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Pope warns over risk of corruption in missionary fundraising

Francis said that spirituality, not entrepreneurship, should be driving fundraisers’ operations.

The Pope
The Pope

Pope Francis has warned the Vatican’s missionary fundraisers 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 programmes for priests and nuns.

Deviating from his prepared remarks, Francis appeared to refer to a recent Associated Press investigation into financial transfers at the US branch of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

The former head oversaw the transfer of at least 17 million dollars (£13.59 million) from a quasi endowment fund and donations into a non-profit and private equity fund that he created and now heads that invests in church-run agribusinesses in Africa.

Vatican Pope
Pope Francis pats a guide dog during his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square (AP)

“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 is not 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 Pope
Pope Francis meets with pilgrims from Concesio and Sotto il Monte on the 60th anniversary of the death of Pope John XXIII and the election of Paul VI in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican (AP)

The Vatican has said it is seeking clarity on the transfers at the US branch, which appear to be fully legal since the previous board approved them.

The new administration of the US 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 US, the Rev Andrew Small, strongly defended the transfers as fully approved and consistent with the mission of the church and the organisation.

Mr Small is now the second in command 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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