WASHINGTON, D.C. — Law enforcement officials have conducted interviews with several senior figures at the Papal Foundation, a U.S. based charity which supports the charitable works of the Holy Father.

Officers from the FBI have spoken to at least three foundation staff members over last several months, with enquiries focused on the role of Theodore McCarrick, who served as a board member until his removal from the College of Cardinals in 2018, following charges of sexual abuse of minors. Last year, McCarrick was laicized following a Vatican investigation and his conviction by a canonical process.

“There were questions on how the foundation operates,” one person contacted by the FBI told CNA, though they declined to be named citing confidentiality concerns. “It seemed to be linked to [McCarrick’s] sexual abuse.”

As a cardinal and one of the most senior figures in the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, McCarrick was known to wield considerable influence across the Church, both in America and in Rome. He was also a prolific fundraiser, securing millions of dollars in donations for various causes, sitting on the board of several grant making bodies, and running his own private charitable fund.

Pressing questions remain unanswered about McCarrick’s ability to buy influence and insulate himself from rumors and allegations, and a Vatican report on McCarrick’s career, and how he was able to rise so high despite decades of apparent sexual misconduct and abuse, is due to be released in early 2020.

One person interviewed by the FBI told CNA that foundation staff members do not believe McCarrick had the opportunity to misappropriate Papal Foundation funds directly, but the FBI is uncertain.

“There’s no question at the foundation [of McCarrick abusing funds], but I think, at least for the authorities, McCarrick’s ability to have abused his position is an open question,” the person told CNA.

At least one member of the Papal Foundation’s staff has also been interviewed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

The Philadelphia-based Papal Foundation gives grants in support of projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See. Since 1990, the foundation has given over $100 million in grants in service to the Catholic Church.

The foundation is managed by a three-tiered board of trustees. American cardinals residing in the U.S. serve as ex officio members, and bishops and elected laity serve as second and third tier trustees.

McCarrick’s last known intervention with the Papal Foundation occurred in 2017, when he circulated a letter to a lay member of the board of trustees rebuking him for opposing a controversial grant request from the Vatican, which asked the foundation for $25 million for a bankrupt Italian hospital, the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI). 

While the Papal Foundation board was told the money was intended to inject liquidity into the hospital, which had amassed debts of more than 800 million euros following years of fraud and embezzlement by senior administrators, CNA reported that the grant funds were actually intended to offset and illicit loan by APSA, the Holy See’s sovereign bank, made to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State to fund the purchase of the hospital out of government-controlled insolvency.

CNA has reported that shortly after accusations of sexual abuse of minors were first presented to Church authorities against McCarrick, APSA’s secretary flew to Washington to meet privately with McCarrick before the then-cardinal intervened in favor of the $25 million grant at the Papal Foundation.

In autumn 2017, several board members objected to the grant request because they had discovered that the hospital was financially insolvent, and not merely in a short-term cash crunch, as they had been led to believe.

McCarrick wrote to one lay trustee, copying in the foundation’s board, that raising concerns was “irresponsible, and seriously harmful to The Papal Foundation.”

Eventually, $13 million was sent to Rome by the foundation, with Wuerl later signing a letter to donors insisting that the Holy See, not the hospital, was always the intended beneficiary.

In November, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, told CNA that he arranged the grant request to the Papal Foundation. 

If a full-fledged federal or state investigation is underway, Vatican and American Church leaders could find themselves facing questions that extend in scope beyond McCarrick’s role at the Foundation.

One outstanding question Church officials might face is the final use and destination of the $13 million that was sent to Rome from Papal Foundation funds.

Last year, APSA conceded that 30 million of the 50 million euro loan for the IDI purchase had to be written off, wiping out the Vatican’s profitability for the year.

Also last year, senior figures at the Papal Foundation told CNA that the Secretariat of State had reclassified the grant as a loan but, rather than be repaid, the $13 million will be “discounted” against future grant requests made by the Secretariat.

Meanwhile, the IDI president has said that $13 million dollars received in “financing” from the Secretariat of State “appeared” to be from the Papal Foundation and would be repaid in cash to the Secretariat - if and when the hospital returned to profitability.