Monday, September 25, 2017
Milone…. and Pell
Another very odd story, this one involving the Vatican’s murky finances.
The story emerged on Saturday, September 23, and it has to leave almost everyone watching the Vatican — including many ordinary Catholics around the world — scratching their heads in puzzlement.
It has to do with the abrupt departure from the Vatican in June 20 of Libero Milone, 69, the Vatican’s auditor general. (Milone was in charge of auditing all of the Vatican’s books… a serious task… Milone had formerly served as the chairman and CEO of the global accounting firm Deloitte in Italy, so he was by all accounts… a serious man…)
Up until now, there was no explanation for why Milone abruptly resigned this important post on June 20.
But yesterday, Milone called several news agencies together and, for the first time, revealed his own, extraordinary version of what had happened: that he was forced to quit by high-ranking Vatican officials, who demanded his resignation on June 19 after he uncovered certain “irregularities,” irregularities he says he cannot even now reveal due to “non-disclosure agreements” associated with his abrupt departure(!).
Moreover, Milone says he was was not permitted by those high Vatican officials to meet with Pope Francis for even a moment, though he — a key man in Pope Francis’ plan to bring transparency to the Vatican’s finances — had, he claims, for many months enjoyed a close relationship of mutual trust, and despite the fact that Milone pleaded to be allowed to talk with the Holy Father in person before resigning his post.
It was not to be…
And to this day, more than three months later, Milone has still not had the chance to exchange even one word with Pope Francis.
Additional details of this story seem almost incredible.
For example, Milone told the journalists yesterday than he had been questioned for 12 hours by the head of the Vatican security police, Domenico Giani. For 12 hours? When? All at once, or over a number of days. It is not clear…
Moreover, Milone says that during these hours of questioning, Giani — according to Milone — actually shouted at him at the top of his voice, threatening him with trial in the Vatican on criminal charges if he did not agree to resign immediately and without explanation (which is what he eventually did). (The source for this is Andrea Tornielli’s article in La Stampa: “Ricordo che a un certo punto il comandante Giandomenico Giani mi urlò in faccia che dovevo ammettere tutto, confessare. Ma confessare che cosa? Non avevo fatto nulla.” Translation: “I remember that at a certain point Commander Giandomenico Giani shouted in my face that I had to admit everything, to confess. But confess what? I had not done anything.” link)
If this description is correct, it puts Milone’s quiet “slipping away” from his post on June 20, without a word of explanation, into an entirely new light…
Milone also said that he wrote a letter to Pope Francis in July giving his side of the story but that, though he believes the Pope received the letter because it was sent via someone who was abe to transmit it directly to the Pope… he did not receive any reply at all…
And, finally, Milone suggests that the re-emergence of charges against Cardinal George Pell in connection with the sexual abuse of minors in Australia 30 and 40 years ago may be in some way linked with Pell’s efforts to make headway in bringing trasparency to the Vatican’s finances. In othert words, that the irritation Pell was provoking in the Vatican due to his attempts to bring about financial reform aroused a counter-attack which included, in some unexplained way, re-igniting these old charges — a counter-attack originating in… the Vatican itself. (Pope Francis three years ago asked Pell to take on the task of leading a general re-organization of the Vatican’s finances, including greater transparency in budgets and bookkeeping.) As Associated Press reported: “Milone said he didn’t exclude a connection between his removal and Pell’s departure, suggesting that the Vatican’s ‘old guard’ was trying to stymie their reform.” (See also the report by Tornielli, where he writes that, in Milone’s view, “even the accusations of abuse of minors against the Australian cardinal who is now defending himself in court are in reality connected to Pell’s work in the Vatican.” link)
Milone told journalists that he was breaking his silence because “I couldn’t allow any longer a small group of powers to [defame] my reputation for their shady games.”
This from the man Pope Francis called two years ago to be a key component of his financial reform team!
There was immediate pushback from the Vatican.
The Vatican Press Office quickly responded to newspaper and agency accounts of Milone’s revelations with a press communique (it came out yesterday, on Sunday, September 24).
The statement expressed “surprise and regret” at Milone’s comments, then attacked Milone saying that, in speaking at all, he had “failed to uphold the agreement on confidentiality about the reasons for his resignation from office.”
The statement continued: “According to the statutes, the role of the Auditor General is to examine budgets and accounts of the Holy See and related administrations. Unfortunately, the office headed by Dr. Milone exceeded its powers and illegally commissioned an external firm to conduct investigative activities on the private lives of officials of the Holy See. In addition to constituting a crime, this inevitably compromised trust in Dr. Milone, who, confronted with his responsibility, freely agreed to resign. Finally, one can be sure the investigations were carried out scrupulously, and with respect for the people involved.”
And the Holy See’s deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, told Reuters in an interview that Milone’s claims were “false and unjustified.”
(The reports printed below go into some detail about Milone’s claims and the Vatican’s charges against Milone; see below.)
So what does all this mean?
On the face of it, at the very least, it means that there was a coverup in June on the true reasons leading the Milone’s resignation.
We now, for the first time, have a new version of what led to that resignation, from Milone himself, and a brief official response to that version from the Vatican, as well as brief responses from Vatican officials.
But what is completely missing here is that complete “transparency,” that bold “truth-telling,” that “parresia” (the Greek word for courageous truth-telling) that Pope Francis has repeatedly called for during his pontificate.
That truth-telling has not been taking place with regard to Milone’s resignation and the reasons for it.
Why such a cover-up?
John Allen, citing Milone, reported it in Crux this way:
“I believe the Pope is a great person, and he began with the best of intentions,” Milone said. “But I’m afraid he was blocked by the ‘old guard’ that’s still entirely there, which felt threatened when it understood that I could tell the Pope and Parolin what I’d seen with my own eyes in the accounts.”
And what had he seen?
We do not know.
And Milone says he has been sworn to secrecy on the matter as part of… his forced resignation agreement!
The Church deserves more transparency than this on these matters.
Several Press Reports on the Milone Revelations from Saturday
There were a number of Italian press reports, including in La Reppublica (link), on what Milone said on Saturday, but here I will simply point to three reports in English, one by Reuters, one buy the Associated Press, and one by Crux.
(1) The Reuters report (link)
Auditor says he was forced to quit Vatican after finding irregularities
By Philip Pullella
(Above, Pope Francis meets Libero Milone (right), the Vatican’s then-auditor general, at the Vatican on April 1, 2016, a year and a half ago. Milone abruotly resigned his post without explanation on June 20, three moonths ago. He broke his silence yesterday, saying that Vatican officials on June 19 ordered him to resign. Picture taken April 1 2016. Osservatore Romano/Handout via REUTERS)
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican’s first auditor-general, who resigned without explanation in June, has broken his silence, saying he was forced to step down with trumped-up accusations after discovering evidence of possible illegal activity.
Speaking to reporters from four media organizations including Reuters in the office of his lawyers in Rome, Libero Milone also said he believed that some in the Vatican wanted to slow down Pope Francis’s efforts at financial reform.
He said he could not give details of the irregularities he had found because of non-disclosure agreements.
Reuters was unable to independently verify his assertions, which the Vatican strongly contested.
The Holy See’s deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, told Reuters in an interview that Milone’s claims were “false and unjustified.”
“He went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me,” Becciu said. “If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him.”
Domenico Giani, the Vatican’s police chief, told Reuters there had been “overwhelming evidence” against Milone. Neither Becciu nor Giani provided details to support their assertions.
The 69-year-old left the Vatican two years after being hired with great fanfare to introduce more transparency into the sometimes murky finances at the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
At the time of his resignation, with three years left on his contract, neither the Vatican nor Milone, formerly chairman and CEO of the global accounting firm Deloitte in Italy, gave any explanation for his departure.
A Vatican statement at the time said only that it was “by mutual agreement.”
“I was in shock”
Milone, who had also worked for the United Nations and the car giant Fiat, said Becciu had ordered him to resign on the morning of June 19. Milone was told that he was being dismissed on the basis of a seven-month investigation by Vatican police.
“The facts presented to me on the morning of the 19th were fake, fabricated,” he said. “I was in shock. All the reasons had no credible foundation.”
Both Becciu and Giani, the police chief, said Milone had been given a choice: resign or face public prosecution by the Vatican’s courts. “In a certain sense, we were protecting his reputation,” Becciu said.
Milone said he had been accused of misuse of funds for hiring an outside firm to check the security of computers in the Vatican offices where he worked with a staff of 14, including two deputy auditors-general.
A document from the Vatican prosecutor authorizing the search of his offices on the day of his resignation, which Milone’s lawyers showed to reporters, said he had carried out investigations “in clear violation” of the statutes of his department.
It was not clear which statutes were said to have been violated. Article two of the statutes says the auditor-general has “full autonomy and independence,” including to “receive and investigate any reports on anomalous activities” of Vatican entities.
“My work has to be independent. It is very difficult to act with independence when departments blocked our activity or tried to control it,” he said.
The search warrant also said he had looked into the affairs of high-ranking Church members without authorization.
Milone said this referred to him looking into suspicions about the possible conflict of interest of an Italian cardinal, whom he declined to name. His investigation found nothing, but Milone said he believed he was being punished for starting it in the first place.
He said his troubles had begun on the morning of September 27, 2015, when he suspected that his office computer had been tampered with. He contacted an external company that had done work for him before to check for surveillance devices “because there are no such specialized people” in the Vatican.
The company discovered that his computer had been the target of an unauthorized access, and that his secretary’s computer had been infected with spyware that copied files.
Reuters was not able to independently determine which company had been hired or its findings.
Becciu said there was proof that the outside contractor had been helping Milone to spy on others.
Milone said that, after about 12 hours of questioning by Vatican police, he had decided to sign a resignation letter in order to “protect my family and my reputation.”
Asked why he had waited three months before telling his side of the story, Milone said he had wanted to think “and let things settle.”
“I wrote to the Pope in mid-July and gave him my point of view, explaining that the whole thing was a set-up,” he said, adding that the Pope had not replied.
Becciu said the Pope had been told of the investigation and the evidence before Milone was asked to resign.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Kevin Liffey
(2) The Associated Press report
Vatican denounces ousted auditor who says he was forced out
By Nicole Winfield
VATICAN CITY (AP) – The Vatican on Sunday revealed the reason behind the hasty departure of its auditor general, accusing him of having illegally hired a firm to spy on the private lives of Vatican personnel.
The Vatican made the revelation after Libero Milone broke three months of silence to declare that he resigned under threat of arrest for what he said were trumped-up charges.
Milone told reporters Saturday that he was told on June 19 that Pope Francis had lost confidence in him.
He said he was subsequently subject to an “aggressive” interrogation by Vatican police who seized material from his office and told him to resign or face arrest.
“They wanted me to confess to something. I don’t know what, because I acted within the confines of the statute,” he told Sky TG24 and other media.
In a statement, the Vatican admitted that Libero Milone resigned in June after Vatican investigators determined his office had “illegally hired an outside company to conduct investigations into the private lives of Holy See personnel.”
The Vatican said Milone had exceeded his mandate, freely tendered his resignation and was treated with full respect by investigators. It said it was “surprised and saddened” that Milone had violated the terms of his departure, which had called for confidentiality.
Milone’s resignation had raised eyebrows because he was only two years into a five-year term, and had been seen as a key part of Francis’ efforts to reform the Vatican’s finances.
Along with Cardinal George Pell, he was tasked with overseeing the Holy See’s budgets and making sense of the finances of the Vatican’s various departments.
Pell recently returned to his native Australia to face trial on historic sex abuse allegations, which he denies.
His secretariat for the economy, which includes Milone’s office, is being run by underlings for now.
Milone said he didn’t exclude a connection between his removal and Pell’s departure, suggesting that the Vatican’s “old guard” was trying to stymie their reform.
(3) The Crux report (link)
Ex-Vatican auditor says he was forced out by old guard with ‘frame-job’
By John L. Allen Jr.
September 24, 2017
Breaking a three-month silence, the Vatican’s former Auditor General claimed Saturday he was forced out in June by a “frame-job” engineered by an old guard hostile to reform, while two senior Vatican officials insisted they have “overwhelming evidence” that Libero Milone violated Vatican laws by illegitimately spying on people, including superiors and people in his own office.
ROME – In the latest sign of deep internal divisions over reform of Vatican finances, former Auditor General Libero Milone claimed Saturday he was forced out in June over false accusations manufactured by an old guard, while two senior Vatican officials insisted they have “overwhelming” evidence Milone violated Vatican laws by illegitimately spying on people, including superiors and people inside his own office.
It was the first time Milone had spoken publicly after the Vatican announced he had stepped down on June 20, providing no explanation for why he was leaving just two years into his five-year mandate.
That brief statement said his departure was by “common agreement,” but Milone said he had been “intimidated” and forced to resign.
“I wanted to do good for the Church, to reform it like I was asked, but they wouldn’t let me,” Milone said.
“I believe the Pope is a great person, and he began with the best of intentions,” Milone said. “But I’m afraid he was blocked by the old guard that’s still entirely there, which felt threatened when it understood that I could tell the Pope and Parolin what I’d seen with my own eyes in the accounts.”
The reference was to Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and in effect the pope’s top aide.
On Saturday, Milone spoke with a group of reporters from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the Wall Street Journal, the Reuters news agency, and the Italian TV news channel SkyTg24.
Milone said he was breaking his silence because “I couldn’t allow any longer a small group of powers to [defame] my reputation for their shady games.”
Contacted by Reuters, Italian Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the top-ranking deputy in the Secretariat of State in his role of sostituto, or “substitute,” called Milone’s claims “false and unjustified.”
“He went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me,” Becciu told Reuters. “If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him.”
Domenico Giani, the Vatican’s police chief, told Reuters there had been “overwhelming evidence” against Milone, though neither he nor Becciu provided details of the charges.
On Sunday, the Vatican Press Office released a statement expressing “surprise and regret” over Milone’s comments, which, it said, “failed to uphold the agreement on confidentiality about the reasons for his resignation from office.
“According to the statutes, the role of the Auditor General is to examine budgets and accounts of the Holy See and related administrations,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the office headed by Dr. Milone exceeded its powers and illegally commissioned an external firm to conduct investigative activities on the private lives of officials of the Holy See.
“In addition to constituting a crime,” the statement said, “this inevitably compromised trust in Dr. Milone, who, confronted with his responsibility, freely agreed to resign.
“Finally,” the statement said, “one can be sure the investigations were carried out scrupulously, and with respect for the people involved.”
Milone told reporters he could not talk about the content of his auditing work for the Vatican, which he said is still covered by confidentiality agreements, but discussed the circumstances of his departure from the Vatican and his views on the overall state of the pope’s reform project.
A former Italian delegate for Deloitte, an international auditing and tax services firm, at various points over his career Milone had also worked for major global firms such as Fiat and Wind. When he took up the newly-created post of Auditor General in 2015, it was touted as the final piece of the puzzle to promote a new era of transparency and accountability in Vatican finances.
As Milone describes it, however, even though the Auditor General’s position was supposed to report directly to the Pope, he was “blocked” from seeing Francis after April 2016, progressively isolated and impeded in his work, and eventually compelled to resign when confronted with accusations of misconduct and threatened with arrest if he didn’t quit immediately.
Specifically, Milone suggested he was being punished for having launched an investigation of a possible conflict of interest involving an Italian cardinal, whom he declined to name.
When he agreed to resign, Milone said, he was presented with a letter that had already been prepared and dated several months in advance, suggesting the effort to force him out had been underway for some time.
Milone also appeared to link his ouster with the exit of Cardinal George Pell, currently on a leave of absence while fighting charges of sexual abuse in his native Australia.
Milone told reporters that he had written Francis in July through a “secure channel,” saying he was the victim of a frame-job and that he’s “astonished” that it happened at the same time that Pell, who had been tapped by Francis in 2014 as his point man for financial reform, had exited the scene.
Milone implied it may not have been a coincidence that the abuse charges against Pell, which reportedly date back decades, had surfaced only within the last couple of years, at the same time his reform efforts were becoming increasingly controversial inside the Vatican.
Milone, who said he went to embrace Pell before his departure for Australia, told reporters he has had no response to that letter to Francis.
As Milone describes it, he was called into Becciu’s office on June 19 and informed that the Pope had lost faith in him and wanted his resignation.
When Milone asked why, he said he was given a series of explanations, “some of which seemed incredible.”
When he asked to see the Pope, Milone said, he was told instead to go to the Gendarmeria, the Vatican’s main police force, where Giani interrogated him, later relocating to Milone’s office where Giani demanded access to documents.
Speaking to SkyTG24, Milone said that during the interrogation, he felt as if he were in an old episode of “Starsky and Hutch.”
Eventually, Milone said, he was confronted with two receipts for payments to an outside contractor to check for surveillance devices in his office, which he said resulted in discovering unauthorized access to his computer and spyware planted on his secretary’s computer to copy files.
Milone said he told Giani that one of the two receipts was a fake, and denied any misappropriation of funds.
Becciu, however, told Reuters that Milone had hired the contractor to spy on others illicitly inside the Vatican.
Milone acknowledged that perhaps it’s true he had lost the confidence of the Pope, but suggested the way in which Vatican officials engineered his departure was “strange.”
“The Pope could have just called me and told me himself,” Milone said. “Instead, there was this whole staged scene that smacks of character assassination.”
Overall, Milone offered a dour assessment of the state of the reform project, suggesting early moves towards transparency and accountability are being rolled back.
“I see this all the time in the business world,” Milone told Italian television. “It’s what happens when you change objectives but you don’t change management … resistance to change is natural.”
However, Milone also said that if Francis asked him to return, he would do so, saying, “I don’t like not finishing something I started.”