Sep 232009

By Barb Arland-Fye

The Vatican representative to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, says the Davenport Diocese’s bankruptcy trustee has no authority to demand $72,906 from his office, according to a petition filed in federal court.

Archbishop Sambi, whose title is Apostolic Nuncio, is asking the U.S. District Court for Southern Iowa to dismiss a lawsuit seeking the funds. His petition, filed earlier this month, also requests that the matter be heard in federal court because that is the proper jurisdiction. A hearing on that issue will be held Sept. 30 in the U.S. Courthouse in Davenport.

The petition further states that the Apostolic Nuncio has diplomatic immunity from lawsuits and that he was not properly served legal documents. Those were sent by U.S. mail rather than in person, as required by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The petition states: “It is worth noting that not only did the summons purport to command His Excellency, but it also stated His Excellency’s failure to respond could be deemed a consent to entry of default judgment. The Vienna Convention would have precluded any such finding of consent …”

The money in dispute comes from payments the Davenport Diocese made to the Apostolic Nunciature during a one year-period prior to filing for bankruptcy Oct. 10, 2006, court documents show.

During that time, the diocese made seven payments totaling $72,906. Approximately half of that money came from the annual collection taken in parishes throughout the diocese to support Peter’s Pence, which funds charitable causes chosen by the pope. The money did not belong to the diocese; it was a “pass-through” payment for parishioners’ donations to the charitable fund, said Char Maaske, the diocese’s chief financial officer. Another portion of the disputed money was a contribution the diocese made to the Vatican for its service to the universal church. That contribution is a requirement under canon (church) law and the diocese is expected to pay a certain amount each quarter as though it is a bill. There was nothing unusual about the payments, she said.

Trustee Robert Berger claims in his lawsuit against the Apostolic Nuncio that the payments were made with “an actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud the Diocese’s creditors.” The trustee issued summons to some other entities that received payments from the diocese prior to the bankruptcy filing in an effort to gain additional funds for the creditors, who are survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

The U. S. Bankruptcy court approved a 2008 plan that provided for a $37 million settlement between the Davenport Diocese, its creditors and insurers.  The diocese is not involved in this claim made by the creditors. The Apostolic Nuncio will be required to present evidence about the nature of these payments.

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