today: in the newspapers, you see so many stories of alleged corruption in the name of the missionary nature of the church.”
CLARITY IN TRANSFERS
The Vatican has said it is seeking clarity on the transfers at the US branch, which appear to be completely legal since the previous board approved them. The new management of the United States branch commissioned a legal review that determined that the transfers were approved in a manner consistent with the powers of the board at the time. The new administration, however, replaced the staff and board of directors that approved them, and revised the bylaws to make sure something like this never happens again.
In comments emailed to AP, the former director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, the Rev. Andrew Small, strongly defended the transfers, saying they were fully approved and consistent with the mission of the church and the organization. Small is now number two on the Vatican’s child protection advisory board, which Francis created to provide a response to the clergy sex abuse scandal.