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Vatican increasing ‘liquid’ assets as it faces financial impact of pandemic, economic officials say

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, president of APSA. / Alexey Gotovsky/CNA.

Vatican City, Jul 24, 2021 / 09:40 am (CNA).

The Vatican is working to maintain “‘pockets’ of precautionary liquidity” as it faces the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, two officials of the Roman Curia said Saturday.

On July 24, the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy and APSA (The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See) released consolidated balance sheets for the year 2020.

This was the first time APSA, which oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings and other sovereign assets, presented a balance and details about its investment portfolio to the public.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, head of APSA, told Vatican News July 24 that going forward, the Roman Curia’s “financial investment plan will remain prudential” and “characterized by a correct balance between risk and medium/long-term profitability.”

“However, in pursuing the investment policy, at such a particular moment due to the effects of the pandemic, which substantially reduced the Holy See’s revenues, it is necessary to maintain ‘pockets’ of precautionary liquidity -- already created in 2020 for future and unpredictable needs, especially for administrative and personnel expenses,” he added.

Speaking with Vatican News, economic chief Fr. Juan A. Guerrero, S.J., said knowing the Vatican’s cash flow during the pandemic, as well as the uncertainty of the financial situation, the economy council decided to increase liquidity to avoid the possibility of being forced to sell property in a bad market.

“We did not have precise information on the liquidity available to us, which led to the decision to increase liquidity,” he said. “This meant reducing our financial profit at the same time. I think it was the most prudent thing to do in the situation we were in.”

The balance sheet for the Roman Curia, which is separate from the budget of Vatican City State, showed a deficit of $78 million in 2020, down $13 million from the year prior.

The Roman Curia’s overall expenses for 2020 were $370 million.

In May 2020, Guerrero said the Vatican predicted it would face a 25% to 45% decrease in revenue in the fiscal year; earlier the same month, Italian newspaper Il Messaggero said an internal Vatican report projected an income reduction of at least 30%, and possibly as much as 80%.

In fact, according to the 2020 balance, the Vatican had just under a 50% decrease in revenue, which the report said was “driven by the significant reduction of Ordinary Operating Expenses,” which came to around $30 million and “partially ofsett [sic] by the less-than-expected reduction in Ordinary Operating Income.”

According to the balance, the disparity between 2020 and 2019 can be attributed in part to a loss in income of around $17.6 million from the governatorate of Vatican City State, which oversees some commercial activities forced to close during the pandemic, such as the Vatican Museums and catacombs.

The Vatican also received less income on properties where it offered reduced or delayed lease payments to tenants during the COVID-19 outbreak.

APSA’s sale of a large property in 2019 is also reflected in the difference between the two years, according to the budget.

By contrast, some entities related to the Holy See, such as the IOR, contributed more income to the Roman Curia in 2020. Overall, expenses were reduced by $3.88 million.

Guerrero told Vatican News the Holy See comes “from a culture of secrecy, but in economics we have learned that transparency protects us more than secrecy.”

He claimed the culture is changing and the institution is beginning to see itself as a caretaker, not owner, recognizing the accountability that calls for.

Releasing the 2020 balance “marks a turning point that can lead to greater credibility of the Holy See in economic matters,” he said.

“First of all, this process tells us about a past, a recent past, but a past,” he underlined. “There can always be mistakes, but today I do not see how the events of the past can repeat themselves.”

Galantino said that the activities APSA is carrying out go beyond “the serious consequences of the pandemic crisis.”

According to the bishop, 14% of the properties managed by APSA are rented at market value, while the remaining 86%, those with institutional uses such as work places for Vatican employees and residences for retired cardinals, charge no rent or are rented below market value.

APSA carried out a quantitative and qualitative update to the inventory of the buildings and land it administrates, he said, and found that many of the assets, both those rented to tenants and those used for institutional purposes, were in need of maintenance, modernization, and increased security.

He explained that APSA will also begin a renovation project on 100 apartments in January 2022, with a scheduled end date of sometime in spring 2023.

“Our energies are directed to a credible and reliable administration, as well as effective and efficient, allowing us to be guided by processes of rationalization, transparency and professionalism also required by Pope Francis,” he said.

According to Italian news agency ANSA, the Secretariat for the Economy will begin implementing a new “pilot” review process of personnel in some offices.

ANSA reported that Guerrero had sent a letter to the heads of dicasteries saying the assessment of job performance is taking place in light of curial reform and “the need to make the most of deserving resources, to provide new opportunities and to promote technical and professional training.”

With the release of the 2020 balance, Guerrero told Vatican News that the economic secretariat wants “to ensure economic sustainability, while also maintaining the pope’s correct decision not to fire anyone.”

He added that “to generate greater motivation in the staff, it would be useful to make a plan with a long-term vision and to have a work policy with professional development programs and formation, and particular attention to formation in the mission that is carried out in the Holy See. This would also save money in the long run.”

Catholic journalism expert reflects on the moral issues around privacy and data 

Dr. William Thorn, associate professor emeritus of Journalism and Media Studies/Institute for Catholic Media at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication. Credit: William Thorn/CNA.

Denver Newsroom, Jul 24, 2021 / 06:01 am (CNA).

CNA spoke recently with Dr. William J. Thorn regarding the recent investigation which led to the resignation of Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill as general secretary of the US bishops’ conference.

Thorn is associate professor emeritus of Journalism and Media Studies/Institute for Catholic Media at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication. He holds a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Minnesota, an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, and a B.A. from Loras College.

Find below the full text of CNA's discourse with Thorn:

At the heels of the recent controversial use of data mining to expose a Church personality, can you walk us through the outlines of investigative journalism and what constitutes the ethical limits of investigative journalism? 

The report on Msgr. Burrill underscores the challenges social media and emerging technologies have created, because it blurs the boundaries of private and public information. Grindr describes itself as "the World’s Largest Social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people." As a location-based social networking and online dating site Grindr was one of the first geosocial apps for gay men when it launched in March 2009. As a public social network, it has limited privacy controls. These semi-public social networks compromise the former boundaries of ethical investigation. This boundary is perhaps best illustrated by the stance of a friend who was a city hall reporter. Whenever he got a phone call or verbal comment about some alleged malfeasance, he demanded a public document like a travel expense form or letter which contained the factual basis for an investigation. In other words, neither personal complaints nor hearsay could be trusted, but printed information could be. Traditionally, an ethical investigation builds on facts that are part of the public record or can be verified by public documents or interviews with reliable witnesses. Another ethical principle is to keep the focus on actions that can be proven by factual evidence or witnesses rather than on insinuations about the subject based on circumstantial evidence. Once the verifiable facts are known, the investigative reporter moves to confront the subject and provides an opportunity to deny, admit wrongdoing or explanation. Libel and slander laws provide boundaries and guides to investigative journalism about individuals whose reputation and good name may be at stake. Simply drawing conclusions from an online source seriously challenges verifiability and risks libeling an innocent individual.

Complications are now arising in the field of data mining and journalism. In your opinion, how does the aggregation of questionably acquired data work for or against the previously established moral limits of investigative journalism?

New data mining technology poses a plethora of privacy issues for investigative journalism, regarding both prominent individuals and ordinary citizens, for example, in areas like health and personal habits, which require some verifiable contextual evidence to reach a fact-based conclusion. But legal boundaries differ from moral constrains which require  care for the impact of conclusions based on less than reliable abstract which can destroy or seriously damage an individual's reputation. One of the most egregious moral and ethical compromises of investigative journalism occurred at the early 20th century Denver Post, whose reporters wrote detailed biographies of wealthy silver magnates, including their scandalous, even illegal behaviors. The editors then used these stories to blackmail their subjects. The reports were accurate, their purpose illegal.

Does a source paying for information change the calculation about whether or not a journalist should use that source? 

A source paying for information automatically raises questions about the motivations of both payee and recipient as well as the reliability of information.

Many are celebrating the resignation of Msgr. Burrill and the efforts that led to his resignation. From a Catholic ethics perspective, does this apparently successful end validate the means? 

The end never justifies the means, even if they are digital and seem credible because of technology.  The celebration raises questions about ignoble motives, e.g., revenge or personal animus connected to the investigation.

Another argument with competing voices centers on whether corruption needs to be brought to the light to be healed. Please explain, from the perspective of Catholic ethics, when and where and to what degree it would be appropriate to publish information alleging or proving corruption that is gravely sinful but not criminal. 

Healing depends, in part on the harm involved. In Msgr. Burrill's case there is only circumstantial evidence of behavior based on GPS location with no eye witness or other factual evidence such as a credit card receipt. Data mining based on Grindr's location routine seems a bit specious for "bringing to light corruption," an adage based on rooting out the corruption of politicians and public officials.  Within a Church context like the USCCB, the question turns on the precise corruption and how it can be healed by exposure. Grindr location data insinuate but do not demonstrate the alleged corruption, or perhaps a level of ignorance in the user about the actual privacy of the Grindr app. Healing of sinful behavior does not require public knowledge, as the Sacrament of Reconciliation demonstrates. On the other hand, abuse of public trust or misuse of church funds may help heal the community if exposed, e.g. the sex abuse scandal or embezzlement of Church funds.

Please elaborate on what distinguishes truth-telling from detraction, acknowledging that many Catholics are longing for reform that they don’t see coming from most of the Bishops. 

Facts that demonstrate actual malfeasance distinguish truth telling from detraction, libel, and slander. Reform must be based on demonstrable corruption so it cannot be simply dismissed as petty jealousy or a fervid imagination. Clear court cases and guilty verdicts launched serious reforms in sexual abuse cases.

The fast and growing incorporation of technology in investigative journalism seems to be inevitable and frequently positive. What lines do you think were crossed, if any, in the "investigation" that forced the resignation of Msgr. Burrill? 

Two lines: what hard, non-digital evidence was there of wrongdoing? What corroborating documentary or eyewitness evidence warranted the publication? Was Msgr. Burrill properly and timely informed of the digital evidence and given a chance to defend himself? Or was he blackmailed into resigning "for the good of USCCB?"

Is a church official such as Msgr. Burrill a private citizen or a public official? And what might be the legal ramifications?   

He is a private citizen in U.S. legal terms. His role in the USCCB makes him a public church official, but whether that makes him a public figure under U.S. libel law as defined in 1966 by the Supreme Court in N.Y. Times v. Sullivan seems to be an open legal question. Under the Sullivan decision, elected public officials must expect harsh and even vitriolic criticism, and are required to demonstrate "actual malice" i.e. knowing falsehood or careless disregard for the truth in order to win a libel case. As neither an elected politician nor a public figure, Msgr. Burrill would be protected by libel laws as an ordinary citizen.

How French Catholics are responding to Pope Francis’ Traditional Latin Mass restrictions

Tridentine Mass in Strasbourg Cathedral, France. / Christophe117 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Paris, France, Jul 24, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

Responding to concerns raised by Pope Francis’ motu proprio restricting the Traditional Latin Mass, French Church authorities have issued a series of communiques seeking to reassure Catholics attached to this liturgy.

The motu proprio Traditionis custodes, published July 16, arrived like a thunderbolt for a significant part of the French Church because of its perceived severity towards traditionalist communities, which are regarded as places of strong missionary dynamism and magnets for de-Christianized youth.

According to an investigation recently published by the Catholic magazine La Nef, traditionalist Catholicism is growing constantly in France, although it still represents a small minority (4% of all practicing Catholics, 7% if we include the Society of St. Pius X, or SSPX.)

Estimating that there are around 60,000 traditionalist Catholics in France, the study concluded that traditional communities are slowly but steadily growing each year, with a very young average age.

The day after the motu proprio was issued, the French bishops’ conference reaffirmed the bishops’ intention to pursue dialogue with these communities.

“The French bishops […] wish to express to the faithful who usually celebrate according to the missal of St. John XXIII and to their pastors, their attention, their esteem for the spiritual zeal of these faithful, and their determination to continue the mission together, in the communion of the Church and according to the norms in force,” a communique said.

This statement led several observers, including the Catholic historian Yves Chiron, quoted by Le Figaro, to conclude that the new norms would be applied with flexibility and benevolence by a number of French bishops.

In the diocese of Versailles, located in the western suburbs of Paris and considered a bastion of traditionalism, Bishop Luc Crepy said that the situation was “peaceful” with the six communities usually celebrating Masses using the 1962 Roman Missal.

“Although some communities have experienced painful events in the past, I’m glad to see the progress made towards effective ecclesial communion,” he wrote.

The same peaceful climate, coupled with a “loyal application” of Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, was observed by Bishop Marc Aillet in his diocese of Bayonne, in southwestern France.

While reiterating his trust in the communities involved and inviting them to “continue their efforts in the same direction,” Aillet said that he would keep in place the existing groups and priests allowed to celebrate Mass according to the 1962 Missal.

The bishops of the southern dioceses of Toulon-Fréjus and Bordeaux -- two other breeding grounds for traditionalist communities -- sought to reassure their flocks by saying that the detailed rules for the application of Traditionis custodes would be reviewed and discussed collegially.

Meanwhile, Bishop Matthieu Rougé of Nanterre, in the western suburbs of Paris, claimed that his diocese was “hardly impacted by the new directives” and that the communities concerned should “be assured of the lasting, benevolent, and prayerful solicitude of their bishop.”

Some Catholic authorities, such as Bishop Jean-Pierre Batut of Blois, in central France, and Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras, in the north, welcomed the motu proprio quite favorably, denouncing the misuse of Summorum Pontificum by those who questioned the validity of Vatican II.

But many voices have been raised in defense of the Traditional Latin Mass, including in some surprising quarters.

Indeed, the most vibrant speech in favor of the Tridentine Mass came from the atheist and left-wing philosopher Michel Onfray. In a column published on July 18, he argued that it embodies “the heritage of the genealogical time of our civilization.”

“It inherits historically and spiritually a long lineage of sacred rituals, celebrations, and prayers, all crystallized in a form that offers a total spectacle,” he wrote.

The president of the Catholic lay organization behind the traditionalist Chartres pilgrimage, for his part, roundly condemned the motu proprio, claiming that “it will be difficult to apply in a Church which is in a catastrophic situation and has many other difficulties that the Vatican pretends not to see.”

A few priests who only celebrate according to the Novus Ordo have also expressed surprise at what they regard as the harshness of Pope Francis’ letter.

“It brings me sadness because this text seems to sweep away the efforts made by Benedict XVI to maintain the unity of the Church and to despise the efforts made by the traditionalist communities for 15 years,” Fr. Guy-Emmanuel Cariot, rector of the Basilica Saint-Denis of Argenteuil, in the suburbs of Paris, told the weekly magazine Famille chrétienne.

But for those directly affected by the motu proprio, emotions are still raw.

“I expected a text that would change things, but I would have never expected such an unjust document,” Fr. Matthieu Raffray, a Rome-based French priest of the Institute of the Good Shepherd, told CNA.

“Wherever there are traditional communities in France, I think the situation is calmed, and the bishops’ reactions are a proof of that,” he continued.

He suggested that, although it is true that some people may have used the freedom granted by the Pope emeritus to destroy unity in the Church, such a phenomenon is far more intense and widespread in the circles that follow Paul VI’s liturgy, through topics such as married priests or the German bishops’ “Synodal Way.”

In his view, the risk of spiritual impoverishment is among the most worrying possible consequences of the papal text.

“How can we possibly favor a liturgical renewal and put the mystery of the Eucharist back at the center of Mass by separating the Church from its tradition?” he asked. “A tree whose roots are cut off dies.”

Raffray argued that the motu proprio, which seeks to bring people back to the ordinary form of the Latin Rite, could also prove to be counterproductive.

“I must marry a couple this summer in France, and we’ve already agreed that if the parish priest eventually refuses to welcome us in his church, we would go outside or to a nearby barn,” he said.

“No faithful accustomed to the Traditional Latin Mass will suddenly decide to stop going because of this document.”

“There is a real movement of the youth toward traditional Mass nowadays, because they need cultural and identity landmarks,” he added.

“This text could be, in this sense, an engine that will make traditionalists even more devout, more confident in the Church, while praying for the pope and growing in faith and charity.”

Bo Burnham's 'Inside' and the limits and possibilities of COVID-era art

TV review: Comedian and musician Bo Burnham's physical evolution and spiraling psyche over the course of his latest Netflix special force a reckoning with the psychological toll of the last year and a half.

Being a grandparent is about being in awe

Soul Seeing: On July 25, Catholics will celebrate the elderly. We grandparents will express gratitude for the gift of our grandchildren. After all, they give us the same gift we give them: the joy in knowing that we are an unadulterated delight.

'Space Jam: A New Legacy' shows us why we should fear algorithms

The Looney Tunes, LeBron James and a completely over-the-top, high-stakes basketball game make "Space Jam" a fun movie. But underneath the laughter lie serious questions about the meaning of life in the age of algorithms and artificial intelligence.

Gut-wrenching book highlights digital oppression of Black women

Moya Bailey's book focuses on how and why misogynoir serves as a critical framework for people writing, thinking and organizing more deeply around Black women's systemic plights. Her work examines how popular culture and media perpetuate the mistreatment of Black women.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Unreasonable expectations

Scripture for Life: When was the last time you considered the question, "What is my calling?" That's not a question of your job, although the hope is that any occupation we engage in becomes an expression of our deeper call. 

The Church accompanies the people in ther legitimate claims, priest says of Cuba protests

A man waves a Cuban flag during a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, July 11, 2021. - Thousands of Cubans took part in rare protests Sunday against the communist government, marching through a town chanting "Down with the dictatorship" and "We want liberty." Credit: Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images.

Camagüey, Cuba, Jul 23, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

The Church is accompanying those protesting Cuba’s communist government, according to a priest of the Archdiocese of Camagüey.

“I will speak about the part of the Church that I know, the one that touches me closely in this effort to accompany the people in their legitimate claims. Above all, we are welcoming, where people can speak without fear, dream of the future, think and imagine the Cuba they want. We commit ourselves to everyone in these works and we try to guide them from Gospel criteria. So that the Cuba that is reborn is in accordance with God. A Cuba that promotes the fullness of the human being that Christ revealed to us,” Fr. Fernando Luis Gálvez, pastor of San José de Lugareño parish in Camagüey, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, July 22.

Fr. Gálvez, 33, said that the clergy in Camagüey tried to be "a father" to their parishioners amid the demonstrations that began July 11 across Cuba.

“With such a Church, the future can proceed in the ways of God, otherwise the future will most likely be alien to the Gospel. If we do not accompany this rebirth, we would be mortgaging the future of the Church and therefore the salvation of future generations,” Fr. Gálvez stressed.

Protesters cited concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some protesters were beaten, and at least 100 were arrested.

“Cuba is a country in a state of collapse … When we watch national television it looks like an average country. When someone lies about many things, nothing they say is credible anymore. It is a deplorable situation,” charged Fr. Gálvez. Every day he hears "laments and complaints," he added.

“There’s nothing we can say is okay. There’s no food, no medicine, no efficient medical services, no transportation, and no properly functioning  institutions. Nothing works and almost nothing that is needed and sought out can be found. I experience this in the towns I serve as pastor, and it’s practically the same throughout the nation,” he explained. 

The protests drew a violent response from Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who ordered law enforcement to crack down on them.

Díaz-Canel denied July 14 that there was repression going on. However, videos posted on social media showed agents beating and arresting protesters.

“The image of those groups of ‘civilians,’ sent and protected by the communist government, armed with clubs and stones, scares me. It’s a terrifying image, totally reprehensible. So much manipulation scares me, so much intolerance of free expression, so much hatred,” the priest said.

In the context of the protests, Fr. Gálvez noted that he is seeing a Cuba that is “vigorous, with a desire for change, hopeful, with a fighting spirit,” despite the “pain and disappointment of the past and present.”

“The latest events and the government's response have awakened many who still didn’t see things clearly, who doubted, who perhaps still believed in the benefits that were only proclaimed in words. The government's violent response has been the clearest evidence of its identity. And the feeling that the people are experiencing, now in enforced silence, is: ‘no more.’ And this is the beginning of a path that sooner or later will bring change,” he continued.

The priest told ACI Prensa that in "the small towns he serves pastorally there were no demonstrations, but in some parts of the diocese there were, and I know and esteem a lot some of the detainees."

“It is precisely because of this personal knowledge that I am absolutely convinced of the human quality of many of the protesters. They are just people who love Cuba very much. There are many of them whose love for God has led them to a commitment to those who suffer, a commitment to justice, to the truth,” Fr. Gálvez said.

In addition, he said that "there are still people who have gone missing … For them we continue praying, looking for them, making demands. Others are already in their homes awaiting trial under trumped up charges. This situation is sad and very uncertain," he added.

Fr. Gálvez told ACI Prensa that he is a close friend of Fr. Cástor Álvarez Devesa, a priest who was beaten, detained during the demonstrations, and later released.

“It was 24 hours of great anguish. He wanted to know what had happened to him. Where did they take him? What are they doing to him? What will be the consequences? We were afraid for him, who had already been violently attacked during the demonstration,” he said.

According to Fr. Álvarez, “he wasn’t physically abused inside the police station. Although his arrest was already arbitrary in itself. Fr. Castor was faithfully fulfilling his priestly mission: to care for his children,” he continued.

Fr. Gálvez told ACI Prensa that "the government censors everything, including the Church."

“I don't want to talk more about this now, because it is very painful. I have marks on me and I still can’t discover the future consequences for my life and ministry. I ask you to pray for the freedom of the Church in Cuba. May we be faithful to our Christian conscience,” continued the priest.

Fr. Gálvez believes that “the clergy could be more committed to solving the real problem. The root of the problem.”

“It’s easier to give out medicine, food, etc. We are looking for fewer inconveniences. But all that’s over. I no longer have anything to give. All I have left is my voice. That I can give. And I will use it to demand justice,”  he pledged.

The priest also said that this demand for justice is related to the right to decent work and, therefore, to a better life.

“So that they, by themselves, can buy their food and get their medicines and whatever needs they may have. In Cuba we all have basic needs right now. So this material charitable service isn't enough. You have to go to the root of the problem. What are the causes of this precarious situation? There we would have to reflect and face the consequences for the good of all,” he said.

Fr. Gálvez stressed that the "unity of the Cuban Church is in Jesus Christ" and that "faith and morals unite us."

“The rest is up for discussion. That’s diversity, not division. God speaks to each one and suggests fields of action according to the needs of the people entrusted to us. That is what we would have to discern at this dramatic moment,” he stressed.

Finally, the priest said that he always remembers the Cross of Christ in order to overcome the dark hours.

“The Cross, I always invite you to contemplate the Cross, which is not resignation. The Cross since that Good Friday is the greatest paradox in history. There, by reflecting within ourselves, we could find paths and facet them with supernatural forces,” he concluded.

Venezuelan president rejects Vatican letter calling for dialogue 

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro speaks at a rally in Caracas in support calling a constituent assembly, May 23, 2017. / Marco Salgado/Shutterstock

Caracas, Venezuela, Jul 23, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, called "garbage," "poison," full of "hatred" and "cynicism" a letter that the Vatican Secretary of State sent to a Venezuelan business leader encouraging dialogue to overcome the crisis in the country.

Under Maduro’s socialist administration Venezuela has been marred by violence and political and social upheaval, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, power outages, and hyperinflation. Over four million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.

In a July 21 televised event, Maduro said that “when everyone is talking about production, uniting for Venezuela, overcoming the economic crisis,  here comes a totally unknown priest, I don't know if he’s a monsignor or a bishop, and he read a letter supposedly from Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, who was the Vatican's ambassador here in Venezuela.”

Cardinal Parolin was apostolic nuncio to Venezuela from 2009 to 2013, during Hugo Chávez' last years as president. In 2013 Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Parolin Vatican Secretary of State.

The cardinal’s June 23 letter was addressed to Ricardo Cusanno Maduro, president of Fedecámaras, the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce. The letter was announced during the 77th annual assembly of the organization, and addresses "issues about the future of the country's economy and its relationship to peace.”

According to the weekly Colombian magazine Semana, the letter was read at the event by Bishop Ricardo Aldo Barreto Cairo, an auxiliary bishop of Caracas.

For Maduro, the Vatican text is “a letter that was a compendium of hatred, poison, quarreling, cynicism, it’s ridiculous; a letter truly full of hatred, a national disaster, the letter from Pietro Parolin.”

“What does the Vatican foreign minister have to do with the assembly of a Venezuelan business organization? I ask, what does he have to do with it? Explain that, Pietro Parolini (sic),” Maduro questioned.

Maduro also said that the letter "totally unsettled the atmosphere (of negotiations)," was a "disaster" and that “the letter that Pietro Parolin supposedly sent was rubbish. I don’t know that he sent it.”

In the letter sent to the Fedecámaras assembly, Cardinal Parolin said he is aware of the organization's commitment “to the economic and social development of the country, and the efforts they are making to promote a more just, democratic, productive and entrepreneurial Venezuela, in which true social justice reigns.”

"Like you, I consider it important that civil society also be the protagonist of the solution to the current crisis in that beloved country, a solution that will only be provided if Venezuelans, and especially those who have some kind of political responsibility, are willing to sit down and negotiate, in a serious way, on specific issues that respond to the true needs of Venezuelans, and for a set period of time," the letter continues. 

For cardinal Parolin "this requires political will on the part of those involved, willingness to let the common good prevail over private interests, and the responsible support of civil society and the international community."

"Therefore, I encourage you to support all initiatives that promote understanding and reconciliation among Venezuelans," the cardinal wrote.

"If negotiations like the ones mentioned are successful, great generosity and patience will be necessary, since the current crisis will not be resolved immediately, but multiple efforts and sacrifices will still be necessary on everyone’s part," he continued.

"I assure you of my prayers so that the meeting is fruitful and that, through the intercession of Blessed Dr. Hernández, all of us, with generosity of spirit, know how to put the good of our neighbor, the common good, above our personal interests," Cardinal Parolin said.

For several months, representatives of the Maduro regime and the opposition have been negotiating about setting up talks that could take place in August in Mexico, and could have the Norwegian government as an intermediary.

However, in recent days government officials came to the house of opposition leader Juan Guaidó with the intention of arresting him but were thwarted because his wife, Fabiana Rosales, got on Twitter to report it, causing neighbors to react and prevent his arrest.

While that was happening, former opposition assemblyman Freddy Guevara got a message out on Instagram from his car the moment he was surrounded by masked officials who took him into custody.

The government accuses Guevara of terrorism, treason, and criminal association, and his supposed ties to the death of 26 people in a Caracas neighborhood, who according to the government were part of gangs that sought to overthrow Maduro.

The accusations against Guevara - which his legal defense team has called as false - are for the government consistent with the conditions that Maduro set for talks to take place.

Maduro's conditions to go to Mexico are that the United States and the European Union lift all sanctions against Venezuela, that all political parties recognize the legitimacy of his government, and that “all sectors renounce violent plans with criminals, coups, the assassination of officials and other avenues of violence.”

On July 22, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, met with Guevara's family and collaborators, who informed him of the opposition leader’s "arbitrary arrest and his delicate state of health."

"We demand from the Venezuelan dictatorship full respect for his rights and his immediate release," Almagro said on Twitter.