CNA Staff, Oct 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).-
The Pontifical Foundation Scholas Occurentes, which is charged with promoting education in underserved and poor communities, has received millions in donations and agreements with organizations in recent years, without having built any schools in underserved neighborhoods.
The Scholas Occurentes foundation was formally established in 2015, with backing from Pope Francis, who has encouraged throughout his pontificate a “poor Church for the poor.” In 2015 two arms of the foundation were registered, one in Argentina and one in Spain, and were recognized by Pope Francis with the title “Foundation of Pontifical Law.”
Among the foundation’s purposes are “to promote, improve education and achieve the integration of communities, with a focus on those with fewer resources", as well as "promote awareness campaigns on human values."
The organization, focused on education, has not erected or established any schools. It has instead established numerous headquarters offices and reached agreements giving it a presence in schools and universities.
The “University of Sense,” one of Schola Occurentes’ most recent projects, has among its exhibitors well-known supporters of the legalization of abortion and promoters of gender ideology in the world.
The University of Sense project is designed, according to its website, “ to educate in the ultimate responsibility of every human being: to listen to what surrounds us – to listen to the other, to the earth, to life – to give to each moment an original response – that of a new story, that of a new culture. To educate on the possibility of jumping into the open, to fulfill the call of life: the unfolding of its mystery that offers us meaning. Sense that each one names unique and, therefore, that each one embodies beauty.”
Among presenters in the project are the writer Luisa Valanzuela and the philosopher Darío Sztajnszrajber, who have publicly spoken in favor of abortion, and a priest, Fr. Hugo Mujica, who has lamented that Pope Francis has not lived up to expectations of liberalizing sacramental discipline in the Church.
At the end of September, the Catholic University of Valencia in Spain agreed to be the official headquarters of the University of Sense.
The University of Sense is one part of a very broad Scholas Occurentes network.
According to its website, Scholas Occurrentes has offices in Argentina, Chile, Vatican City, Colombia, Spain, the United States, Haiti, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal and Romania. Its presence extends to a “network in 190 countries, integrating more than 400,000 educational centers and reaching more than one million children and young people around the world,” the website says.
The Scholas Occurrentes board of trustees consists of José María del Corral as president, the Argentine member of the Vatican curia Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo as vice president, Enrique Adolfo Palmeyro as secretary, and Marta Simoncelli as vice secretary.
The support of Pope Francis has allowed Scholas Occurrentes , despite its short existence, to enter into agreements and receive donations from large companies and high-level public institutions.
In each of its public financial statements for 2016, 2017, and 2018 there is an agreement with Football Club Barcelona, Lionel Messi's team, valued each year at 30,000 euros. In the 2019 economic report, the 30,000 euros from FC Barcelona were recorded as a donation. Another Spanish sports team, Club Atlético de Madrid, donated 460,000 euros in 2017.
In the organization’s 2015 financial statement, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is recorded to have made a donation of about 324,000 euros.
In 2019 the organization also registered an agreement with the Ministry of Education of Haiti, for 323,951 euros. In the same year, it also received a donation from the Air Europa airline for about 735,000 euros,
Scholas also has an agreement of almost one million euros with Origen Worldwide, a marketing and communication company based in Madrid, Spain.
Other public and private organizations with which Scholas has entered into agreements or received donations include Paul David Hewson, the singer and vocalist of the rock band U2 known as Bono; the Santander Bank; the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires; PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world's leading consulting firms; Disney Worldwide; the Mexican Agency for international cooperation for development; the Office of the First Lady of the Dominican Republic; the Inter-American Development Bank; Mercedes Benz Argentina; Microsoft and the San Pablo CEU University Foundation.
According to reports not included in the officially published financial statements, Scholas Occurrentes has used millions to pay unspecified fees, and hundreds of thousands to support its offices and the travel of its workers.
According to the document entitled “Fundación Scholas Ocurrentes – Scholas Consolidado (USD): Scholas Argentina. Statement of income and expenses from Jan 2016 to Dec 2016," the organization spent in that year, only in the Argentine headquarters, almost $5.2 million dollars in "professional fees " and another million in "temporary fees."
The document also indicates that more than $448,000 were used for "salaries and social charges."
In “office rentals”, Scholas Occurrentes spent more than $324,000 that year. Another $300,000 went to mobile telephone expenses.
As total income, “gross profit”, the pontifical foundation registered that year in its Argentine headquarters more than $12 million.
In its "Abbreviated Report as of December 31, 2017", which is not published on the group’s website, Scholas Occurrentes indicates that it allocated 903 thousand euros to "travel expenses" in 2016 and more than 912 thousand euros in 2017.
According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 30.8% of the population of Latin America lives in poverty, below the threshold of $1.90 per day.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 14 million children and adolescents between 7 and 18 years of age are out of the educational system in Latin America.
It is not clear how the projects offered by Scholas Occurents intend to address those populations.
Among the events that can be found in the 2019 Scholas yearbook are concerts, camps, a project “Programming for Peace” that does not explain how students from low-income schools could access technology, as well as an “Online Marathon on Bullying and Cyberbullying.”
The organization’s projects, including the University of Sense, offer online programs, but do not address how those in the world’s poorest groups, which disproportionately lack internet access, should participate.
A UNICEF report from August this year revealed that " at least a third of school-age children around the world did not have access to distance education during the closure of schools due to COVID-19."
One of the main causes for the lack of access to distance education during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico, one of the countries where Scholas Occurrentes has installed a headquarters, was “ the lack of a computer or internet ”, according to a study carried out by the Universidad Iberoamericana .
According to UNICEF, the “minimum percentage of school-age children without access to distance education” is above 40% in Africa, while in South Asia it is 38%. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia it is at 34%, while in Latin America and the Caribbean at 9%.
In total, the United Nations organization indicated, there are 463 million minors who cannot access distance education around the world.
ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, contacted Scholas Occurrentes on September 15 , through Virginia Priano, director of communications for the pontifical foundation.
After two weeks, with several exchanges of emails, WhatsApp messages and phone calls, the organization's executives did not respond to questions from ACI Prensa about pro-abortion and gender ideology speakers convened for the University of Sense.
On September 29, after the publication of an article on the organization’s classes, ACI Prensa sent new questions to Virginia Priano, this time about the financial management and considerable expenses of Scholas Occurrentes in fees, travel, offices and telephony.
Priano sent a brief greeting message to ACI Prensa on September 30 via WhatsApp, but was not in contact with ACI Prensa again. Days later, the Argentine telephone number through which the communication had been made became inactive. Calls and messages to the Italian telephone of the director of communications of Scholas Occurrentes have not been answered, as well as the various emails sent this month.
ACI Prensa asked Scholas Occurentes how it would explain to poor families with limited access to education that an organization encouraged by the pope to undertake education initiatives has spend millions on fees, and hundreds of thousands on offices and telephones.
ACI Prensa also asked whether the group will develop a specific program for the construction of schools and access to education for poor minors or a scholarship program. It also asked the cost of the University of Sense, and how much Scholas Occurrentes paid to the consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers design of the Ágora Project.
Among other internal documents of Scholas Occurrentes to which ACI Prensa had access is the “Ágora Project. Creation of a World Social Network based on Education: Scholas,” which dates back to 2015 and is marked “strictly private and confidential.”
The Ágora Project proposes a growth and financing model for Scholas Occurentes that sheds light on its current operation.
In 2015, PriceWaterhouseCoopers pointed out that the Scholas fundraising model had been generated “spontaneously and opportunistically”, which is why it proposed new mechanisms to achieve “continue with Scholas' activity, consolidate the countries in which they are present and invest in the generation of other sources of financing. ”
In one of its first pages, the project acknowledges that “the pope is a key asset for Scholas and therefore a development model is necessary that allows Scholas Global to have broad control over the use of his image in all its chapters / venues.”
For this reason, the document indicates, it is important "to maintain control over the image and reputation of the Foundation and the Pope."
"Avoiding reputational risk is, for Scholas (…) a priority task," the confidential document reads.
A version of this report was first published as a series by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.