VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis warned the Vatican’s missionary fundraisers on Saturday not to allow financial corruption to creep into their work, insisting that spirituality and spreading the Gospel must drive their operations, not mere entrepreneurship.
Francis made the comments in a speech to the national directors of the Vatican’s Pontifical Mission Societies, which raise money for the Catholic Church’s missionary work in the developing world, building churches and funding training programs for priests and nuns. Deviating from his prepared remarks, Francis appeared to refer to a recent Associated Press investigation into financial transfers at the U.S. branch of the Pontifical Mission Societies: The former head oversaw the transfer of at least $17 million from a quasi endowment fund and donations into a nonprofit and private equity fund that he created and now heads that invests in church-run agribusinesses in Africa.
“Please don’t reduce POM to money,” Francis said, referring to the Italian acronym of the Pontifical Mission Societies. “This is a medium, a means. Does it take money? Yes, but don’t reduce it, it is bigger than money.”
He said if spirituality isn’t driving the Catholic Church’s missionary efforts, there is a risk of corruption.
“Because if spirituality is lacking and it’s only a matter of entrepreneurship, corruption comes in immediately,” Francis said. “And we have seen that even today: In the newspapers, you see so many stories of alleged corruption in the name of the missionary nature of the church.”
The Vatican has said it is seeking clarity on the transfers at the U.S. branch, which appear to be fully legal since the previous board approved them. The new administration of the U.S. branch commissioned a legal review into them which determined they were approved in ways consistent with the board’s powers at the time. The new administration, however, has replaced the staff and board of directors who approved them, and overhauled its bylaws and statutes, to make sure nothing like it ever happens again.
In emailed comments to AP, the former head of The Pontifical Mission Societies in the U.S., the Rev. Andrew Small, strongly defended the transfers as fully approved and consistent with the mission of the church and the organization. Small is now the No. 2 at the Vatican’s child protection advisory board, which Francis created to provide a response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
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