Papal Foundation Approves Record Number of Grants
In this April 27 interview, executives Eustace Mita and David Savage say the organization has put behind it the controversy over its decision to rescue a scandal-ridden Italian hospital.
VATICAN CITY — The Philadelphia-based Papal Foundation has approved a record number of grants totaling $14 million as it moves on from internal rifts caused by a small number of Church leaders who misled the foundation’s members to rescue a scandal-hit Italian hospital in the late 2010s.
The foundation, which supports global projects on behalf of Pope Francis geared towards helping the poorest of the poor, has allotted funds to 123 good causes this year, including the construction and renovations of churches and schools, as well as seminaries, convents, rectories, and monasteries. It is also helping to fund hospitals, libraries and orphanages.
In this April 27 interview with the Register during the foundation’s annual pilgrimage to Rome, Eustace Mita, president of the Papal Foundation’s board of trustees, and David Savage, the foundation’s executive director, explain more about what they provide, how the grants process is carried out, and how procedures have improved since the furor over the Italian hospital which, Mita stressed, is now “past history.”
Could you tell us more about these grants, who they’re going to and what they’re supporting?
EUSTACE MITA: This will be another record grant-making year for us, and we’re excited about that because it really depends on world economic conditions, what the grants are, and where. They represent a broad array [of projects] in 64 countries and it’s really a threefold process.
The Papal Foundation came about because people assumed the Pope has money, just like a parish priest, but the Pope doesn’t have any money, and yet because he’s the Holy Father, he gets requests from around the world.
Pope St. John Paul II was having a discussion with then Cardinal [John Joseph] Krol of Philadelphia and they came up with the idea of a Papal Foundation, a Peter’s Pence if you will, so the Pope has somewhere to go for these out-of-box requests. It could be an orphanage, it could be helping to build a hospital, or fit out a hospital.
We have an orphanage in Kisumu in Kenya where we’re providing books for them, a library, because they don’t have books to teach. In Addis Ababa, we’re building orphanages there. It’s pretty much like Mother Teresa said: “the poorest of the poor” and it’s them we help. It’s beautiful to see in Mexico for example what they build with the money they’re given.
Then there are emergency funds like in Haiti, going through incredible storms and violence and everything so we get emergency “asks” for that. In that case we’ll often go to the mission fund which was generously provided to us by the Flatley family out of Boston. Right now we’ve gotten an emergency “ask” from Ukraine if we can help there and so that’s one of the things we’re going to do with this board meeting, help them there as quickly as well can.
But with everything in life, there’s a process, and it has to go through the nuncio in that country and, in turn, that request goes to the Vatican, then it comes to us at world headquarters in Philadelphia. Then we have a grants committee, and the grants committee goes through all of them and that’s pretty much all coordinated with David, who’s our executive director, who’s a very kind fellow to boot.
What are the requirements for being a member, how much does each member give roughly, and then how are grants allotted?
DAVID SAVAGE: It’s 123 grants this year. Eustace mentioned the grants committee made up of the Stewards of St. Peter — members of the foundation are referred to as the Stewards of St. Peter. They’ve each made generous donations to the foundation. We have committees of the Trustee Board and so we have five members who are trustees who sit on the grants committee. This year the Vatican got close to 200 requests from all over the world, they then prioritize the list, and it went down to 152 requests and then our committee goes through each one of them and that’s how we got to the 123 that Eustace just mentioned. We can only review the grants that are approved by the Vatican and provided to us, and each nuncio can recommend up to three grants to the Vatican and then the Vatican sifts through them.
What is the nuncios’ role?
SAVAGE: There’s quite a paper trail, so if you’re a parish priest or an apostolate, or member of a religious order, whether in Africa, South America or Asia, you fill out a form that’s an application that’s passed on to the nuncio. So the nuncio is the first review line.
MITA: The nuncio is very involved because the bishops and priests are those they have to go to get resources, so the nuncio is constantly receiving requests on his own and he’s then parsing those requests and sending them to us. He can give us up to three requests a year.
SAVAGE: We get emails and calls in Philadelphia and all we do is refer the organizations back to their territory.
And do you have the final say?
MITA: Yes, we do. We’ve only, probably in 30 years, had two areas that we disagreed on grants, that was really it. So I’d say 98%-99% of the time we agree on the grants. Oftentimes we can’t fully fund a project because there’s only so much that we want to advance per grant. So let’s say they’re asking for half a million, we give them $100,000, look at the progress of the project, and if everything’s falling in line we can come back and give them another $100,000. But we’ve built our corpus up to over one quarter of a billion.
Who takes the final decision?
SAVAGE: The five committee members, they make a recommendation to the full board based on all the criteria and processes.
MITA: The board is made up of 23 members, including our clerical members and the laity. They approve it, fund it and we move forward.
So it’s very much a collegial decision in the end?
MITA: Very much so. If we look at the way the Church is today and vocations … they’re just going down in numbers. The beautiful part of the Papal Foundation is that it’s a model. We’re all involved in other apostolates in the Church ourselves, and this is the one apostolate that I’m involved in, we’re involved in, that’s a great model for laity and Church hierarchy working in concert. It’s a beautiful thing.
In the Litany of Humility, it says: “From the desire for being acclaimed, please Lord Jesus free me; from the desire of being praised, Lord Jesus free me, from my opinion is not followed, Lord Jesus free me.” I think that the Papal Foundation is a great example of that because it’s not egocentric; it’s what-can-we-do-to-help-centric. You wouldn’t be part of the Papal Foundation if you weren’t accomplished in your own life, and had the time, energy, and resources to contribute to it, and it’s the same with the cardinals. I don’t think there’s a cardinal in the world looking for another assignment, so it’s just a beautiful thing, to be a part of and to watch.
You mention you’ve created a new online grants management system that has resulted in a more efficient submission and review process with the Vatican in Rome. How does it work?
SAVAGE: If you can imagine, and I’ve seen them, just the stacks of all these hundreds and hundreds of applications with building codes and permits. For years it’s been all on paper and so the administration just in the U.S. of that — scanning and disseminating — has been quite laborious. So having this online facility, it’s all transparent to the folks at the Vatican and everyone in Philadelphia where it’s disseminated to board members so people can say in real time, “Yes, I like this one and I have questions about these three points.” It just saves the efficiency of communications and dissemination of information, it expedites deliberation and understanding.
You send funds to the poorest of the poor, but does that also include those who are spiritually poor, suffering from secularism, the dearth of belief and needing evangelization?
MITA: That’s a great question. The answer is yes, we’ll give funds for formation, not just funds to an orphanage to build a building but we’ll specifically say there has to be a formation course in there that adheres to the magisterium of the Church. I’ll tell you, we do a lot of that, a lot of that. And it’s so needed even with the great communication we have with these things and everything else. Instead of more formation, I’d say there is less formation. So I’d say that’s a very big interest and we’re very interested in formation, along with the buildings and so on.
Also speaking of formation, part of the Papal Foundation is the Saeman Scholars [scholarship program], where we’ll take seminarians who, let’s say they’re from Africa or poor countries can’t afford to come to Rome to study. They’re then able to go to Rome and go to the NAC and get formation, otherwise it wouldn’t happen.
The Papal Foundation was caught up in problems not of its members’ own making in 2017 when the board was misled into securing a $25 million loan for the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), a scandal-plagued hospital in Rome. What’s the latest on this, and the funds the foundation gave? Has that been resolved?
MITA: We’re coming up on year four since that was discussed and to us that’s past history. It was resolved a couple of years ago and one of the things we did was tighten up our bylaws: We put more lay members on the board, and so the majority of the board is now lay as opposed to clergy, and we feel very good about our own governance. To us that’s past history and resolved and we move forward.
Did you ever get the money back?
MITA: That’s interesting because we never fully funded it. We funded about half of it, and we put it in the form of a loan. Maybe one day it’ll get paid back, but if you look at our history, that’s the first time we’ve had [anything like that]. We don’t give loans, we just give grants, and so as you can imagine, that went round in a circle and that’s how it ended up. We spent a lot of time and energy on it, and we feel it’s been resolved as best as we can.
Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was involved quite a lot in the foundation at the beginning. Does that affect what you do, has that been a problem?
MITA: Cardinal McCarrick was certainly a part in the beginning; while not a co-founder, he was president, the position I now hold as the first lay person. The Papal Foundation accomplished a great deal during that time, which made learning of his behavior even more troubling and disappointing. It’s a shame what was uncovered, but our Lord produces fruit even from difficult situations, so we are focusing on the future and the good that The Papal Foundation has done, and will continue doing, around the World.
You have events at the Lateran Palace during your pilgrimages to Rome, which I understand make the foundation feel more like a family. Could you tell us more about these?
MITA: We have historically finished our week there [in Rome] with a final dinner and welcome new stewards there. It’s always a joyous event because it caps off what’s normally — except for that one year — a fantastic pilgrimage, if you will, for all our stewards. Oftentimes some have never been to the Vatican before when they join us and I don’t have to tell you how awe-inspiring that is.
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