IN the wake of a Wall Street Journal exposé last December that claimed that Peter’s Pence, the Pope’s principal charity, gave only ten percent of the millions raised from the Catholic faithful to the needy, comes news that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is being sued for taking donations under false pretenses.
According to Church Militant, Texas-based legal firm the Stanley Law Group filed a class-action lawsuit against the USCCB yesterday (Wednesday), alleging the USCCB has been “lying and stealing” by “fraudulently” promoting the Pope’s charity.
The USCCB website says:
The Peter’s Pence Collection derives its name from an ancient custom. In ninth-century England. King Alfred the Great collected money, a ‘pence,’ from landowners as financial support for the Pope. Today, the Peter’s Pence Collection supports the Pope’s philanthropy by giving the Holy Father the means to provide emergency assistance to those in need because of natural disaster, war, oppression, and disease.
But the law group claims that the bulk of money raised by Peter’s Pence is being grossly misspent, and is encouraging US residents who donated to the charity between 2013 and 2019 to join the class action to share their stories at “Join the Lawsuit.”
Marc Stanley, the firm’s lead attorney, told CM:
This is about transparency and accountability. People work hard for their money and give from their heart; this is a real gift. That money being diverted is just wrong.
The USCCB promotes Peter’s Pence in many ways, such as offering diocesan and parish resources, social media kits and web ads.
The suit alleges the American bishops “actively” misled Catholics into believing their millions of dollars in donations to the collection would be used to help those in need when in fact much of the money was funneled into private investments, such as funding movies, “luxury condominium developments” and “hefty, multi-million dollar commissions” to fund managers.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court in Rhode Island on behalf of David O’Connell, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in East Providence, who is seeking a jury trial.
USCCB must come clean and give back the money it took from well-intentioned people who thought they were giving urgently-needed funds to help the destitute around the world. It’s regrettable and tragic that such a trusted and well-respected organization has been taking advantage of the generosity of Catholic donors.
In a March 2019 settlement, Stanley Law Group obtained $37 million as a refund for donors in a class-action lawsuit against Gospel for Asia.
LifeSiteNews adds that the lawsuit alleges that the USCCB is “liable for common law fraud, unjust enrichment, and breach of fiduciary duty” for “misleadingly soliciting millions of dollars in charitable donations that were diverted into private investments.”
The complaint is also seeking “costs, restitution, damages and disgorgement in an amount to be determined at trial,” an order for the USCCB to pay pre- and post-judgement interest interest on any amounts awarded, as well as costs and attorney’s fees.
According to the 23-page complaint, Peter’s Pence is a “special collection taken from Catholics every June”.
LSN quoted Italian newspaper L’Espresso which last year reported that “secret internal Vatican investigative reports” showed most of Peter’s Pence funds had been “diverted into ‘reckless speculative operations,’ with 77 per cent of the collections” – “roughly $560 million” – channeled to the Swiss investment company Credit Suisse.
The newspaper also reported that a high-ranking Vatican official asked Italian financier Raffaele Mincione to invest $200 million of the collection, and that Mincione used the money to buy real estate in London “for a luxury apartment development” through a fund he managed.
When the investment didn’t yield the expected returns, the Vatican pulled out of the fund and bought the property, and Minicone made $170 million on the deal.
Pope Francis responded in November, stating that the fact that the Vatican invests the money shouldn’t bother anyone.
The sum of Peter’s Pence arrives and what do I do? Put it in a drawer? No, that’s bad administration. I try to make an investment.
That was followed by a further bombshell: $1 million of Peter’s Pence donations had been invested in the Elton John biopic Rocketman, and more than $3.6 million in the movie Men in Black: International.
The lawsuit alleges that the USCCB “has always known the difference between a donation for emergency assistance and a donation to defray Vatican expenses” but “hid this distinction in its promotion, oversight, and administration of the Peter’s Pence collection in the United States.”
As a result, the USCCB:
Has effectively profited at the expense of David O’Connell and members of the public.
The Wall Street Journal’s exposé said:
Every year, Catholics around the world donate tens of millions of dollars to the Pope … What the church doesn’t advertise is that most of that collection, worth more than €50 million ($55 million) annually, goes toward plugging the hole in the Vatican’s own administrative budget.
It claimed that the Holy See is struggling with a growing budget deficit, with the Pope warning cardinals of the “grave impact” on the body’s economic future.
The Vatican’s continuing financial problems reflect a lack of progress on improving its management and finances, which Pope Francis was elected in 2013 with a mandate to overhaul, following allegations of corruption, waste and incompetence there.
The assets of Peter’s Pence now total about €600 million, down from about €700 million early in the current pontificate, largely on account of unsuccessful investments, said the people familiar with the funds’ use.