Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Financial transparency: now it's the bishops' turn

Giorgio Bernardelli
Vatican Insider
July 31, 2013

All it took was one day and both Archbishop of Ljubljana Anton Stres and the Archbishop of Maribor Marjan Turnsek were out of the picture: Today Francis accepted both their resignations in accordance with paragraph 2 of Canon 401 of the Code of Canon Law, which states: “A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.” The Vatican’s decision to wave goodbye to the archbishops of two of Slovenia’s six Catholic dioceses, after reports of financial mismanagement, is a very serious one indeed. And it comes after Benedict XVI accepted Archbishop Franc Kramberger’s resignation on 3 February 2011, in accordance with the abovementioned paragraph of Canon law. Kramberger preceded Turnsek’s as Archbishop of Maribor.

In this case, the Vatican provision applies to financial problems in Archdiocese of Maribor, where the 70 year old Archbishop of Ljubljana, Anton Stres, was auxiliary bishop for a few years. A scandal exploded in 2010, when the Holy See sent an Apostolic Visitor to Slovenia after Rome had received a series of unusual requests regarding some loans that had been granted. A rather embarrassing picture emerged: the archdiocese had made massive losses of 800 million Euros which had been invested in a chain of failing businesses, including a nationwide TV network known for its variety of porn channels. This is why Benedict XVI accepted former archbishop Kramberger’s resignation. But as the various different pieces of the jigsaw came together, it became clear that financial mismanagement in the diocese had in fact begun in 2003 if not earlier and Mgrs Stres and Turnsek were greatly to blame. Stres had been appointed Archbishop of Ljubljana in 2009 and former coadjutor archbishop Mgr. Turnsek, 58, succeeded Mgr. Kramberger. This is the background to today’s resignations.

The Holy See Press Office announced the news and Archbishop Stres gave a press conference in Ljubljana, stating he had been informed of Francis’ request for him to give up the leadership of Slovenia’s largest Episcopal see, last 29 April. The archbishop accepted the request, claiming he had never denied his responsibility in the Maribor affair. “I hope and pray to God that this step I have taken will help restore credibility to the Slovenian Church, as it deserves it,” Stres said in a statement. A similar statement was issued by Archbishop Turnsek: “I have done my best to deal with the situation but was not able to for various reasons.”

Looking beyond the Archdiocese of Maribor case, the question which arises is whether Francis’ tough crack down on financial behaviour in the Church will extend from the Vatican Bank (IOR) to dioceses across the world. In Cameroon, the resignation of the 66 year old Archbishop of Yaoundé, Simon-Victor Tonyé Bakot, has also been causing quite a stir. Bakot was formerly president of the country’s bishops’ Conference. Francis accepted his resignation on Monday, in line with paragraph 2 of Canon 401. As always the Holy See has not divulged the reasons for this. But a news article on the archbishop’s resignation published yesterday in the French section of the Vatican Radio website, indirectly hinted at finances being the cause. The article roughly reads: “According to the Cameroon press, Mgr. Bakot is allegedly involved in a number of property-related operations. Various members of the clergy and faithful have spoken out against this and against his management of the diocese’s land. They also complain about the ethnically influenced positions he often takes. The Jeune Afrique (Africa’s leading news magazine, Ed.) website claims that the diocese of Yaoundé possesses the largest amount of real estate property in the country, after the State, but still faces serious debt problems.”

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