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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis ranted against market speculation hours after the Financial Times revealed Thursday that the Vatican had invested donations for the poor to bet on the creditworthiness of now-bankrupt U.S. rental car company, Hertz.
The Vatican's Secretariat of State, under recently disgraced Cdl. Giovanni Angelo Becciu, used a €528 million Vatican-donations portfolio to purchase credit default swaps (CDS) based on a gamble that Hertz would not default on its debts by April 2020.
A CDS is a financial derivative that allows an investor to swap or offset his or her credit risk with that of another investor. Derivatives are financial contracts whose value depends on the future price of an asset such as a share, a currency, a commodity or an index.
Because of the potential risks that derivatives entail and their potential impact on the volatility of spot markets, economists have described them as "wild beasts" and "weapons of mass destruction."
Derivatives, used primarily for hedging, can also spur speculation to the point of destabilizing markets and have spawned numerous bankruptcies.
The Vatican escaped by the narrow margin of a month and gained from its gamble, after Hertz filed for bankruptcy in May 2020 following the economic crisis created by the Wuhan pandemic.
While 16,000 employees lost their jobs, Hertz CEO Kathryn Marinello pocketed over $9 million in total compensation.
The Holy See's investment in the CDS derivatives was made by a third-party consultant on its behalf through a Secretariat account in Switzerland," according to documents seen by the Financial Times.
Francis fired Becciu two weeks ago amidst allegations of the deputy secretary of state dipping into Vatican coffers to embezzle money, fund the projects of his three brothers and even funnel funds to Australia to be used to bribe witnesses in the sex abuse cases against Cdl. George Pell.
Becciu has vigorously denied the charges and his family has hit back threatening defamation proceedings.
However, in a strongly worded column, former papal envoy to the U.S. and Vatican whistleblower Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò questioned the sacking and Francis involvement.
Viganò wrote: "Faced with accusations that still have to be proven, Jorge Mario Bergoglio's response seemed to be dictated more by anger than by love of truth, more by a delusion of omnipotence than by the will for justice — in any case, by a serious, despotic abuse of authority."
"Birds of a feather stick together," Viganò added.
Hours after the story broke, Pope Francis railed against "financial speculation fundamentally aimed at quick profit continues to wreak havoc," quoting his recently published encyclical Fratelli Tutti (All Brothers).
In his address to Moneyval — the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism — Francis claimed that that "the worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose."
"Jesus drove merchants from the temple precincts (cf. Matthew 21:12–13; John 2:13–17) and stated: 'You cannot serve both God and money,'" the pontiff said, quoting Jesus out of context and dovetailing two separate accounts in the Gospel, but making it seem like Jesus had used the words while driving out the moneychangers from the temple.
"Situations can occur where, in touching money, we get blood on our hands, the blood of our brothers and sisters," Francis lamented.
Francis told the Moneyval delegation:
The Church's social teaching has underscored the error of the neoliberal dogma which holds that the economic and moral orders are so completely distinct from one another that the former is in no way dependent on the latter. The measures that you are evaluating are meant to promote a "clean finance," in which the "merchants" are prevented from speculating in that sacred "temple" which, in accordance with the Creator's plan of love, is humanity.
However, despite Pope Francis' relentless attacks on capitalism and market speculation, the Vatican continues to invest its money in stocks, bonds, equities and bank deposits — maintaining secrecy as to how much money is invested and where.
Francis' opposition to America's market-driven economy has not prevented the Holy See from moving investments out of Italy, chiefly to the United States.
In his book Merchants in the Temple, Italian author Gianluigi Nuzzi sums up "the prevailing attitude of the Vatican" as "best captured by the expression, 'the rules don't apply to us.'"
"Various Vatican institutions manage assets that belong to institutions of the Holy See, for a value of €4 billion, and assets held by third parties, for another €6 billion, for a total of €10 billion. Of these, nine are invested in stocks and one in real estate," writes Nuzzi.
In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis proclaimed "the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable" contradicting Pope Leo XII, who wrote in Rerum Novarum: "The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property."
Despite platitudes opposing private property under the current pontificate, the Vatican purchased a posh property on 60 Sloane Avenue in Chelsea, London for more than $200 million, using money taken from Peter's Pence, the pope's charitable fund for the poor.
The site is a former industrial building intended for conversion into luxury apartments — private properties for the superrich.
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