Dear Holy Father,
I am writing to you about the Catholic Swiss canton of Fribourg which has been sheltering fraudulent business activities since the 1960’s. Given your recent writings, I think you might be interested in my inquiry into this corruption.
Fribourg was an important Swiss center of the Counter-Reformation. At the end of his long and illustrious career, Peter Canisius founded le college St. Michel there in 1582. The Jesuit saint and Doctor of the Church is buried in the church next to the classroom where I used to teach English. Three centuries after Canisius arrived in Fribourg, Cardinal Gaspard Mermillod’s “Fribourg Union” met each autumn in the 1880’s to help prepare Pope Leo XIII’s groundbreaking encyclical Rerum Novarum.
Despite Fribourg’s long-standing connections to the social teachings of the Catholic Church, none of its leaders, secular or ecclesiastical, have ever commented on the “shell” companies which have been set up for corrupt foreigners by local lawyers and accountants. Over the past 28 years, I have repeatedly questioned these leaders—in person and by mail—about the nefarious activities of these shell companies. I felt that schemes such as laundering the money that kleptocrats had stolen from the treasuries of their impoverished countries, smuggling forbidden arms and technologies—such as poison gas and nuclear technologies—to rogue regimes, and conniving to transport toxic waste to third-world countries were flagrant violations of the Church’s Social MagIsterium.*
The esteemed leaders I contacted, which included the editor of la Liberté, the local newspaper (M. François Gross); a Fribourgeois who became Swiss president (M. Joseph Deiss); and the local bishop (the late Mgr. Pierre Mamie) always elected to remain silent when confronted with these sordid facts. I could not understand how Fribourg, the “pious and convent crowded city” which its inhabitants used to call “little Rome,” could turn its back on the spirit of the “common good” as set forth by “the Fribourg Union” and Rerum Novarum, and degenerate into a port of call for international fraudsters, money-launderers, and arms traffickers. (See The American Catholic Quarterly Review, 1901, vol. 26, p. 773) No one seemed to care. I often wondered what another immigrant to Fribourg, Pieter Kanis from Nijmegen in Holland, would have thought of all of this.
In 1987, after 19 years in Fribourg, I decided to return to the U.S. I quit my tenured job at the college, sold my recently remodeled home, and with my family in tow returned to the Philadelphia area where I had been raised. Before leaving Fribourg, I discovered that a number of notorious Americans had been using Fribourg as a base of operations. I wrote a letter to la Liberté to report what I had discovered. The letter was published, but no one ever mentioned it to me.
After returning to the U.S., I continued my research on Fribourg’s shell companies. I wrote to many people, but very few answered. In desperation, I finally decided to “deconstruct” the Fribourg financial haven. I am about half-way through a list of 100 individuals who have had business connections to Fribourg. About fifty of these individuals have been accused or convicted of criminal activities. Most of the others are probably in Fribourg to avoid the payment of taxes to their home countries. Many of those on my list are famous. For example, the second and fifth richest persons in the world are on my list. (nos. 68 & 43, respectively)
Actually, two people are tied for fifth richest person in the world. According to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index (Sept. 16, 2015) the American fossil-fuel magnates Charles and David Koch have together amassed a fabulous fortune of $98.6 billion. I do not know if you have heard of them, Holy Father, but they have certainly heard of you. They and their followers were incensed by your recent encyclical Laudato Si’.
The Koch brothers are the biggest contributors to the climate-change-denial movement in the world. Since 1997, they have contributed tens of millions of dollars to organizations which are spreading propaganda that global warming is not man-made. http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Koch-Ind-Still-Fueling-Climate-Denial.pdf?81457d
To make matters worse, since 2008, 25% of all contributions to climate-change-denial organizations have been made via the Donors Trust, a foundation which does not reveal the names of its contributors. Prof. Robert J. Brulle of Philadelphia’s Drexel University estimates that 75% of all funding for climate-change-denial propaganda now comes from “unidentifiable sources.” Thus, the Koch brothers may be cloaking their hefty contributions in “dark money” networks. http://drexel.edu/now/archive/2013/December/Climate-Change/
The Kochs have established numerous holding companies in Fribourg since 1970 to maintain their world-wide fossil-fuel empire. They and their brother Bill, who is also a climate-change denier, currently have six companies in Fribourg. Bill Koch calls himself the “petcoke king.” Petcoke is an extremely dirty fuel that is a by-product of the tar sands that are being mined in Alberta, Canada. The open- pit mining of these tar sands has devastated the pristine landscape of Alberta.
Bill Koch’s three fossil-fuel companies are domiciled just around the corner from Fribourg’s new zero-carbon technology park, blueFACTORY. This ambitious environmental-friendly project occupies the site of what used to be the Cardinal brewery. Fribourg’s “Blancpain” beer was renamed “Cardinal” after Pope Leo XIII elevated Fribourg’s bishop, Gaspard Mermillod, to the rank of cardinal. It was understood that Pope Leo did this to reward Mermilliod for his contribution to Rerum Novarum. The Cardinal zero-carbon technology park is, therefore, a kind of shrine to the social justice principles of Leo XIII’s famous encyclical. At least that is the way I see it. I find it outrageous that the polluting, climate-change denying Koch brothers, of all people, have set up companies in proximity to an environmental project which has pledged to leave a zero carbon footprint!
I have launched a petition to ask the directors of blueFACTORY to demand that the Koch brothers wind down their Fribourg operations. I feel it is high time that we realize that “pollution” comes in different forms. Ideas can also pollute. The Koch brothers are not only a crucial part of the erroneous climate-change-denial movement, they are also strict libertarians who want to abolish all of the social programs that the United States established in the last century: Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, the Minimum Wage, Progressive Income Tax, Corporate Taxes, Public Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency. They have no business doing business in a town that was a birthplace of modern Catholic Social Justice. https://www.change.org/p/directors-of-bluefactory-fribourg-must-expel-the-koch-brothers
I am a firm believer in capitalism; however, I do not think that setting up companies designed to circumvent the law is true capitalism; I feel this sort of activity is corruption. Below is a picture of my maternal great-grandparents and their children and grandchildren. My great-grandparents had 12 children, two of whom became nuns, and two of whom became priests. My great-grandfather, an immigrant from Ireland, was a successful real-estate developer. Like your parents in Italy and later in Argentina, Holy Father, he ran an ethical business. One of the priests in the picture is my great uncle Joe. When he chose the name “Matthew” late in life on the occasion of taking his final vows as a Dominican, my mother gave this name to me in his honor. It is ironic, given my investigation of a tax haven that I am named after the patron saint of accountants and tax collectors.
The picture below is of a stained-glass window that was dedicated to my paternal great-grandfather, an immigrant from Germany, by my grandfather, Frank Temme, a prosperous Philadelphia printer who ran an ethical business. Saint John-Paul II visited this church in 1979. The National Shrine of St. John Neumann, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, and the first male citizen of the United States to be canonized is located in St. Peter’s lower church.
Finally, the picture below is of my wife (the little girl with the flowers) and her sister and parents. They are attending Fribourg’s famous Corpus Christi Procession in the 1950’s. My father-in-law had a successful career in the wholesale grocery business. He was a much-loved businessman whose dealings were always ethical. He died in 1967. I am sure he would be saddened by the installation of corrupt shell companies in Fribourg.
Fribourg is not unique. There are many tax havens around the world that erode the tax bases of other jurisdictions, thus hindering governments in their attempts to provide assistance to the poor and the disadvantaged. Many of these tax havens are located in Catholic dioceses. It is a pity that the bishops have not spoken out more forcefully about this. Life would be so much better if the corruption could be swept away, if the Augean stables could be cleaned up, and we could return to the innocence of the original garden, much like the innocence in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet that I know you admire, Holy Father. He is the perfect poet for the message you are giving about the environment. Fr. Joseph Feeney S.J. a professor at St.Joseph’s University in Philadelphia has called Hopkins “an environmental poet.” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/conference-examines-inspiring-poetry-of-gerard-manley-hopkins/
I did my licentiate thesis at the University of Fribourg on Hopkins’ sonnets. My favorite is the curtail sonnet “Pied Beauty.”
GLORY be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
The poet marvels at the morphogenetic variety of nature. Hopkins was always fascinated by the delicate patterns he perceived in things. His realization of these patterns, or as he called them: “inscapes,” reinforced his perception of the Devine force operating behind these patterns. By beginning with “Glory be to God,” he echoes the motto of the Jesuits: “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” and by ending with “Praise him,” he echoes St. Francis’s “Canticle of the Sun.”
I realize, Holy Father, that you may not have time to read this rambling letter, but I will pray to Saints Matthew, Peter Canisius, and Michael the Archangel that this message will somehow be conveyed to you. I will also pray to St. Christopher that you have a safe and successful trip to the United States, especially to my childhood home of Philadelphia where this week-end you will be celebrating the Festival of Families.
Most respectfully yours,
* For more specific information about corrupt companies and individuals in Fribourg, please see my blog: @ http://thecatholictaxhaven.com. The list of individuals with business connections to Fribourg referred to above can be found on my posting for Dec. 5, 2013. My study of Fribourg’s “finanzplatz” is a work in progress. I am about half finished.
P.S.: This letter was sent to Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City on September 23, 2015.