A dispute between US cardinals and wealthy supporters of a major Catholic philanthropic organisation emerged publicly last week. Leaked documents published by LifeSiteNews showed the prelates pushed through an extraordinary $25 million in financial assistance to a scandal-ridden and failing Roman hospital, at Pope Francis’s behest and over the objections of laymen on the board of the organisation giving the assistance.

That organisation is the Philadelphia-based Papal Foundation, founded in 1988 as a fundraising engine to meet the financial needs of the Holy See in the wake of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal. The foundation relies on the support of wealthy donors, who each pledge no less than $1 million over 10 years, in doing so becoming “stewards” of the foundation.

When a measure of financial stability returned to the Holy See, the Papal Foundation’s primary activity became the support of charitable initiatives dear to the Holy Father, in grants given upon request by the Vatican in amounts usually not in excess of $200,000. The Papal Foundation has done great good, especially for Catholic organisations working in the world’s poorest nations. But something went wrong this time around.

Late last year and in early January, the Papal Foundation approved initial assistance packages of $8 million and $5 million for the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata, a Rome-based outfit wrapped up in scandals involving alleged money laundering and reeling from a roughly $1 billion siphoning scheme. (A four-year investigation led to 24 separate indictments last year.) The Vatican named new hospital leadership in 2017.

An unofficial summary prepared by James Longon, the chairman of the Papal Foundation’s audit committee, declares: “[B]oth the process by which the grant was given [and] the grant itself are disturbing. In my opinion … these recent actions will make it virtually impossible to recruit new stewards, or to retain the membership of many current stewards. In many respects, the decision to grant $25 million to a dermatology hospital in Rome without proper due diligence is a disaster for the Papal Foundation.”

The board maintains that due diligence was conducted, but Longon resigned from the committee and as a trustee.

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