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Vatican steps in to help failing Catholic hospital in Rome

The historic Fatebenefratelli Hospital, on Rome’s Tiber Island. / Dguendel via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican has stepped in to help a nearly bankrupt Catholic hospital in Rome run by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God.

The historic Fatebenefratelli Hospital, which sits on Rome’s Tiber Island, has been in dire financial straits since 2013, with hundreds of millions of euros in debt pushing it to the brink of bankruptcy.

In June, the hospital was all but sold to the San Donato Group, one of the largest private hospital groups in Italy, which had signed an agreement with the hospital’s creditors.

Now, in a statement on Oct. 21, the Vatican thanked the leadership of the San Donato Group, while saying that Church authorities had started a “recovery plan” to keep the hospital under management by the Catholic religious order.

“A recovery plan has been launched that, in compliance with the regulations in force and in dialogue with the parties involved in various ways, will allow [the hospital] to continue to play the role that has characterized it so far in the field of Catholic healthcare,” the statement from the Holy See press office said.

It added that Church authorities would collaborate with other non-profit institutions “to resolve the economic and management crisis” at the hospital, officially known as the Ospedale San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli.

The Vatican statement pointed to Pope Francis’ comments on July 11, when he gave his Angelus address from Gemelli Hospital, where he had undergone surgery a week prior.

“In the Church too it happens that at times some healthcare institution, due to poor management, does not do well economically, and the first thought that comes to mind is to sell it,” Pope Francis said.

He added: “But the vocation, in the Church, is not to have money; it is to offer service, and service is always freely given. Do not forget this: saving free institutions.”

In the Oct. 21 press release, the Vatican thanked the vice presidents and CEO of the San Donato Group for the agreed-upon intervention, “aimed at preventing a further worsening of the current crisis and finding a definitive solution.”

The Vatican did not elaborate on what the “intervention” consists of.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis created a new foundation offering financial support to Catholic hospitals.

The more than 400-year-old hospital in Rome is well known for its obstetrics ward, where an average of 3,200 births take place each year. This year, during one weekend in July, the hospital made headlines for having had a record 36 births in 30 hours.

The hospital on Tiber Island is one of a number of religious-run healthcare centers facing financial crisis in recent years.

One of the hospitals is the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI) in Rome, which has been plagued by problems for more than decade.

After years of systematic theft and fraud by hospital administrators, the structure was left with 800 million euros (around $930 million) in debt and declared bankrupt in 2012 by Italy.

In 2013, Benedict XVI appointed a Vatican commissioner to look into the hospital’s finances. In 2015, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State stepped in, arranging to purchase the hospital out of state-administered bankruptcy through a for-profit partnership with the religious order that owned and managed the hospital — an arrangement that also ended in financial scandal.

In March this year, the Vatican appointed the former commander general of Italy’s financial police force as president of the foundation overseeing the IDI.

Saverio Capolupo, 70, was named president of the board of directors of the Luigi Maria Monti Foundation.

Capolupo succeeded Fr. Giuseppe Pusceddu, superior of the Italian province of the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, who had been appointed interim president of the foundation in 2020.