Open letter to Jordanian Catholic leaders:
For some time, we have been hearing unconfirmed rumors about the financial troubles facing the Latin patriarchate in Jerusalem which supervises Catholics in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.
Before that, we have heard that the reason for this financial difficulty was the mistaken fiscal policies carried out during the phase of establishing the American University in Madaba which is owned by the church. Some said the problems were management-related others said it was financial or administrative corruption and that some took advantage of the church and blackmailed it for personal gain.
At the time the rumors circulating said that the debt caused by the university was a huge $80 million which the Latin Patriarchate has had to swallow since it is the owner of the university. Talk at the time was that the Vatican had sent a team of auditors who discovered that the university was conducting to parallel accounting books. One set of accounts that was presented to the church in Jerusalem and showed no or little debt (which delayed their intervention) while the real books showed a huge debt.
It appears that this problem has had a high cost. The Vatican retracted to the problem by suspending attempts to elect a new patriarch for the Jerusalem patriarchate to replace the retiring Foad Twal. Twal from the Jordanian city of Madaba was only the second Arab patriarch in history following that of the well-liked Patriarch Michel Sabah from Nazareth. But instead of allowing for the mechanism of recommending to the Vatican a new patriarch, the church of Rome decided to appoint an Apostolic Administrator: Pierbattista Pizzaballa an Italian citizen who had previously been head of the Franciscan order in Jerusalem.
It was understood that the appointment was a temporary one and the assignment was to clean up the financial problems that had occurred with the start of the American University in Madaba.
This week, four years after that appointment the Church announced that it has a $100 million debt to a Swiss bank and that to settle this debt the church will need to sell properties in Nazareth and Jordan. In a statement issued by the Latin patriarchate the reason for the debt is explained in a single paragraph:
“It is not a secret that in the past years the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (LPJ) arrived at a huge deficit of about 100 Million US Dollars, because of past operational mismanagement, connected to the American University of Madaba. The debts are towards different banks and not the Vatican. Archbishop Pizzaballa was appointed Apostolic Administrator in order to organize a solution to these problems.”
So, the rumors were true and the debt which was rumored at $80 is actually $100. No one has heard anything of this problem publicly until now even though many, including this writer, attempted to investigate but were rebuffed under the slogan of not showing off the dirty laundry.
This dirty laundry is now causing many to ask simple questions: Was this simply a mismanagement problem? Was there administrative or financial corruption? Was its mismanagement or abuse of the powers given to those responsible? Who are those responsible for this problem regardless of what it is? Have they been held accountable? Have protective measures been installed to ensure that this kind of problem doesn’t happen again? What was there no proper and public investigation? Has there been any
While no one is accusing the Patriarch Twal, these are legitimate questions that must be asked about the Patriarch, his relatives, and friends.
Now that the issue is in the public domain and the Church is forced to sell many of its assets to pay back these debts, we need to ask whether any of the lost monies can be recouped? Have the Jordanian or Palestinian anti-corruption bodies been informed or asked to help? If the idea was to keep the issue within the Church ahs the church acted against those who carried out egregious acts or possibly outright theft or blackmailing of church money.
When asked the church including the new bishop in Jordan William Shomali, has insisted that the past financial problems have been settled. Is that true? Will we wake up again a few years from now and find another problem with this or that organization? Why is the church refusing to divulge to its own members and leaders what happened?
Catholic church gives importance to the concept of confession and repentance. If this case has been the responsibility of those within or close to the Catholic church have, they confessed and repented, and if not, will the church continue to deal with those refusing to change as if things are normal?
The idea of publicly coming out with the truth of what happened is not meant to assassinate anyone's character but it is meant to be part of the resolution of the problem. Without admission and diagnosis of a mistake, there cannot be healing.
The case of the church money that has become a liability on the church finances and has hurt its reputation must be addressed in a public way. Transparency is required in all public issues, how much more is it needed when we are talking about money that is given to the church by the believers. The responsibility is high and must be addressed responsibility but courageously.
Setting up a university in Madaba was a public request by Christians and others in Jordan, and the visiting Popes have responded to the appeal from the people and helped make this dream come true. Pope John Paul II put the cornerstone in 2000 and blessed this initiative and Pope Benedictus visited the site in 2009 and held mass on the grounds of the university.
Monsieur Foad Twal who became patriarch in 2009 has a responsibility to the people now even after his retirement. He must come clean with all the facts and documents without any attempt at coverup or hiding any fact or protecting any person. Such transparency and courage are badly needed now to a church and a community that is in shock and in disbelief.