The Franciscan Order has allegedly racked up debts of as much as $37 million and could be on the verge of bankruptcy, according to informed sources in Rome. The Order of Friars Minor — the most prominent branch of the Franciscans founded by St. Francis of Assisi — has been driven to near-financial ruin because of a series of poor investments and general financial mismanagement.
News of the poor investments, which includes a plush hotel near the Vatican, has surprised observers who see them as a betrayal of St. Francis’ emphasis on poverty and wish that his community not own property.
In a letter sent to its members Dec. 17, Br. Michael Perry, the American head of the Order, revealed that an internal investigation begun in September this year found the Order’s General Curia, its administrative center, to be in a “grave” situation. “I underscore ‘grave’ financial difficulty,” he said.
He explained this has been caused by systems of management and oversight that have been “either too weak or were compromised.” He also blamed the dire situation on a “number of questionable financial activities” that were conducted by friars “entrusted with the care of the patrimony” of the order, but “without the full knowledge or consent” of the former or current board of advisers.
Perry further noted “the significant role that external actors, people who are not members of the order, have played in creating this grave situation.”
The financial difficulties have transpired despite the order possessing an illustrious patrimony that includes custody of all the main holy sites of Christianity in the Holy Land.
Much of the blame has so far been placed at the foot of the order’s general treasurer, Father Giancarlo Lati. Perry said he has resigned and been replaced by the assistant general treasurer and two friars, one of whom has “expertise in economic and organizational affairs.” They began their efforts to clean up the financial situation in October this year.
But sources said that also at fault has been the order’s previous leadership, including Perry’s predecessor, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo. The Spanish prelate now holds a senior position in the Vatican, helping to oversee religious communities worldwide as Secretary at the Congregation for Religious.
The mismanagement has come to light now because Perry is thought to naturally want to put a distance between himself and his predecessor, given that the malpractice occurred on Rodriguez’s watch.
One investment that has allegedly squandered millions of euros is the Il Cantico hotel in Rome, just outside the Vatican walls. Father Lati reportedly took charge of running it himself, including overseeing expensive renovations. “That’s not the most holy sacrifice to place on the altar of lady poverty,” wryly said one informed source.
Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, a former president of the Vatican Bank whose attempts to clean up Vatican finances led to his sudden and largely unexplained dismissal in 2012, said he knows little about the Franciscan’s finances except what he’s read in the newspapers, but he added, “The problem with religious orders is that they do not know how to administer resources and rely on 'scoundrels' who prey on them.”
Catholic observers are now wondering why a religious order, not least the Franciscans, is making such speculative investments. And they are especially disturbed by the fact that another branch of the Franciscan Order, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, which appears to try to adhere more closely to St. Francis’ example of poverty and worship, has been strongly disciplined by Pope Francis this past year principally because it favors traditional liturgies. A key figure behind the clampdown, they point out, was none other than Archbishop Rodriguez.
Archbishop Rodriguez could not be reached for comment. The Vatican was also asked a series of questions about the Order of Friars Minor’s finances but did not reply.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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