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How Obscure Italian Hospital Became the Eye of a Global Storm

In February 2013, in his last official act as pope, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI appointed a commissioner for a small, seemingly insignificant hospital in Rome, the Immaculate Dermatological Institute (IDI).

Two years later, that same hospital was at the center of a tug-of-war between Australian Cardinal George Pell and the Vatican’s Secretary of State. Today, IDI is deepening the rift that threatens to tear apart the Church in the U.S., and to poison its relationship with Rome.

To understand what makes this hospital such a lightning rod, one needs to look at the path that led what was once a symbol of excellence in Catholic healthcare to the brink of ruin and almost $1 billion in debt.

In just three years, IDI has received three major infusions of cash from the Vatican and the Italian government, amounting to well over $70 million, and each time opinions were split between those who wished to save the institution and those ready to pull the plug.

What was once a Roman story drew global attention when the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, charged with financing the pope’s charitable initiatives, was asked by Pope Francis to help IDI with a $25 million payment. The request divided the foundation, with mostly clerics on one side supporting the pope and mostly lay people on the other skeptical of an institute many see as a poor investment at best, corrupt at worst.

While $13 million of that payment has already been sent to IDI, the remaining $12 million, approved in April 2018, remains for the time being in the foundation’s own account, inside sources told Crux.

Meanwhile, outside changes may decide the future of the hospital. In a couple of months, a bankruptcy case under the extraordinary administration that took over the institute will be placed before an Italian court, which could result in a complete overhaul of the hospital and its management.

Francis’s nomination of Italian Cardinal Nunzio Galantino as head of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), the office that handles the Vatican’s investment portfolio and its real estate holdings, might also affect IDI’s future. Galantino is seen as a reformer but also a Francis loyalist, so it’s hard to know which way his sympathies on IDI may lean.

Oceans away in Australia, Pell is fighting off criminal charges for historic sexual offenses. If the cardinal is not convicted, it raises the question of whether he would return to his role as Prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy and pick up where he left off – including what had been his behind-the-scenes opposition to Vatican involvement with IDI.

A stellar clerical cast has been involved in IDI at one point or another, from U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl to the notorious ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, from Italian Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to wealthy American benefactors. The small Roman hospital has, for years, represented a cluster of questions and thorns for the global Church.

Read more at Crux