True confessions, Miami vice, and the communion of saints 

The Friday Pillar Post

Happy Friday friends,

Ed. Condon here.

Well, I’m not really here. I’m on paternity leave and I gave an absolute promise that I’d do my best to keep my head out of the office and on the domestic scene.

But it was Vatican finance week this week, with the trial in the Secretariat of State’s corruption scandal getting back under way, and there’s only so far ‘away’ I can actually stay. 

Before we get there, here’s what else has been in the news:

Quick links

Ever wondered if your confessor was letting you off lightly, or if Father X’s reputation for harsh penances meant he should dial it back a little? Ever wanted to know if there are, you know, rules about what a priest can assign in the confessional?

Well, this week, Michelle McDaniel talked to several priests to try to answer these questions and let you in behind the grill a little. You can read it here.

An independent report on abuse in the Church in France made headlines this week, and has been unsettling news for Catholics around the globe. But the report is 2,500 pages long, and it bears some unpacking:

You can read our comprehensive explainer on what the full document says here.

What does the life of Native American Catholic communities look like?

As the USCCB prepares a statement on Native American Catholic ministry, what do Native leaders think the Church should know?  

Find out in part 3 of our series on the pastoral life and needs of Native American communities in the Church

You can find parts one and two here and here.

These stories merit every printed inch of the telling: They are a serious look at an often overlooked branch of our Catholic family. I urge you to catch up on the series this weekend. 

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On Wednesday, we got a verdict in the other big Vatican trial of this year, involving charges of sexual abuse and cover-up at a minor seminary within the Vatican walls. There were no convictions, owing to lack of evidence, the statute of limitations, and a few other factors.

The verdict is a high-profile lesson in the real legal difficulties of prosecuting cases like these. 

You can read our report here.

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Beyond the walls

The second and third sessions of the Vatican financial trial produced some serious drama, at least for those of us accustomed to years of grindingly slow progress.

I suspect that, for many, there’s a temptation to dismiss the whole trial as a bit of a circus, but that would be a mistake.

What’s happening in that specially constructed courtroom matters, and its potential effects reach well beyond the Vatican walls.

On Tuesday we saw a series of arguments from defense lawyers, essentially contending that the Vatican prosecutors made a litany of procedural errors, denied the accused due process, and failed to turn over crucial evidence.

But the defense also charged that the entire Vatican judicial system amounts to a kangaroo court, because the judges and prosecutors owe their positions and loyalty to Pope Francis as the ultimate head of all branches of Vatican government. 

Key among their objections is that there is no recourse to a supra-national court, like the European Court of Human Rights, beyond Vatican’s own sovereignty. 

As JD wrote earlier this week, this objection may not hold much water in the Vatican. But should some of the defendants end up sentenced to serve real jail time, we could see an appeal with potentially serious consequences for the Holy See.

The sovereignty of the Holy See and Vatican City are recognized in international law largely because of the Lateran Treaty with Italy, which provides for the possibility that criminals convicted in Vatican courts can serve their time in Italian jails — this is what would happen if the defendants now on trial were convicted.

But if lawyers for the (hypothetically) convicted argue that Italy cannot cooperate with a Vatican conviction, because the Vatican doesn’t have a credible judicial system in the eyes of modern European sensibilities, it could start to undo the whole basis on which the Vatican’s sovereignty is recognized. 

If that sounds crazy to you, just wait and see.

In the end, prosecutors offered to reopen the investigative phase of the process and the Vatican judges agreed — but only in part. While some of the accused will get a new chance to explain themselves on some of the charges, most of the caseload is going ahead, with the next hearing set for November. 

We’ll be following this very, very closely, as we always have. So stay tuned.

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Miami Vice

Something else to bear in mind when considering the Vatican financial trial is this: While much of the focus has been on one very complicated and very suspicious transaction to buy a London building, the moving parts go far beyond that deal.

Authorities in Switzerland, Malta, Australia, Italy and several other jurisdictions have either fed into the Vatican investigation, or started their own. Many of the side deals and investments under scrutiny have crossed several jurisdictions, leaving a trail of red flags along the way.

Earlier this summer, we reported that Enrico Crasso, one of the investment advisors on trial, secured a multi-million dollar investment from the Secretariat of State, ostensibly to finance a highway in North Carolina, but actually to take equity stakes in three Italian companies. 

This week we learned that Crasso used some of the same companies from the “road to nowhere” deal to buy some upmarket real estate in Miami. 

As the trial continues, and as more details emerge, don’t bet against prosecutors in other countries, including the U.S., taking a closer look at what some of these characters might have been up to in their own backyards. If they do… well it’s one thing to try to legally out gun and outmaneuver a handful of Vatican prosecutors, quite another to find yourself dealing with an American AG. 

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The communion of saints

As I have said before, here and elsewhere, my wife and I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have written, emailed, called, messaged, and otherwise been in touch to say how hard they have been praying for us in the last few weeks.

As it happens, we rather needed the prayers — the delivery of our child was not smooth, and there were some fairly harrowing moments in there when the weight of prayer behind us was palpable and, I am sure, efficacious. 

On the few occasions where I found myself alone in a room, not allowed to be with or know what was happening to my wife and child, I had a real appreciation for the communion of the Church which exists in no small part through our common prayers for each other. There’s one person’s prayers I’d like to especially single out, and it comes with something of a story.

About three years ago, more or less, I was in Rome having dinner with an old friend. Over the course of the evening, he asked me if there was anything he could pray for for me. I told him that my wife and I had, as he knew, been married for more than a decade and not been able to have kids, so prayers for that intention were most welcome indeed.

Less than a week later, there arrived in the mail a relic of St. Gianna Beretta Molla — if you don’t know her story, you should — along with a letter from the saint’s daughter, and another from my friend suggesting a novena for St. Gianna’s intercession.

About a day later, a woman in my family, a mother of three, was diagnosed with cancer. Naturally we gave her the relic immediately. She wore it next to her skin for the chemotherapy sessions and, thank God, she made a full and healthy recovery. Less than a week after we got the relic back, another member of my family - this time a pregnant mother - was diagnosed with cancer, and we gave her the relic, too. Mother and baby are happy and well today.

By the time we got the relic back again it was Christmas last year and we finally began the novena to St. Gianna; we found out we were expecting before we could finish. Last weekend, our daughter was born under what I will simply call very, very difficult circumstances, with the same relic in the room with us. 

There was more than one occasion when I was left waiting for news, alone with a scrap of St. Gianna’s wedding dress for company. In those moments, I discovered that the communion of saints, in which I have professed belief every week at Mass for my whole life, is real in a way I have not experienced before.

Mother and daughter are now safe home, in time to celebrate the saint’s birthday earlier this week, in fact. I’m not claiming miracles here, or anything that dramatic. But I am grateful to St. Gianna, and Our Lady, for whom we named our little Mary, for the comfort and company they gave our family during those long nights. And to our friend who sent us the relic in the first place, and to all of you who have been praying for us.

The communion of saints is real, as are the graces that come from it.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
editor
The Pillar

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