Mali bishop pledges to make cardinal’s ceremony amid scandal

0
Mali bishop pledges to make cardinal’s ceremony amid scandal
Mali bishop pledges to make cardinal’s ceremony amid scandal

ROME (AP) – An ailing Mali archbishop facing allegations of financial impropriety assured the Vatican on Tuesday he plans to show up at St. Peter’s Basilica to be made a cardinal by Pope Francis.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Bamako Archbishop Jean Zerbo “has confirmed his presence” at the Wednesday ceremony where Zerbo and four other churchmen will be elevated to cardinal’s rank.

European media have speculated that Francis might not make Zerbo cardinal following reports that he and two other Mali bishops had opened Swiss bank accounts totaling 12 million euros ($13.5 million.)

Citing poor health, Zerbo canceled an interview with The Associated Press in Rome Tuesday. Zerbo, 73, arrived in Rome on Saturday from Paris, where he had undergone medical checks following intestinal surgery some time ago in Mali, according to aides.

Another Mali bishop who reportedly was one of the alleged bank account-holders, Jean-Gabriel Diarra, declined to explain the money’s origins. In an interview at the same missionaries’ residence in Rome near the Vatican where Zerbo was being hosted, Diarra declared: “We have nothing to hide.”

“People say that we have hidden the money of the faithful in Switzerland,” said Diarra, who heads the San diocese in Mali, one of Africa’s most impoverished nations.

“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,” he said.

The Vatican has not commented publicly on the reports in French daily Le Monde and other lay and religious publications that Zerbo, Diarra and another Mali prelate opened the Swiss accounts starting in 2002.

The reports were published in late May, shortly after the pope announced that Zerbo would become a cardinal.

“It’s true that it’s a scandal, but when we give the explanations you will indeed see if yes, we, the Church of Mali, stole the money or not, put the money of the poor in a bank or not, and why it was done with this money,” Diarra said.

“Someone will tell you all that — is it (the money) for me? Is it for Zerbo? Someone will say all that, but they will tell it to the authorities, not you, the press here,’ the bishop said.

Diarra, who said he has known Zerbo since they were seminarians together, said the money came from Catholic faithful. He declined to reveal for what purposes the money might have been designated or used.

The scandal risks eclipsing some of Archbishop Zerbo’s accomplishments that surely caught the eye of Pope Francis.

Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority in Mali while Christians, most of them Catholics, are a tiny minority.

In a country bloodied by Islamist extremism, Zerbo distinguished himself as a churchman working for social reconciliation – one of the pontiff’s priorities. As Bamako’s archbishop since 1998, he has played a role in peace negotiations.

Vatican officials, without commenting on the propriety of the Swiss accounts allegedly held by the Mali bishops, noted that it is common for the Catholic church institutions in unstable African nations to keep their funds in European banks. While many have accounts with the Vatican’s own bank, they are not required to do so, the officials stressed.

Mali’s president has lent his support to Zerbo. 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.

“I met Zerbo a few years ago in Mopti,” said Philippe Omore, a Catholic who is president of the Christian community in the northern town of Gao.

“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,” Omore told the AP in Mali.

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.”

___

AP writer Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali contributed to this report.

___

Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio.

Monsignor Jean Gabriel Diarra, right, is flanked by an aide as he leaves at the end of an interview with The Associated Press, in Rome, Tuesday, June 27, 2017. When asked to comment on media reports that Bamako archbishop Jean Zerbo, who is set to be elevated to cardinal on Wednesday at the Vatican, another Mali bishop, and himself were holders of 12 million euros ($13.5 million) in Swiss bank accounts, Diarra said “we have nothing to hide” but declined to explain the money’s origin. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Mali bishop Jean-Gabriel Diarra answers to question during an interview with The Associated Press in Rome, Tuesday, June 27, 2017. When asked to comment on media reports that Bamako archbishop Jean Zerbo, who is set to be elevated to cardinal on Wednesday at the Vatican, another Mali bishop, and himself were holders of 12 million euros ($13.5 million) in Swiss bank accounts, Diarra said “we have nothing to hide” but declined to explain the money’s origin. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
In this Friday, June 2, 2017 file photo, Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Mali poses for a portrait in Bamako, Mali. After Pope Francis last month announced that Zerbo would become a cardinal, news reports surfaced that he and two other Mali bishops had Swiss bank accounts totaling 12 million euros ($13.5 million). Citing poor health Zerbo on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, canceled an interview with The Associated Press in Rome, but assured the Vatican he’ll show up in St.Peter’s Basilica for the ceremony next Wednesday, June 28. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)
Mali bishop Jean-Gabriel Diarra listens to question during an interview with The Associated Press in Rome, Tuesday, June 27, 2017. When asked to comment on media reports that Bamako archbishop Jean Zerbo, who is set to be elevated to cardinal on Wednesday at the Vatican, another Mali bishop, and himself were holders of 12 million euros ($13.5 million) in Swiss bank accounts, Diarra said “we have nothing to hide” but declined to explain the money’s origin. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Advertisements