1. It may be inside baseball, but Vatican financial reform still matters.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 17, 2017

This week, a letter emerged written by Giulio Mattietti, a former adjunct director of the Institute for the Works of Religion, better known as the “Vatican bank,” asking for an explanation of why he was fired on Nov. 27, the same day Pope Francis arrived in Myanmar for the start of a six-day trip to Asia.

At the time, no reason was offered for the move, despite the fact reports suggested security agents not only escorted Mattietti out of the bank but off the physical territory of the Vatican. A few days later, amid mounting speculation, officials of the bank issued a statement saying the firing was “fully legitimate” and “normal and physiological,” and that the reasons had not been communicated “solely to protect the interests of those involved.”

That didn’t really satisfy anyone, apparently including Mattietti.

In the absence of a compelling explanation, many observers – myself included – couldn’t help but connect the Mattietti dismissal with other recent mysterious disappearances of people involved in Vatican financial administration, such as the June ouster of former Auditor General Libero Milone, once again without any motives stated.

To be fair, those of us who drew the connection should have been clear that we were engaging in a somewhat apples-and-oranges exercise.

Milone was a key figure on the Vatican landscape, the number one official in an office that was presented to the world in 2014 as the lynchpin of the pope’s financial reform. It was described as the bulwark of accountability that would keep everyone honest, and Milone’s personal background and integrity were said to be important guarantees.

Mattietti, on the other hand, as an “adjunct” director of the bank, maybe wasn’t quite middle management, but he certainly wasn’t the top dog.

Another factual point that shouldn’t be lost is that enormous strides have been made in recent years to clean up operations at the Vatican bank

In other words, whatever questions the Mattietti case may raise, the overall record of movement in the right direction shouldn’t be lost.

Still, the circumstances of both departures clearly suggest transparency remains a work in progress. Assuming the Vatican has good reasons for forcing these figures out, why don’t they simply tell us?

At this point, many people may be tempted to ask: Who cares?

All this can seem the ultimate in insider baseball, something that only a handful of real Vatican junkies could possibly find relevant.

Still, there are at least three reasons why the financial operation of the Vatican matters.

First, the Vatican sets a tone for church operations in other parts of the world.

Second, financial reform is an important litmus test of Francis’s credibility.

Third, Catholics the world over have a right to expect that money they donate to the Church will be well-managed.

To be clear, it may be that getting serious is precisely what’s going on with both Milone and Mattietti. If one pillar of reform is transparency, however, then eventually someone probably is going to have to say so out loud, and to explain why.


2. Pelosi’s super PAC refuses to give back donations from owners of prostitution website.

By S.A. Miller, The Washington Times, December 18, 2017, Pg. A1

After California’s then-Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced felony pimping charges last year against the two owners of Backpage.com — a classified-ad website that is a hub for sex trafficking and prostitution, one of the men cut a $10,000 check to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s super PAC.

Mrs. Pelosi’s political action committee, House Majority PAC, has resisted giving the money back, and an aide to Mrs. Pelosi said the California Democrat knows nothing about the contribution.

Mrs. Pelosi isn’t the only Democrat struggling to deal with the piles of cash that Backpage’s owners spread around to candidates and state Democratic parties over the years.

Even Ms. Harris, a California Democrat who is now a U.S. senator, ducked the issue. Her office wouldn’t respond to repeated emails about Backpage money going to House Majority PAC and other Democratic organizations.

Since 2010, the owners and their wives have shoveled about $99,000 to candidates and about $95,000 to Democratic parties in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, according to federal campaign finance data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.


There is still the question of what to do about the Backpage money.

Asked about the contribution last week, House Majority PAC Executive Director Charlie Kelly said the money already had been spent.

“The contribution from James Larkin was received and spent during the 2016 election cycle. The allegations against Larkin are reprehensible, and HMP will not accept any future contributions from Larkin or his associates at Backpage.com,” he said in a statement to The Washington Times.


3. Pope: Media sins by dredging up, sensationalizing old news.

By Associated Press, December 16, 2017, 12:20 PM

Pope Francis is criticizing journalists who dredge up old scandals and sensationalize the news, saying it’s a “very serious sin” that hurts all involved.

Francis, who plans to dedicate his upcoming annual communications message to “fake news,” told Catholic media on Saturday that journalists perform a mission that is among the most “fundamental” to democratic societies.

But he reminded them to provide precise, complete and correct information and not to provide one-sided reports.


4. Death penalty executions and support near historic low in U.S.

By Christopher White, Crux, December 16, 2017

In its 2017 annual report, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) found that 23 individuals have been executed on death penalty charges in the United States over the past year, the second lowest annual total since 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court suspended death penalty sentences. In addition, DPIC estimates that by the end of 2017, there will have been a total of 39 new death penalty sentences in the United States during the past year, also a second lowest total in more than 25 years.

Drawing on recent polling data from Gallup, the report also stated that public support for the death penalty fell to its lowest numbers in 45 years. According to Gallup, 55 percent of adult Americans favor the death penalty for convicted murderers. The 2017 data evidences a 5-percentage drop from the previous year and a 10 percent drop among registered Republican voters.


5. Judge Temporarily Blocks Trump Administration’s Birth-Control Rule: HHS had relaxed Affordable Care Act’s employer contraception requirement.

By Michelle Hackman, The Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2017, Pg. A2

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has temporarily blocked implementation of the Trump administration’s new birth-control rules, which create broad religious and moral exemptions for employers seeking not to provide employees contraceptive health coverage.

U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone became the first to move on the new rules, which were issued in October and immediately implemented. The rules created a sweeping exemption for employers who object to the Obama-era mandate that employers must cover contraception without copayments or other out-of-pocket costs.

The judge, appointed by former President Barack Obama, said the exemptions the administration created to the contraceptive mandate were likely unlawful because they were too broad and had been implemented using improper procedures.


6. Treat saints’ relics right, says new Vatican directive.

By Catholic News Agency, December 16, 2017, 12:53 AM

The relics of Christian saints and blesseds deserve special care and their authenticity must be certified by the Church, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has said.

“Relics in the Church have always received particular veneration and attention, because the bodies of saints and blesseds, destined for resurrection, were on earth the living temple of the Holy Spirit and the instruments of their sanctity, recognized by the apostolic see through beatification and canonization,” said the Dec. 16 instruction from the congregation.

The instruction was sent to Catholic bishops, eparchs, and those who take part in procedures related to relics of saints, blesseds and those declared venerable and servants of God, Vatican News reports.

It contains 38 separate items. Among its directives: relics of saints and blesseds that lack a certificate from church authority cannot be exposed for the veneration of the faithful.

Current canonical practice of verifying the authenticity of relics and mortal remains of saints and blesseds remains in place to guarantee that these relics and remains are preserved and venerated. Among other topics, the instruction outlines how to obtain the consent of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for the canonical recognition of relics and the procedure to follow for relics that are taken on pilgrimage.

The new document replaces the appendix to the 2007 instruction “Sanctorum Mater,” also issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.


7. Pope appeals for freedom for 6 nuns abducted in Nigeria.

By Associated Press, December 17, 2017, 6:34 AM

Pope Francis is appealing for the liberation of six nuns who were kidnapped a month ago from their convent in Nigeria.

Francis made the appeal Sunday while addressing faithful in St. Peter’s Square. 

He said he was joining in an appeal made by Nigeria’s bishops for the six Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Christ, whom he said were kidnapped about a month ago from Iguoriakhi, Nigeria.