A One-Man ‘Vatican’Conspiracy

An article in the Sept. 6 Fortune magazine accuses one Msgr. Emilio Colagiovanni of falling for a con man's story and becoming involved in a money-laundering scheme that appeared to benefit a charity. The article casts the actions of this priest and another priest only passingly associated with the Holy See as a vast Vatican plot to make money off Martin Frankel's crooked dealings.

The scheme, as Fortune tells it, involved the setting up of a “charity” called the St. Francis of Assisi Foundation which would use the dirty money and keep 10% of it for itself. This group, in turn, was under the control of the Monitor Ecclesiasticus Foundation, which the reporter contends is under direct Vatican control.

Yet neither foundation is listed among the juridical persons of the Holy See. Nor has the Vatican Bank, which Fortune claimed received the money from the St. Francis foundation, ever had an account for that group, according to the ZENIT news agency.

The “proof” that the Fortune reporter cited in order to imply a deeper Vatican connection to the whole scandal betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the Church. “He gives undue weight to things like apostolic blessings, Vatican ID cards and letters from secretaries of former popes,” observed Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute.

Monitor Ecclesiasticus is, in fact, subject to a certain degree of approval from the Vatican — its president, Msgr. Colagiovanni, was appointed by the Secretariat of State — but it is not directly overseen by the Vatican.

Moreover, as The Wall Street Journal reported July 23, in the course of Frankel's con, “Vatican officials told him that the arrangement [of his foundation] would violate canon law” — which prompted him to look elsewhere for the credibility his scam needed.

All of this signals that the Fortune article fails in the basic principles of ethical journalism. At the very least it is guilty of sensationalism. Details of a single priest's involvement in a financial scheme wouldn't sell magazines, it seems. But an inflated article slamming the whole of the Vatican just might.

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Heaven Is a ‘Place’

Aheadline in our Aug. 1 – 7 edition, “Heaven Is an Intimate Relationship With God, Not a Place, Says Pope,” raised a few readers'eyebrows.

The article reported that Pope John Paul II at his July 21 general audience said heaven “is not an abstraction nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.”

Heaven, of course, can be thought of as a “place.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to it as “God's own ‘place’” and “the ‘place  of the spiritual creatures” (No. 326).

One reader, a priest, told us that he spends a lot of his time trying to shake people of what he called the New Age notion that heaven is just good feelings. Another pointed out that we need only consult the Our Father for the true teaching: “Our Father who art in heaven” seems to describe a “place.”

What the Pope wanted to stress, however, is that heaven is not a place like any we are accustomed to. The Catechism, in fact, calls it a “place” with quotation marks, perhaps to suggest that it defies human description.

As we celebrate the feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15, we can turn to Mary as a model of one who, in a sense, lived close to heaven throughout her life. She who lived God's will at every moment was assumed, body and soul, into the “place” called heaven at the completion of her earthly life.

Her fiat (“let it be done”) at the annunciation opened the way for the Son of God to come into the world. The Savior who took a place in the world we can see, opened the doors of heaven which we can't see. If anyone showed a unity between heaven and earth as the Pope is describing, Mary did: by doing the will of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”

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A Call to Unity

The University of Dayton has announced a new doctoral program. A program which it calls the first of its kind, it will focus on “the theology of the U.S. Catholic experience.” “U.S. Catholics are different from Latin American, European or African Catholics,” a press release says. Not “historically” different, it adds, but theologically.

We can only hope that means the program will delve into the richness of genuine theology done by Americans as a service to the universal Church. Yet, on the face of it, the program sounds oddly isolationist.

The strength of the Church has always come when we unite on the solid ground of common doctrine. Ever since Vatican II, the Church has been stressing the importance of the unity of the faithful. Pope John Paul II has added even more urgency to the call as the Jubilee approaches.

The Church's lesson is powerful and sorely needed in our world today: We are one. Catholics of all races, languages and income levels are brothers and sisters in the Lord. Now is the time to embrace our common faith — and not create differences where they needn't exist.