Italian media are in an uproar over a direct request from Pope Francis to one of the largest American Catholic charities to bail out a woefully mismanaged Italian hospital to the tune of $25 million.
The Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), a Catholic dermatological hospital, has often been in the Italian news over the last several years due to a financial crisis of monumental proportions. A 2015 criminal investigation into corruption at IDI led to an indictment of 40 persons, charged with a total of 144 counts of crimes including fraudulent bankruptcy, the issuance of false invoices, concealment of accounting records, embezzlement and tax evasion. The alleged financial fraud ran into the tens of millions of euros and became one of the Church’s largest economic scandals in recent memory.
After suffering heavy declines in revenue—from 50,000 euros per day to only 20,000—new management of the hospital proposed a business plan last summer involving a substantial reduction in personnel, which the pope himself rejected, according to reports by the Italian daily, Il Tempo.
Instead, he approached the Papal Foundation, an American association of Catholics founded in 1988, during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, with the mission of serving “those needs of the Church that are of particular significance to the Holy Father,” especially among the poor in the developing world. The pope’s request for $25 million was especially odd, since the foundation’s grants rarely exceed $200,000.
Familiar as they are with IDI’s history, Italians are voicing their astonishment and indignation at the pope for attempting to save the institution by tapping the wallets of generous Americans.
One Italian website, for instance, rails against the seeming contradiction between the pope’s frequent denunciations of financial corruption and the “idol of wealth” and his willingness to ask for an enormous chunk of cash from American benefactors to bail out a corrupt institution.
Others have contrasted the pope’s ongoing reforms of the Vatican Bank (IOR) and his reported determination to root out corruption with the attempted bail-out of the IDI.
“When an institute’s assets collapse, when the wealth of an institute is diminished, I say ‘thank you, Lord,” because from that point on they will walk in the way of hope,” the pope is reported as saying. According to the pontiff, “money is the downfall of consecrated life: when an institute begins bringing in revenue, the Lord is good enough to send them a bad administrator who brings everything crashing down; it is a grace.”
The story was broken by LifeSiteNews last week, after obtaining leaked Papal Foundation documents, according to which the pope made his request through Papal Foundation chairman Cardinal Donald Wuerl in the summer of 2017.
Despite protests from lay members of the Foundation board, the bishops on the board reportedly voted to send an $8 million payment to the Holy See, followed by another $5 million further along.
Last month, James Longon, the chairman of the Foundation’s audit committee tendered his resignation while submitting 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. “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,” he added.
The chairman also noted that the Foundation’s “initial $8 million was sent without any supporting documentation,” and the binder of information they did receive lacked essential details, such as a clear statement of how the funds were to be use.
After the extensive pushback from Papal Foundation members, the donation to IDI has been reduced by almost half, and for the moment the group does not intend to add to the $13 million that has already been sent to Rome.
An executive letter dated Jan. 19 states: “It is true that over the last fifteen years, if not longer, most of our donations have gone to the poor, and most of those poor have been in the poorer countries of the world.”
Obviously, it would be difficult to put every single grant up to a vote, the letter states, but when a grant is proposed “for over one hundred times the size of many of our other grants, there should be near unanimity in the vote, and that is not what happened.”
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