Police swoop on ‘papal blessing’ swindlers

Italian police have confiscated 3,500 fake "papal benedictions" worth €70,000 in a blitz on counterfeit goods which saw one million objects seized in a week, the interior ministry said on Monday.

Police swoop on 'papal blessing' swindlers
Pictures of Pope Francis are arranged on a table before being paste on papal parchments (the real deal) in a workshop in Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Pilgrims flocking to Rome for the Vatican's Jubilee year can purchase parchments with a benediction by Pope Francis, with profits going to the Vatican's department for charitable works.

But not all of the ones on sale around the tiny city state are the real deal.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano showed journalists one of the documents, which are produced in several languages, complete with a fake papal seal and a photograph of the smiling Argentinian pontiff.

Teaming up with Vatican police, detectives uncovered the printer behind the scam as well as a shop near Saint Peter's Basilica where the scrolls were being sold.

The colourful and ornate parchments, which for centuries were painted and written by hand, and bought for marriages and baptisms, have since January been produced electronically to cut production costs and reduce the risk of fraud.

The Vatican is on high alert for swindlers hoping to target tourists and pilgrims by offering seemingly 'official' package deals at extortionate fees or peddling fake goods.

The ministry said its crackdown on counterfeits in general had seen “close to 250 million objects seized in Italy” in nine months, “double the 2014 figure”, for a value of 716 million euros.

Other objects seized in last week's raids included toys which were harmful to children, Alfano said.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post

Pope Francis has broken with Catholic tradition to appoint a woman as an undersecretary of the synod of bishops, the first to hold the post with voting rights in a body that studies major questions of doctrine.

Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post
Pope Francis has appointed Nathalie Becquart as undersecretary of the synod of bishops. She is the first woman to hold the post. Photo: AFP

Frenchwoman Nathalie Becquart is one of the two new undersecretaries named on Saturday to the synod, where she has been a consultant since 2019.

The appointment signals the pontiff's desire “for a greater participation of women in the process of discernment and decision-making in the church”, said Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary-general of the synod.

“During the previous synods, the number of women participating as experts and listeners has increased,” he said.

“With the nomination of Sister Nathalie Becquart and her possibility of participating in voting, a door has opened.”

The synod is led by bishops and cardinals who have voting rights and also comprises experts who cannot vote, with the next gathering scheduled for autumn 2022.

A special synod on the Amazon in 2019 saw 35 female “auditors” invited to the assembly, but none could vote.

The Argentinian-born pope has signalled his wish to reform the synod and have women and laypeople play a greater role in the church.

He named Spaniard Luis Marin de San Martin as the other under undersecretary in the synod of bishops.

Becquart, 52, a member of the France-based Xaviere Sisters, has a master's degree in management from the prestigious HEC business school in Paris and studied in Boston before joining the order.