16 June 2016, The Tablet

The devil is in the detail: Why Pope Francis really rejected donation from Argentinian president 

Rejection of 16,666,000 pesos gift was a poverty issue and nothing to do with the sign of the devil


Pope Francis has rejected a large donation from the Argentine president because he does not want to be associated with his home country’s economic policies, an adviser who is close to Pope Francis has told The Tablet.  

Earlier this month President Mauricio Macri (pictured with Pope Francis) wrote a cheque for 16,666,000 pesos (£853,000) for Francis’ educational foundation - but the Pope turned down the gift citing the fact it contained the figure 666 (a number that is associated with the Devil). 

But speaking to The Tablet, Juan Grabois, an Argentinian social activist who is close to the Pope, said the gift “should not have been made” given the hardships facing people in the country and likened it to an act of “simony” - the act of buying ecclesiastical privilges.   

“The Pope did not reject the donation because of the number,” Grabois said. “The donation was the wrong thing to do. In Argentina, we are now in a very bad socio-economic crisis, caused by policies that have a scent of ‘neo-liberalism.’ ” 

Grabois, appointed last Saturday by Francis to the Vatican’s justice and peace department, explained that in Argentina heating bills had risen by more than 500 per cent, while salaries remain low and tax cuts were being offered to big agricultural corporations. 

“In this context, one of an economic crisis where we are starting to see starvation again in Argentina — which is a country that primarily produces food — a donation for a Church-linked foundation was out-of-place,” he explained. “And even more so if one thinks of this as being a gesture directed at the Pope. That’s the real reason why the donation has been rejected.”

President Macri had given the money to the “Scholas Occurrentes” - a global organisation connecting technology with art and sport - following one of its gatherings with the Pope in Rome, attended by Hollywood stars George Clooney, Salma Hayek and Richard Gere. The news of the donation was reported in Argentinian media as a sign of good relations between Francis and Macri  

The Pope, however, was reportedly irritated these reports and, according to the Vatican Insider website, returned the Macri’s gift with the postscript “I don’t like the 666.”

Grabois, who worked with Francis when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, said the socially excluded do not need philanthropy but instead “structural change,” that will provide them land, housing and work. 

He also pointed to remarks made by the Pope on 3 March during a General Audience when he said that anyone giving “dirty money” to the Church should take their “cheque back and burn it”.

Grabois explained: “These structural changes imply a systematic change that removes money from the centre, and, in its place, puts people — alongside, obviously, nature and the caring for Creation. This is a very difficult struggle as there are strong people against whom we must fight. And this is the Pope’s position — he says so in his speeches.”

A full interview with Juan Grabois will appear in next week’s edition of The Tablet (25 June)

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