David O’Connell, a Rhode Island native, is suing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for what he’s calling charity fraud. The USCCB has long promoted its Peter’s Pence charity to help people affected by “war, oppression, natural disaster or disease.”
But O’Connell, a donor to that charity, says as little as 10% of the donations to the organization are actually funding the people who need it. A recent Wall Street Journal article said “two-thirds of the money has been used to help cover the budget deficit at the Holy See.”
That’s why O’Connell is looking for other plaintiffs in his class-action lawsuit:
On behalf of himself and everyone else in Rhode Island and the United States, he now asks USCCB to come clean. Having collected hundreds of millions of dollars from the faithful and well-meaning donors for the poor in immediate need of assistance, USCCB must now account for itself and the money with which it was entrusted, and, in the interests of justice, it must disgorge the funds that were not spent as it promised.
O’Connell adds that the USCCB “actively concealed the true character and nature of the Peter’s Pence collection and made misrepresentations about the specified purposes of the collection.”
The entire lawsuit is reminiscent of the Mormon Church’s own alleged hoarding of donations, though there hasn’t been a lawsuit filed in that case. There’s an open question of whether anyone can even “look at the books” of any religious charity, and no one’s expecting religious groups to do the right thing and be transparent on their own.
Perhaps the most intriguing footnote in the lawsuit is the part that explains where the charity’s money is allegedly going, if not to people who need it. According to an Italian newspaper quoted in the lawsuit, more than $1 million was invested in the film Rocketman (about Elton John), another $3.6 million was invested in Men in Black: International. $200 million was invested in luxury apartments in London. And “millions” of dollars went to the Malta-based Centurion Global Fund; the guy who runs it earned millions in commissions despite losing 4.61% of the fund.
O’Connell and his team are asking for anyone who donated to Peter’s Pence since 2013 to join him in this lawsuit. The Boston Globe notes that a similar lawsuit against the Christian charity Gospel for Asia — later settled for $37 million — included more than 200,000 donors. Who knows how many people will sign on to this one?
Hopefully a lot more.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to John for the link)