The red hat is synonymous with cardinals. I have no idea of the cost of such a hat in Rome; whether the cardinals have to purchase their own, or they are presented to them by the Pope. However, the tag of Forty Euros (E40) is the limit that Pope Francis has now put on the value of personal gifts that cardinals, bishops etc working in the Vatican offices may receive.
This 30th April Pope Francis issued a Motu Proprio (of his own volition – something like a government ordinance that bypasses parliament because of its urgency), wherein he set this cap on the red hats. The title of the Motu Proprio (MP) is “Amending the Jurisdiction of the Juridical Bodies of Vatican City State”. By this order the prelates would now be subject to trial by juridical tribunals headed by professionals, mostly lay persons. Earlier prelates at the Vatican could only be tried by the Corte di Cassazone, the Supreme Court of the Vatican that was presided over by a cardinal.
What prompted Pope Francis to issue this MP, subjecting prelates to a regular trial/ judicial process? It is based on two premises, one ecclesiological, the other scriptural. He quotes the ecclesiology of Vatican II. “As members (of the church), they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ … All share a common equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful” (LG 32). And again, “The basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater attention” (GS 29). This is also reflected in Canon Law. “There is a genuine equality of dignity and action among all of Christ’s faithful” (Can 208). Pope Francis is at pains to emphasise equality, because in the MP he also states that prelates cannot claim the privileges or indemnity of the past. He is telling the prelates that if they are equal in dignity and action, then they are also equal in the eyes of the law, when it comes to juridical processes.
His second emphasis is on stewardship (cf Lk 12:48, 1 Cor 4:1-2 and Lk 16:2).The MP begins with the words “According to scripture, faithfulness in matters of little consequence is related to faithfulness in more important ones”. For the pope this faithfulness now begins with E40.
To understand the value or insignificance of E40, let us draw some comparisons. In 2017 my wife and I were invited for my niece’s marriage in Rome, where we went on a shoe string budget on borrowed money. The taxi from the airport to our apartment that was a stone’s throw from the Vatican was E60. A meal for two on a roadside cafe (not a restaurant) would have cost E20. The cost of a double room in a furnished apartment (not a hotel) was E80. So Pope Francis’ limit of E40 is peanuts.
The MP also asks the prelates to submit a declaration, not just if they are not convicted of crimes, but even if they are under investigation. Cases of pardon, amnesty, or time bound laws of limitation would also have to be mentioned in their declarations. They would not amount to a clean chit of innocence. Among the crimes that need to be declared are – corruption, fraud, terrorism, money laundering, tax evasion or exploitation of minors. The Vatican adheres to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption that requires transparency from leaders, to prevent and combat conflicts of interest, patronage or corruption in general.
Obviously Pope Francis would have been aware of high level corruption in the Vatican, necessitating this major crackdown. At the back of his mind could be the case of a senior prelate purchasing a multi-million pound property in London as an investment! It drew much flak in the international media. That prelate has since been removed from office. He would also have been aware of the scandals in the Bank Ambrosiano that collapsed in 1982. It reportedly had close links with the Vatican bank, also known as the Institute for Religious Works. The Ambrosiano was headed by Roberto Calvi, known as God’s banker, who was found hanging beneath the Black Friar’s Bridge in London, just a week after his secretary committed suicide by jumping out of a window.
Calvi had close ties with Abp Paul Marcinkus, who was heading the Vatican bank. The latter had issued “comfort letters” to the former, for dubious unsecured loans to South American entities, including purchasing arms during the Falkland War between Argentina and the UK in 1982. These comfort letters, though not amounting to bank guarantees, gave the impression that the Vatican bank endorsed the loans. Calvi reportedly also belonged to a clandestine Masonic lodge that had infiltrated into several Vatican offices. In the process the Vatican lost several million dollars.
Strangely, this same Abp Marcinkus had in 1974 caused a loss of Thirty Million dollars to the Vatican through dubious financial dealings with a Sicilian financier Michele Sindona. Conspiracy theorists have claimed that Calvi and Marcinkus had a hand in the death of Pope John Paul I on 26/8/1978. So the muck runs really deep.
One may also recall that Pope Francis had handpicked Australian Cardinal George Pell to clean up the Vatican’s finances. Mysteriously, Pell got arrested for an alleged sexual crime committed years earlier. By the time he was exonerated Pope Francis’ purpose in appointing him was defeated. So let us not be naive enough to believe that all those working in the Vatican are saints. Pope Francis would indeed have good reason to issue this MP to clean the Augean stables. He knows that the rot runs deep. Will the E40 cap stem it? Not by itself. The MP also warns that if the prelates submit false declarations or seek to hide their criminal activities (even those under investigation) then they would be summarily removed from office and also be liable for damages caused by them.
In this context a report dated 21/5/21 in La Croix International of Vatican watcher Robert Mickens, merits our attention. He says that Pope Francis often tells young people to “shake things up”. He uses the Spanish (his native tongue) phrase “hacer unlio” that literally means to “make a mess”. This sounds much like what Jesus had said, “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already … Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:49, 51).
I have been perturbed that this far reaching action of Pope Francis has had little or no traction in the Catholic media in India. Is this because corruption and criminality is not limited to the Vatican bank? Here in India the most glaring instances of crimes that the MP addresses come from Kadapah Diocese in Andhra, Jalandhar Diocese in Punjab and Mysore Diocese in Karnataka.
Bp Gallela Prasad of Kadapah had been accused of financial misappropriation, including diversion of funds to purchase property for his alleged wife and son. He has since been suspended. The alleged multiple rapes by Bp Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar are well documented and bear no repetition. Another curious case from Jalandhar has gone off the radar; that of a priest who admitted to cash transactions in March 2019 amounting to Rupees Thirty Crores, in complete contravention of Income Tax laws and the Model Code of Conduct that was then in force because of the parliamentary elections. Yet, the acting bishop of Jalandhar, Agnelo Gracias, gave the priest a clean chit, stating that his commercial activities had been approved by the diocese. The latest, of course, are the allegations against Bp K.A. William of Mysore. He has been accused of murder, kidnapping, sexual molestation, threatening or compromising witnesses, filing false cases against his critics, and fathering children. The last case is now being investigated by an Enquiry Committee of three bishops at the instance of the Vatican.
Strangely, on 15/8/20 Cardinal Luis Tagle of Propaganda Fide had ordered William to undergo a paternity test. He had declined saying it would bring shame on the church and be the end of everything. I have in my possession the audio recording of this conversation with a top prelate of India. This also raises a very uncomfortable question. Are our prelates loyal to the Word of God, the teachings of Vatican II, the directives of Pope Francis; or are they just covering up for each other, at the cost of the credibility of the ecclesial community?
So why just the Vatican, or Denmark? There is much that is rotten in the hierarchy of India too. Many among the hierarchy are my friends, co-workers, or personally known to me. They are good people, but perhaps not good enough. A leader also needs to be tough, and decisive. I don’t see that happening. Maybe Pope Francis needs to visit India to tell us to shake things up. We don’t want to mess things up though. We already have enough of that. And what cap should we put on our prelates for receiving or giving gifts? The purchasing power parity of E40 would be about Rs 400/-. That would make those in red hats and sashes really see red.
- The writer is the Convenor of the Indian Catholic Forum