Priest, up to his neck in a cash scandal, is made a cardinal
There was widespread speculation a few weeks back that Mali Archbishop Jean Zerbo, above, due to made a cardinal by Pope Francis, would not get his prized red hat because of alleged dodgy dealings involving €12 million (£10.5 million) that had accumulated in Swiss bank accounts.
However, the allegations did nothing to change Frankie mind, and last week he went ahead and made Zerbo Mali’s first cardinal.
Mali is an impoverished Muslim-majority west African country, and folk there are wondering where the cash had come from.
More to the point, they want to know where it’s gone.
According to this report, between 2002 and 2007 the Episcopal Conference Mali Bishops maintained seven bank accounts in Switzerland. In five years, the portfolio generated approximately €12 million before mysteriously “evaporating”. At the time of the banking activities Zerbo was serving as finance manager for the bishops’ conference.
The Vatican is keeping schtum. It simply noted that it is common for Catholic church institutions in unstable African nations to keep their dosh in European banks. While many have accounts with the Vatican’s own bank, they are not required to do so, the officials stressed.
Monsignor Jean-Gabriel Diarra, above, a bishop who heads the San diocese in Mali and was one of the bank account holders, insisted:
We have nothing to hide. People say that we have hidden the money of the faithful in Switzerland. We can give an explanation for this, but for the moment we cannot talk about it to the press before explaining it to those who are entitled.
Diarra, who said he has known Archbishop Zerbo since they were seminarians together, said the money had come from Catholic donors, but declined to reveal for what purposes the money had been collected or to what uses it had been put.
The Church’s head of finance in Mali, Father Noël Somboro, was even less co-operative, saying:
I do not want to go searching through the archives to find out where the money comes from or whether the accounts still exist. I do not have that time.
He tersely added:
I do not know what an offshore account is or that Switzerland is considered a tax haven.
Mali’s President has lent his support to Archbishop Zerbo, and analysts in Mali say there has been little political will to pursue a possible criminal investigation.
The law concerning foreign transfers of money is also murky. While permissible by foreign companies operating in Mali, it is unclear how that would apply to church funds.
In Mali, there were mixed sentiments about the scandal swirling about the man who was chosen to be the country’s first cardinal.
Said Philippe Omore, a Catholic who is president of the Christian community in the northern town of Gao:
I met Zerbo a few years ago in Mopti. He seemed loyal and sincere, but anything is possible in life. Ever since we heard this news, we pray every day to have all the truth about this story.
Echoing Pope Francis’ insistence that the church must clean up its own moral house first before preaching morality to others, Omore added:
If we really follow Christ, we must stop the financial scandals.
Moisse Yebedie, a priest from the Mopti Diocese suggested that dark forces were at work to:
Dirty the image of a church that has just received the good news of its first cardinal in history. Monsignor Zerbo has been my bishop for more than two years, a good person, open, and committed to the peace of the country. I cannot believe he can be involved in such a thing. I hope clarity is established quickly for the sake of the Church and that of the people of Mali.