ROME — Pope Francis attacked the “worship of the ancient golden calf” and the “idolatry of money” Thursday, just two weeks after sacking a prominent Vatican cardinal for financial impropriety.
“It seems that in many places the supremacy of money over human beings is taken for granted,” the pope told representatives of Moneyval, Europe’s money laundering watchdog, in Rome for an annual financial review of the Vatican.
“Sometimes, in the effort to amass wealth, there is little concern for where it comes from, the more or less legitimate activities that may have produced it, and the mechanisms of exploitation that may be behind it,” Francis said. “Thus, situations can occur where, in touching money, we get blood on our hands, the blood of our brothers and sisters.”
Last December, the Vatican came under fire for having invested upwards of a million dollars to finance the Rocketman film, a steamy biopic of singer-songwriter Elton John with a graphic scene of gay sex.
The Italian daily Corriere della Sera revealed that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State had invested in Lapo Elkann’s eyewear and “lifestyle products” company as well as the Elton John film, using money donated by the Catholic faithful through worldwide “Peter’s Pence” collections.
Holy See prosecutors looked into a series of Vatican investments made through the Malta-based Centurion Global Fund that financed projects including real estate, mineral water, websites, and films.
Through the fund, the Vatican became a 25 percent partner in Elkann’s company Italia Independent to the tune of 6 million euros, while also becoming a €10 million partner with industrialist Enrico Preziosi, the chairman of the Genoa soccer team.
Along with the Rocketman film, the Vatican also invested some €3.3 million in the production of the 2019 Men in Black International film featuring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson.
In his address Thursday, Pope Francis said that in light of the present circumstances, it would seem that “the worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
Indeed, he said, “financial speculation fundamentally aimed at quick profit continues to wreak havoc.”
“Jesus drove merchants from the temple precincts and stated: ‘You cannot serve both God and money,’” Francis noted. “Once the economy loses its human face, then we are no longer served by money, but ourselves become servants of money.”
The Vatican invested upwards of a million dollars to back the Rocketman film about singer Elton John. https://t.co/RMyuLfe4en
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) December 7, 2019
On September 24, Pope Francis removed Cardinal Angelo Becciu from his role as head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and stripped him of the rights of the cardinalate, including participation in the conclave that elects popes. Francis had promoted Becciu to the rank of cardinal just 2 years ago, in June 2018.
The cardinal was accused of obstructing investigations initiated by Cardinal George Pell into financial improprieties by Vatican officials. The Financial Times revealed that massive Vatican investments in London properties made in 2014 and 2018 had been authorized by Becciu, who was the second-ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State at that time.
Becciu was also involved in an obscure series of financial transactions surrounding the purchase of the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), a Church-owned dermatological hospital in Rome that collapsed in 2013 under millions of euros of debt.
In February 2018, leaked documents revealed that the pope had asked the Papal Foundation, a U.S.-based charity, for $25 million to help bail out IDI, which had filed for bankruptcy after a staggering 800 million euros went “missing.”
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 became one of the Church’s largest economic scandals in recent memory.
Last fall, Vatican security carried out an unprecedented internal raid on the offices of the Secretariat of State and the Financial Information Authority, which oversees the Vatican Bank.
Vatican police confiscated documents and electronic devices, and five Vatican employees were suspended on allegations of financial wrongdoing involving property dealings in London’s upscale Chelsea district worth some $350 million.
The real estate deal reportedly cost the Vatican millions of euros in payments to middlemen.