Italian diocese launches course to help priests avoid financial scams


Rome – After an octogenarian priest was swindled over $ 450,000 over a two-year period and threatened when he stopped giving money to the “family,” the Diocese of Padua, Italy, launched a continuing education program for priests focusing on financial responsibility and fraud prevention. .

Italian finance police announced on May 18 that they had arrested 11 people in connection with the long-term scam of the elderly priest, who ran a charitable foundation.

“The criminals adopted a well-established scenario, made up of lies, such as family misfortunes, accidents and legal vicissitudes, aimed at moving their interlocutor to compassion, animated exclusively by the charitable spirit of helping others, him making believe that the only viable solution was the granting of sums of money “, indicates the statement of the police force.

Looking at the priest’s phone records, they said group members called him more than 14,000 times between July 2018 and July 2020, typically asking for cash or prepaid debit cards or gift cards.

According to the police, information from tapping the priest’s phone clearly indicated that the group “had systematically shown the priest completely non-existent needs” and had repeatedly promised to reimburse any money received from him.

When the priest resigned from the foundation and no longer had access to the money, the crooks started making threats, the finance police said. It was then that he approached the police.

The elderly priest was not the only one who had been deceived.

In a diocesan course titled “Scams under the Bell Tower”, broadcast live in April, Bishop Claudio Cipolla of Padua said: “It has happened to many priests or at least so many that it is a real concern “, which is why the diocese turned to the financial police to help them design courses for priests and for members of parish financial councils.

Mgr. Giuliano Zatti, diocesan vicar general, said the finance police estimated that over the past five years, priests and diocesan parishes have lost at least 1.8 million euros ($ 2.1 million) in the profit of scammers, but this figure does not include other fraud attempts investigated by other laws. enforcement agencies.

Cipolla said that priests, often elderly, fall victim to the same kind of scams as other people, “which are too good”, including: being asked for a small loan to “unlock” a bank account with much more money. ‘silver ; requests for prepaid cards to buy food or clothing; accept offers to “restore, repair or clean” chalices or other valuable liturgical objects that are never returned; and requests for loans that are never repaid.

The scams, said the bishop, “endanger our ability to care for the real poor.”

The classes, the bishop said, are not just about avoiding scams. They are part of a larger effort to ensure that the money and other resources of parishes and Catholic organizations are accounted for transparently.

Part of this, he said, is making sure that every parish has a finance board because “the money given to a parish or a Catholic activity does not belong to the priest, but to the community”.

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