SHAFAQNA – A branch of the Franciscan religious order, whose founder, St Francis of Assisi, lived a life of poverty 800 years ago, has said it is close to bankruptcy after friars may have committed fraud.
The announcement was made by the Order of Friars Minor after the Italian magazine Panorama reported that a Swiss judge had seized bank accounts worth tens of millions of euros from the order on suspicion that the funds had been invested in companies linked to criminal activity, possibly including arms and drugs trafficking.
In a letter to fellow friars, the head of the order, Brother Michael Perry, said the order “finds itself in grave — and I underscore ‘grave’ — financial difficulty, with a significant burden of debt”.
He said “there appears to have taken place a number of questionable financial activities that were conducted by friars entrusted with the care of the patrimony of the order”.
Noting that key officials had just resigned, he said that financial oversight measures at the order had proved “too weak or were compromised”.
Brother Perry added that unnamed people from outside the order had played a significant role in the suspect transactions, and civil authorities had been called on to inspect the books.
The Franciscans’ life of poverty inspired Joseph Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to take the name Francis when he became Pope last year.
Since then the Pope has made poverty a theme of his papacy, and he has fought to clean up corruption inside the Vatican.
Brother Perry, who is from Indianapolis, took over the Order of Friars Minor last year, after the previous head, Jose Rodriguez Carballo, was appointed by the Pope to run the Vatican congregation overseeing religious orders.
“We are encouraged by the example set by Pope Francis in his call for truth and transparency in financial dealings both in the Church and in human societies,” Brother Perry said.