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JERUSALEM (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, handpicked by Pope Francis for the cardinalate, has been accused of complicity in a multimillion-dollar money-laundering racket and the sale of prime properties in Nazareth and Jordan.
In a complaint to Pope Francis, prominent Jordanian-American entrepreneur Benjamin Seryani indicts His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa for complicity in "obeying illicit orders from a higher authority" and refusing to admit "involvement in any previous corruption."
Seryani has volunteered damning testimony involving the 58-year-old Pizzaballa and other hierarchs in the Holy Land, claiming that he was asked by Church officials to participate in a $50 million money-laundering scheme to raise funds for the American University in Madaba (AUM).
The alleged scam involves a $100 million deficit suffered by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, $50 million of which was borrowed by the Vatican through the secretary of state, Cdl. Pietro Parolin, from Jordanian banks and $50 million from Swiss banks for the AUM, based in Jordan.
However, it appears that none of the funds were actually used for the university's intended purpose. Instead, they were purportedly used to purchase oil companies in Libya and Austria, as well as set up a fake telecommunications company in Jordan to launder money.
A complaint, dispatched by the Vatican's diplomatic pouch to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), indicts His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa and other hierarchs for "a wide range of grave sins, including false oaths, theft, apostasy, slander, calumny, pride, envy and greed."
Church Militant obtained a copy of Seryani's complaint dated June 15 and addressed to Cdl. Luis Ladaria, current prefect of the DDF. The complaint was also sent to the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches and the Prefecture of Economic Affairs of the Holy See.
Despite the grave allegations against Pizzaballa and a high-level lawsuit against the patriarch, Pope Francis announced on July 9 that he would be elevating the Italian prelate to the status of a cardinal in a consistory on Sept. 30, along with 20 other bishops.
Seryani also sent a confidential copy of the case against Pizzaballa and other Arab patriarchs to Abp. Christoph Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Along with Pizzaballa, Pope Francis picked Abp. Pierre as one of the 21 new cardinals.
In August 2019, Seryani filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California accusing Pizzaballa, Parolin and other former patriarchs of involvement "in a conspiracy to conduct an illegal money-laundering scheme of international proportions" based in California.
The lawsuit claims that the conspirators planned to exploit Seryani, a U.S. resident and hotel regional manager, as part of the scheme, taking advantage of the Catholic Church's charitable tax-deduction status and sovereign immunity to conduct illicit international wire transfers.
Seryani, a Jordanian national turned U.S. citizen, had risen to a prominent role in his expatriate community. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, therefore, offered Seryani a position heading the AUM project as its chief administrator.
Seryani alleges that Pizzaballa personally authorized and controlled unlawful activities against him, including the sale of his assets and vehicles, theft of his identification and bank accounts, and unlawful seizures of his money and accounts with the American University in Madaba.
In his recent complaint to the DDF, Seryani accused Pizzaballa of "obeying illicit orders from a higher authority" and allowing "a group of lay individuals to conduct operations of the Church in an immoral, unethical, and financially irresponsible manner, casting a long-lasting shadow of corruption over the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem."
"It is not a secret that in the past years the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem ... arrived at a huge deficit of about 100 million US dollars because of past operational mismanagement connected to the American University of Madaba," the patriarchate admitted in June 2020.
"The debts are towards different banks and not the Vatican," claimed the patriarchate in a statement, explaining that "Pizzaballa was appointed apostolic administrator in order to organize a solution to these problems."
Seryani has, in the meantime, questioned the financial involvement of senior members of the Vatican-protected Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. Although they were not initially named as defendants, Seryani has subpoenaed the order and questioned their involvement with the Vatican's finances.
"Pizzaballa has faced allegations of perjury and permitting some of his bishops and priests to commit the same in both Jordanian and American courts," Stephen Brady, president of Roman Catholic Faithful, told Church Militant.
"Pizzaballa's involvement ... encompasses a vast web of financial, moral, and ethical corruption. Ironically, in 2016, he was initially assigned by Pope Francis to address issues of crime, but he himself became one of the alleged leading players in this corruption by following illicit orders from the Vatican," Brady lamented.
According to Brady, Pizzaballa made the decision to sell a highly sacred property of the patriarchate in Nazareth. "This property holds immense value to the Catholic Church and its faithful," Brady remarked.
"According to official records, the sale was purportedly made to allegedly cover a 50-million-dollar loan obtained from the John the Baptist Foundation, an entity created in Rome specifically for this purpose," Brady observed.
In 2017, Pizzaballa acknowledged that "mistakes have been made that have hurt the life of the patriarchate, financially and administratively, especially concerning the American University of Madaba."
"We made mistakes in some important areas, perhaps not focusing enough on our primary mission: to preach the Gospel and dedicate ourselves to pastoral activities," he added.
Senior Catholic priests and bishops in Jordan and Palestine have also asked why they were not consulted about the appointment of an Italian prelate as head of a predominantly Arab church.
"They had sent a request to Rome that the ethnicity of the next patriarch should reflect that of the believers he will lead," Palestinian columnist Daoud Kuttab noted. "Some argue that Pizzaballa's appointment as patriarch was a form of reward, while others say it reflects a colonial attitude that sees Europeans as much more worthy than locals."
Pizzaballa's office did not respond to Church Militant's request for comment.