Tag Archives: Vatican

Balancing the books at the Vatican

Cardinal George Pell is the former archbishop of Sydney, Australia, and the first Prefect of the Holy See’s Secretariat for the Economy. Shortly after the 2013 conclave, Pope Francis appointed him to the body of eight cardinals who advise the Pope on reforming the Church. Pope St. John Paul II created him a cardinal in 2003. Over his ecclesiastical career, Cardinal Pell has held several important positions with the Holy See. He responded in writing to questions from Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

How did you feel when the Holy Father appointed you to the advisory board of cardinals?

Obviously I was very much honored, and somewhat apprehensive too, at this particular appointment — assisting the Holy Father with the governance of the Church universal. But it is clear also that the Holy Father sought to have representatives from the universal Church.

How has your previous experience prepared you to lead the Secretariat of the Economy?

I have been in charge of significant Catholic institutions since I was 32 years of age. For over 40 years, I have been involved either as CEO or chairman of the board, including in tertiary education and also Caritas Australia. I have been fortunate to have worked with top businessmen, sometimes national leaders and good accountants. I have learned on the job.

However, it is also fair to say that most financial decisions are not rocket science. I have been a bishop since 1987, and then in 1997, Archbishop of Melbourne, and subsequently Archbishop of Sydney. These are two very large Metropolitan Sees with vast numbers of faithful, not to mention their outreach in schools, hospitals and other care and education facilities.

In Sydney, we had around 10,000 employees and a bigger budget than the Vatican if you include schools, hospitals and welfare. The patrimony of the diocese was large and needed to be well administered and grown. During my time in Sydney, we also successfully ran and financed the World Youth Day in 2008.

Certainly the Vatican, with its particular historical context, has required a specific investment of time and expertise, but it is also true that the cardinals in the last pre-conclave were clear that the finances in the Vatican needed to be put into order.

How much work has gone into overseeing and reforming the Vatican’s finances?

The programme of the Secretariat for the Economy and the Council for the Economy is built on the groundbreaking work that had been done by the COSEA (Commissione Referente di Studio e di Indirizzo sull’Organizzazione della Struttura Economico — Amministrativa della Santa Sede) — a group of lay experts from around the world set up by Pope Francis; they had investigated the financial situation of the Vatican for 10 months and had made a series of preliminary recommendations.

The Secretariat and Council started from those recommendations and were able to very quickly put in place some basic systems, structures and procedures:
• Providing sound and consistent financial management policies, practices and reporting based on international standards;
• A commitment to transparency and international standards;
• Facilitating decision making at a local level and providing a framework for accountability;
• Strengthening the planning process; and
• Making more resources available for the mission of the Church.

These objectives have been the key factors driving the reform of the finances in the Vatican and we have a team of people within the Secretariat under the direction of the director of the Office of the Prefect, Mr. Danny Casey, working solidly on these proposals.

What are your hopes for the Synod on the Family, which recently ended in Rome?

I am hoping that the magnificent teaching of the Church on marriage, family and sexuality can be better known. I know so many families who are struggling to live their Catholic faith in a world that is increasingly hostile to the truths of the faith.

Unfortunately, it seems that occasionally the message of the Church’s support for the faithful is lost and many of the faithful are confused. The Pope has stated that doctrine will not be touched, but more is obviously needed to ensure that the Church’s teachings can become known.

What do you plan say in your remarks at the Legatus summit?

I will be talking principally about that which I know (hopefully)! I hope to discuss something of the reforms that we are undertaking at the Vatican in order that they might become known outside the Holy See and Italy.

My feeling is that the faithful are grateful for our work, bringing transparency to the Church’s patrimony and enabling the Holy See to pay its way, to meet its running costs, while helping to ensure that more resources can be dedicated to the poor and the needy.

AN ABRIDGED VERSION of this interview was published in the November 2015 issue of Legatus magazine.


Pope Francis and Vatican reform

ROBERT ROYAL contends that Pope Francis’ reforms are moving along smoothly . . .

Robert Royal

Robert Royal

It’s an old joke. A pope is asked how many people work at the Vatican. He replies: “About half!” But the Roman Curia, the central governing body of the Church, is no joke.

And Pope Francis — following the wishes of the cardinals who elected him — has made Curia reform a central concern of his papacy. Indeed, he’s gone so far as to appoint a nine-member council of cardinal advisers to revise Pastor Bonus, St. John Paul II’s apostolic constitution, which specifies how the Curia is to function.

About 3,000 people work at the Vatican — 2,400 are lay people involved in the practical running of the tiny city-state, not the governance of the worldwide Church. There are always calls for the Curia to be reformed and simplified, a good goal, properly understood. But simplicity has to be balance alongside some other considerations:

• The Catholic Church has 1.3 billion members scattered across all seven continents (the U.S. has one-quarter that number and there are 3 million federal employees).
• Exact numbers vary, of course, but at any moment there are roughly 5,200 bishops, more than 400,000 priests, and tens of thousands of men and women in religious orders.
• The Church is the largest provider of charitable and social services of various kinds throughout the world.
• Catholic charitable organizations carry out complicated financial transactions involving individual governments, crossing multiple national borders and legal systems.

And that’s just for starters. The Vatican has large responsibilities — not only of teaching and sanctifying — but of governing the largest and longest continuously existing institution in the world. So even as the Pope has consolidated some offices, he’s creating others. He constantly reminds the world that everything must be oriented towards the Church’s only mission: to bring people to the love of Christ and neighbor.

Francis’ reforms must proceed between two necessities. He’s changed personnel in the Congregation for Bishops, for example, which with only a small staff and about 30 bishop-advisors handles the replacement of bishops who retire or die around the world. It also manages the ad limina visits that all the world’s bishops make on a rotating five-year basis to the Holy See. Similarly, the Roman Rota and Signatura — both appeals courts of a kind — deal with many cases from around the globe each year, with only a small staff. When a diocese goes a long time without a bishop or someone waits years for a final decision on a complicated annulment, it’s often because of the staff-to-case workload. Francis has created a new commission to study annulments, and he wants to streamline and perhaps even shift the way in which the Church handles such problems, even marriage questions.

Pope Francis has moved most boldly, perhaps, in reforming the Secretariat of State and the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), colloquially called the Vatican Bank. He’s made the Secretariat of State much more directly accountable to him personally. The IOR has long been accused of vulnerability to corruption — less theft than “money laundering,” shifting of funds across national borders for unclear purposes. Francis appointed a new set of financial managers to bring the IOR into harmony with European transparency and banking rules. He went even further on the economic front in February, creating a new Secretariat for the Economy, led by Australian Cardinal George Pell.

Since Benedict XVI, the Church has also been seeking to bring global charitable donations in line with Catholic moral and spiritual principles. Caritas International, for example, had been dealing with local organizations and governments in many countries. Some believed that this had led to compromises on morally contested questions such as contraception, abortion and homosexuality. Initially, the plan was to bring all charitable contributions under the aegis of Roman offices, but that proved unworkable (rules for 501(c)3 non-profits in the U.S., Britain, and France, for example, prohibit the wholesale transfer of donations to foreign entities). Other arrangements, however, are in the works.

And all this has to be organized while the Vatican continues to welcome tourists and pilgrims, preserve the artistic and musical patrimony of the Church, maintain diplomatic relations with 180 countries, and engage in special missions to promote peace in places like the Middle East, where no one else speaks with such moral authority.

It’s a huge task. And maybe an even bigger one to attempt reforming how the whole operates. But Francis has shown in just 20 months a capacity to move the large mass of the Church forward with skill, energy and love.

ROBERT ROYAL is an author and founder of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. and editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing.

It’s time for a Catholic comeback

Ambassador Ray Flynn says Catholics have the clout to make a difference nationwide . . .

Ray Flynn

Ray Flynn

The recent decision by the Obama administration to close the existing U.S. Vatican embassy and move it to the back of the property now occupied by the U.S. embassy to Italy has generated a lot of concern among informed Catholics.

I think most people understand the importance of a positive diplomatic relationship between the U.S. government and the Holy See. Ambassadors keep the lines of communication open between these two enormously important governments, which oftentimes act as peacemakers in various parts of the world.

The decision to consolidate the U.S. Vatican embassy in itself might not seem significant to some people, but considering all the other things that are happening to the Catholic Church, this decision has created concern about the decline in respect for the Church and traditional religious values in America today. Some government officials have denied that an anti-Catholic bias is at play here, but denying the problem will not change reality.

Not only was I in Rome when full formal diplomatic relations were established in 1984 between the United States and the Holy See, but I remember having a conversation with both Pope John Paul II and President Reagan about this new diplomatic post. Everyone had great expectations for its success, and the achievements have been remarkable under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

But it’s not just about moving the U.S.-Vatican embassy that is of concern. It’s more about the attacks on human life, the family, religious freedom, and the U.S. government’s unconstitutional mandates on religiously affiliated institutions. Governmental mandates have forced Catholic hospitals and schools to close and have ended children’s and women’s services — including adoption.

At the international level, it’s even worse: the frequent bombings of Catholic churches, the murder of Christians in the Middle East, and the intimidation of Christians. Yet these atrocious events receive very little attention or outrage, except by some in the Catholic press. No moral indignation from the United Nations, the president of the United States or our elected officials. Now the U.S. government wants to downgrade its Vatican embassy. The media asks me why I’m upset about it. “Don’t be so sensitive,” they tell me.

When do all these subtle and not-so-subtle attacks end? When do Catholics say enough is enough!? How many more examples do we need to hear before we find the courage to speak out and take action? Unfortunately, some Catholics will never take a stand in defense of traditional Catholic values — and for the human rights of oppressed and persecuted Christians.

Recently I was asked, “What can average Catholics do — Catholics who don’t have political power, money, organization or the media to change anything?” Sadly, I hear this all the time and from people who should know better. I remember my grandparents telling me stories about Catholic bigotry when they first came to Boston from Ireland. Catholics faced ugly bigotry in looking for work and housing. They saw advertisements in newspapers and store windows reading, “Help Wanted. No Catholics or Irish Need Apply.” This went on for years and nobody in political power did anything about it. It wasn’t until these poor immigrant Catholics finally got political power that the discrimination and bigotry against Catholics declined.

But things have changed for the worse for Catholics in the last 20 years. A new, well-organized and financed political force has emerged. These folks are determined to tear down the Church’s influence. These relentless attacks in the media, by the movie industry and from secular progressives, have forced Catholic politicians and writers to cave in. They find it convenient to go along with this growing radical political force that recognizes the Church as the only institution strong enough to stand up to their radical anything-goes agenda. So when are lay Catholics going to wake up and see what’s going on in America? When will they take a stand?

Is there anything we can we do? A lot! But only if we’ve got the moral and political courage to try. First, Catholics need a stronger political voice. Don’t tell me we’re not political, because that means other people will decide public issues for us. We need a well-organized political effort with the ability to communicate with Catholics on an immediate basis. Catholics should consider boycotting commercial products and media outlets that attack Catholic values. We must be active on the Internet and be willing to take on hostile critics. We need to attend community meetings and let everyone know what we think. It’s called democracy!

RAY FLYNN is the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See (1993-1997) and former mayor of Boston (1984-1993).

21st century pontiff

Pope Francis electrifies the faithful around the world with his charm and faith . . .


To say that the world has embraced Pope Francis may be a bit of an understatement. Liberal Catholics have lauded his focus on the poor and underprivileged, while conservatives appreciate the pontiff’s love of Mary and the liturgy.

Protestants and non-Christians alike appreciate the new Pope’s warmth and charm, while the mainstream media have found little to gripe about yet. It may be just a “honeymoon” period, but for now Pope Francis is feeling the love.

Before he could even celebrate his first month as the Roman pontiff, several major publishers already had biographies of the former Argentinian cardinal on the shelves.  And before his election to the Throne of Peter was even 24 hours old, I noticed that shops outside the Vatican were already pedaling Pope Francis buttons, key chains and T-shirts.

Keeping it simple

pope-mug3The son of Italian immigrants, Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Dec. 17, 1936. After serving as archbishop of his country’s capital city since 1998, he was created a cardinal in 2001, and elected to the papacy on March 13. He is the first pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit pope and the first to take the name Francis.

If there is one immediate impression this new pope has made during his first weeks in Rome, it’s his emphasis on the poor and dispossessed. Just a few days after his election, he held a special audience at the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for the more than 5,000 journalists from around the world who were in Rome to cover the conclave, and I was among them.

In his address, Pope Francis explained his reason for choosing the humble saint from Assisi as his papal patron “For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and safeguards creation. In this moment when our relationship with creation is not so good — right? — he is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”

The Holy Father has certainly been a man of his word. He was known to ride the bus to work in Buenos Aires, he lived in a simple apartment with a retired bishop, did his own cooking, and frequently ministered to the poor himself.

As the bishop of Rome, Pope Francis has continued in the same vein by simplifying papal customs. He wears a simple pectoral cross and has done away with the tradition of wearing red shoes and white slacks under his white cassock. And he put the ornate papal thrones in storage. The Pope has preferred to sit on a regular white chair at ground level. Previous popes have had their perch elevated.

More noticeably, he has not moved into the spacious papal apartments. The Pope is living at Domus Santa Marta, the residence behind St. Peter’s Basilica where he and the voting cardinals stayed during the conclave.

Winning hearts

pope-mug1Matthew Bunson, who penned the best-selling biography Pope Francis (Our Sunday Visitor), told me that the Holy Father’s charm, simplicity and charisma have already won the hearts of millions around the world.

“His pontificate so far has been full of powerful gestures of humility and service,” he explained. “I expect that they will be matched by his teachings on mercy, forgiveness and the embrace of the authentic Christian life — something he has been talking about for years in his homilies and writings.”

The image of Francis’ pontificate, Bunson said, was set on his inauguration day — March 19 — when he told his driver to stop the popemobile. The Holy Father got out and kissed and embraced a severely handicapped man. Similarly, on Easter Sunday, he instructed his security detail to bring him eight-year-old Dominic Gondreau, a Rhode Island boy with severe cerebral palsy. The Pope embraced the child, bringing tears to the eyes of his parents and millions who saw the incident on television and the Internet.

Even though his changes in papal protocol have raised eyebrows in some quarters, he has at the same time earned tremendous respect. For example, the Holy Father opted to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at a youth detention center in Rome, rather than the traditional location — the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The Pope washed the feet of 12 youth — girls and boys from diverse nationalities and religious confessions.

“He is teaching us that it has to be more than just a gesture,” Bunson said. “It has to come from somewhere, and it’s coming from his love for Jesus Christ. Like Pope Benedict before him, Pope Francis is teaching us and showing us that everything has to flow from caritas, from charity, from love — otherwise we are nothing more than NGOs [non-governmental organizations].”

Francis the reformer

pope-mug2The buzz throughout Rome during the conclave was that the new pope, whoever he happened to be, would need to be a dynamic personality who could teach and explain the faith to a generation virtually swallowed up by a secular culture. The new pope’s second — and concurrent task — would be to reform the governance of the Church: Vatican City State and the Roman curia, which has for years been plagued by mismanagement and scandal.

The fact that the former Cardinal Bergoglio chose Francis of Assisi as his patron is not lost on those anxious for curial reform. The great saint, who died in 1226, once entered the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. As Francis prayed, he heard a voice coming from the cross telling him three times: “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.”

While the Vatican’s government isn’t ready to collapse, it is certainly in need of renovation. The Pope’s first move in this regard came three days after his election when he provisionally renewed Roman curia leaders’ appointments. All top curia officials’ authority lapses when the Seat of Peter becomes vacant. Ordinarily a new pontiff quickly renews their appointments. But Pope Francis waited a few days before announcing that all Vatican officials should remain at their posts donec aliter provideatur — until other provisions are made.

“The task of reforming the curia and the governance of the Vatican City State is one of the big tasks given to him by the College of Cardinals,” Bunson said. “Structure-wide reform is coming. I think we could see some consolidating of Vatican departments to make things more efficient, but the Pope’s most important and telling task will be the appointment of his Secretary of State.”

In mid-April, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had established a group of eight cardinals from around the world — including Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley — to advise him in the government of the universal Church. The cardinals will also study a plan for revising the apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus, promulgated by Blessed John Paul II in 1988.

Even thought the tasks before him seem monumental, Vatican watchers say they’re confident that Pope Francis is the right man for the job. After all, he has shown that much is accomplished by relying on God rather than men.

His method of sticking to the simple gospel message has already drawn many inactive Catholics back to the Church. I’ve even heard Protestant Christians refer to him as “our pope.” It’s rather ironic that in a culture of rampant materialism, Pope Francis has found a winning formula by drawing on the saint of poverty and simplicity. It will serve him well in the years ahead.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

Francis, pope to the poor

Legatus’ editor was in Rome when cardinals elected the 266th Roman Pontiff . . .

Although his pontificate is not even two weeks old, it’s clear that Pope Francis does things differently. Before he even stepped out onto the loggia on March 13 as the 266th successor of St. Peter, he eschewed the gold pectoral cross reserved for the newly elected pope and instead opted to wear his own simple dark metallic cross depicting the Holy Spirit descending upon the shepherd returning with a lost sheep.

On his first day as pontiff, Pope Francis visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome with a small security escort before returning to the hotel where he had stayed prior to the conclave. He cleared out his room, carried his own suitcase, and then paid the bill himself.

A few days later, just before celebrating Sunday Mass at the tiny parish church of Santa Anna inside the Vatican, the new Pope stepped onto the sidewalk to greet passersby, astonishing pilgrims making their way to St. Peter’s Square.

A new pope

As a journalist and a Catholic, I was blessed to be in Rome during the conclave and the first days of Francis’ pontificate. I arrived in Rome on March 12 — about 12 hours before the first black smoke issued from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on the first day of the conclave.

While the square was perhaps half-full on that cold and rainy night with temps dipping into the 30s, it was a different story 24 hours later. It was still cold, but nearly 150,000 had packed the square, clutching umbrellas as the rain occasionally turned to flurries.

When the curtains on the basilica’s loggia opened — more than an hour after the white smoke appeared — I was shivering atop the colonnade waiting for the new pope. A Spanish journalist next to me speculated that Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola had been elected because his Twitter account had been removed. However, a couple of minutes before the new pope appeared, she told me his name was “Bergoglio from Argentina.” As it turns out, she was right. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was the new Holy Father — now named Pope Francis. He was installed on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church.

The inspiration

Like his famous namesake — St. Francis of Assisi — the new pope has a heart for the poor. As cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, he left the opulent bishop’s residence to live in a small apartment with a retired bishop. He did his own cooking and rode the bus to his office. Being pope hasn’t changed him. After his election, he rode on a bus with the cardinals back to the residence in the Vatican Gardens where they were staying during the conclave.

During his March 16 audience with journalists where he became known as the “Hugging Pope,” Francis expressed a desire to refocus on the poor. Regarding the inspiration for his new name, he explained that late in the voting during the conclave, he was sitting next to his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy.

“When things were getting a little ‘dangerous,’ he comforted me,” the Pope told journalists. “And then, when the votes reached the two-thirds, there was the usual applause because the pope had been elected. He hugged me and said: ‘Do not forget the poor.’ And that word stuck here [tapping his forehead]; the poor, the poor.

“Then, immediately in relation to the poor I thought of Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and safeguards creation. In this moment when our relationship with creation is not so good — right? — he is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”

Pope Francis has surprised almost everyone with his charm, his simplicity and his ability to communicate the truths of the faith in word and action. I have no doubt that we can expect much of the same during his pontificate. This man, who has the humility of Benedict XVI and the charm and ease of John Paul II, will do things differently. And that’s a good thing.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor-in-chief of Legatus magazine. A modified version of this article appeared in the March 17 edition of the Prairie Messenger.

Pope Benedict XVI stuns the world

Holy Father resigns, conclave to elect 266th Pope will take place later this month . . .

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

It had been nearly 600 years since a successor of St. Peter resigned from his post. After months of reflection and prayer, Pope Benedict XVI became the third pope in the last 1,000 years to resign from the Chair of Peter.

The Feb. 11 announcement that shook the world has now given way to speculation as to who will become the 266th successor of St. Peter. The 115 cardinals who will choose the next pope (including 11 Americans and three Canadians) have already begun to assemble in Rome for meetings, prayer and discernment.

The Resignation

While the surprise announcement took everyone by surprise, Pope Benedict gave several hints at his decision that most Vatican-watchers missed or dismissed.

On April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict stopped in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval pope named St. Celestine V (1215- 1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his episcopal authority as bishop of Rome, on Celestine’s tomb.

As Scott Hahn pointed out, Pope Celestine V was elected “somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday (Ratzinger was 78 when he was elected pope in 2005). Just five months later, after issuing a formal decree allowing popes to resign (or abdicate, like other rulers), Pope Celestine V exercised that right. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this venerable model.”

Pope Benedict also indicated his inclination to step down in an interview with German papal biographer Peter Seewald. The writer told German magazine Focus that when he met with the Pope in December, he appeared to have lost vision in one eye, was losing his hearing and looked emaciated.

“I had never seen him so exhausted, so worn out,” Seewald said. “He did not look unwell, but the fatigue that had taken over his whole being, his body and soul could not be missed.”

Seewald quoted Benedict as having said, “I’m an old man, and the strength is ebbing. I think what I’ve done is enough.” When Seewald asked if he was considering giving up the papacy, the Pope responded, “That depends on how much my physical strength will force me to that.”

The Conclave

Pope Benedict acknowledged his impending retirement during his first public appearance after the announcement. “I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after having prayed at length and having examined my conscience before God, well aware of the seriousness of the act, but equally conscious of no longer being able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength that it requires,” he said during his Feb. 13 general audience.

The resignation became official on Feb. 28 when the Pope left the Vatican for his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. He will live there until remodeling work is completed on the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican Gardens.

In his Feb. 14 address to thousands of priests from the diocese of Rome, in what turned out to be a farewell address in his capacity as their bishop, the Holy Father described his retirement plans.

“Even if I am withdrawing into prayer, I will always be close to all of you, and I am sure that you will be close to me, even if I remain hidden to the world,” he said in his mostly extemporaneous remarks.

According to current rules, established by Blessed John Paul II, a period of sede vacante (Latin for “the seat being empty”) follows a pope’s death or resignation. A conclave of papal electors (cardinals in good standing under the age of 80) must convene between 15-20 days after the Chair of Peter is vacated. Benedict altered those rules, allowing cardinals to shorten the length of the sede vacante.

Presiding over the conclave will be the most senior cardinal-bishop under age 80, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re. Two secret ballots are held each morning and two each afternoon in the Sistine Chapel. A two-thirds majority is required. Ballots are burned after each round. Black smoke means no decision; white smoke signals that cardinals have chosen a pope and he has accepted. Bells also signal the election of a pope to help avoid possible confusion over the color of smoke coming from chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

The presiding cardinal, if not elected himself, is charged with asking the elected candidate to accept the papacy. If the candidate accepts election, the presiding cardinal will ask what the new pope’s name will be. The cardinals may elect any baptized Catholic male, but since 1389, they have always elected a fellow cardinal.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of Legatus magazine.

The horror of human trafficking

The fight against modern-day slavery reaches from Washington to the Vatican . . . 

traffickingShe was a beautiful young Albanian woman who happily left family and home to become an actress and model — never dreaming her patrons planned to turn her into a sex slave.

As soon as she crossed the border, however, she learned that her new life would be radically different than the one she’ d been promised. Her passport was taken away, she was beaten and forced into the sex trade.

Pervasive problem

This story, which is heartbreakingly typical, was in a U.S. State Department briefing given to R. James Nicholson in 2001 as he prepared to become U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. It spurred Nicholson to learn as much as he could about the contemporary phenomenon known as human trafficking — and to do something about it.

Once in Rome, he organized an international conference on the issue that drew participants from 49 countries. “It turned out to be a blessing,” Nicholson told Legatus Magazine. “God and the Holy Spirit were looking after us because all the pieces fell into place and it really motivated a lot of people as well as educating them.”

Thanks to efforts like these, human trafficking is on the radar for legislators, human rights advocates, religious groups, businesses and even filmmakers. For example, the 2008 film Taken, starring Liam Neeson, tells the story of a 17-year-old American girl who is kidnapped by traffickers while visiting in Paris.

The United Nations’ International Labor Organization estimates that about 12.3 million people are in forced and bonded labor and sexual servitude. The U.S. State Department’s 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, however, puts that number between 4 – 27 million.

The problem of human trafficking is even expected to be a factor at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where traffickers may try to profit from an anticipated increase in demand for prostitution by presenting victims as “visitors.”

Amy Roth meets with children in a Mumbai slum earlier this year

Amy Roth meets with children in a Mumbai slum earlier this year

“It’s difficult for people to imagine how pervasive and how massive this is,” said Amy Roth of the International Justice Mission (IJM), which maintains a network of lawyers and social workers who investigate cases and aid victims in 12 countries.

If they find it hard to grasp numbers, people often respond to the face of human trafficking, which Roth describes as “increasingly feminine and minor.”

Roth recently returned from India and Cambodia where she met with victims, including the family of a 12-year-old girl she called Megala. When the girl’s parents divorced, Megala’s mother started seeing a man who began negotiating with potential clients for the girl’s virginity. Fortunately, Roth said, one of the prospective “clients” was an undercover IJM investigator, who alerted local authorities. The girl was rescued and the perpetrator was sentenced to seven years in prison. Unfortunately, Roth said, her story is the exception.

Fighting exploitation

Some victims spend years in slavery and, if they survive, emerge with deep psychological wounds and bodily diseases. “Slavery is exacerbated by ignorance, poverty, manipulation, fraud and coercion,” Roth explained.

Often, someone known to a family will coerce or manipulate a young person into servitude, sometimes with the parents’ knowledge — particularly if they are in strained economic circumstances. Sometimes entire families are forced into indebted servitude.

Although human exploitation has been an issue throughout history, its more contemporary form is now the world’s third largest and fastest-growing criminal enterprise, Roth said.

People from diverse political and ideological backgrounds have come together on the issue. In 2000, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act with 18 Democratic and 18 Republican cosponsors. The bill ensures that traffickers are punished proportionate to penalties for kidnapping and rape. Smith now is working on a bill that would alert authorities of high-risk sex offenders’ travel plans and prevent foreign sex offenders from entering the U.S.

Internationally, the U.N. has conventions and protocols covering aspects of human trafficking like migrant smuggling, the sale of children, child prostitution and child porn. Individual countries, however, are responsible for drafting their own laws to address the problem.

Catholic action

In the battle against human trafficking, the Catholic Church has been a beacon, said Jane Adolphe who teaches international law and human rights at Ave Maria School of Law.

“I don’t really think you can talk about what’s being done to help victims of human trafficking without talking about the Church,” she said.

Both the Holy See and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have addressed the problem’s roots and its remedies. On Palm Sunday this year, Pope Benedict XVI called upon the EU and Africa to put an end to human trafficking.

The global economic crisis, he said, has increasingly pushed poor people to make hazardous journeys to other countries. He mentioned the 200 Africans who drowned after their overcrowded boat capsized off Libya in late March.

“The dimensions of the phenomenon make it increasingly urgent,” he said, “that strategies coordinated between the European Union and African states are taken to prevent migrants from turning to unscrupulous traffickers.”

In 2005, as part of a Vatican-sponsored international conference, the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers produced a document offering aid and pastoral care for human-trafficking victims.

State-side, the U.S. bishops have been working on the human-trafficking issue for nearly 10 years by providing survivor services, training and technical assistance, education and advocacy. The USCCB’s latest initiative is a five-year national human-trafficking awareness campaign scheduled to begin next January. It targets Catholics on college campuses and in parishes.

Human trafficking is a Catholic issue because it’s a complete affront to human dignity, said Todd Scribner of the USCCB’s migration and refugee services.

“The Church takes a person’s innate human dignity very seriously,” he explained. “To treat people like they are objects and not human is unacceptable.”

Judy Roberts is a staff writer for Legatus Magazine.


Fighting the good fight at the office
How CEOs can prevent human trafficking

When Christian Brothers Investment Services, a socially responsible investment advisory firm, asked its 1,000 Catholic institutional clients to rank their issues of highest concern in 2008, human trafficking emerged as No. 1.

Julie Tanner, assistant director of socially responsible investing for Christian Brothers, said the company responded by talking about the issue with the companies it invests in. In one case, she said, they asked about policies, training practices and executives’ awareness of ways to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.

As awareness of human trafficking grows, many businesses are joining anti-trafficking groups and ensuring that their own policies and practices aren’t contributing to the problem. Nyssa Mestas, associate director of anti-trafficking services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said companies interested in combating human trafficking can take a number of steps both internally and externally:

• Establish a company policy against the misuse of the Internet and posting of sexualized images (i.e., pornography).

• Ensure that the company is not using or tolerating the use of prostitution (i.e., “call-girls” or “escort services”).

• Consider buying TassaTags for traveling employees (www.tassatag.org), luggage tags which support ECPAT USA (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes).

• Include provisions against the exploitation or trafficking of employees in third-party contractor agreements.

• Educate employees about human trafficking and where to call for help about a situation involving it. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center: (888) 373-7888.

• Evaluate businesses with which you have a relationship to ensure they’re not supporting or creating a demand for forced labor or sex trafficking.

• For travel or tourism businesses, let customers know that sex with minors is a crime and not tolerated by the company. See the Code of Conduct advocating responsible tourism: www.thecode.org.

—Judy Roberts