Salve Maria, or millions made in Poland

The amounts funneled over several years by the founders of Poland’s Ordo Iuris to radical Catholic organisations overseas reach ten million euros. The discovery came as a result of our international investigation. The money donated for rosaries and images of Our Lady of Fatima supports the global movement against abortion, gender, LGBTQ+ and the values shared by the liberal world.

A lavish mansion in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a majestic castle in France, a 19th-century house in Kraków’s historic district of Kazimierz – is there anything that links all of those global locations? Might there be any relationship between them and further tightening of abortion laws in Poland and the upcoming referendum on the definition of marriage in Estonia?

All of them have received funding from an inconspicuous Polish organisation of Catholic radicals. The foundation, which is keen to embrace medieval traditions, supports ultraconservative campaigns in Poland and overseas. The funding supports a network of entities that organise anti-LGBTQ demonstrations, petitions and anti-abortion marches, and campaigns to stop Communion in the hand. But they also subsidised maintaining an organization in Brazil and the Tradition, Family, Property (TFP) location at the Château de Jaglu in France, home to a leading TFP activist.

For years, little was known about the financial structure of that international movement of Catholic radicals. Our investigation has revealed, however, that the lifeline was provided by its operational and financial centre in Kraków. The fundraising model is based on the concept developed in Brazil and later expanded in France and re-applied in Central European countries. Our investigation has uncovered the functioning of a network of TFP-linked entities.

A bell that calls you to pray at the chapel

Higienopolis is one of São Paulo’s most affluent neighborhoods, the financial heart of south-eastern Brazil and a favourite hotspot for local celebrities and politicians. The Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira (IPCO) Institute is housed in a charming mansion surrounded by exotic gardens. The grounds are open only to the members of the organisation. Although mass is held in the chapel only at weekends, it is every day that residents hear a bell that calls for prayer.

The Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira (IPCO) Institute is housed in a mansion in São Paulo. Photo by Juliana Dal Piva

Before becoming the headquarters of IPCO, the stately building had long served as the venue for meetings organised by Brazil’s Society for the Defence of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). The TFP movement was founded in the 1960s by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, a devout Catholic and anti-communist. If he were alive today (he passed away in the 1990s), he would have been proud of his work. TFP has grown to become a global network of organisations that promote ultra-radical Catholic values – condemn same-sex relationships, divorce, contraception and the right to abortion. In recent years, this network has proved particularly effective in Central Europe, including in some post-communist countries that until 1989 had been part of the Soviet Union.

IPCO is a men’s club, so women are usually not allowed into the building and cannot be members of the organisation. It was only established in 2006 when a group of close associates feuded over the legacy of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.

The conflict that rocked the Brazilian branch of TFP began after the death of the movement’s founder in 1995. Its old members clashed with the power-hungry young leaders. The original founders, expelled by their own students, formed the Association of TFP Founders and now focus on building their influence in the world of Brazilian politics. Their rivals, which call themselves ‘Heralds of the Gospel,’ focus on religious activities. They have been recognised as a secular order and won the legal fight over the right to call themselves TFP in Latin America in an attempt to continue Oliveira’s legacy. 

IPCO, a third organisation that emerged as a result of the split, was established after the old founders lost in the court. Caio Xavier da Silveira is the real decision-maker, a figure key to the story, and his name will keep resurfacing in our report.

Although the Institute’s heyday years are over, it is still influential in Brazil. Among the IPCO directors we find Dom Bertrand Orleans e Bragança, who has informal access to officials and advisers to Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro (including to his son Eduardo). At the G20 summit, Bolsonaro cited Dom Bertrand’s publications that undermined climate change (as the Amazon jungle was burning, Dom Bertrand argued that it was ‘not a climate crisis, but an offensive against sovereignty’).

‘Help us free Brazil from abortion, homosexual agenda and communism!’ – this is the message used by the organisation in fundraising efforts, when it reaches out to potential donors for support. Although IPCO’s financial reports have not been disclosed, we have established that between 2004 and 2019, it operated largely as a result of a lifeline that originated overseas. That place, which can be reached after a 15-hour flight, is Poland’s historical capital of Kraków.

Driven by goodwill and the euro

In May 2019, Sławomir Olejniczak wrote an email to members of TFP. The Pole is the co-founder of the Polish branch of TFP, the Piotr Skarga Foundation Institute, headquartered in Kraków’s historical district of Kazimierz. 

Headquarters of the Piotr Skarga Foundation Institute in a nineteenth-century house in the heart of Kraków’s historic district of Kazimierz. Photo by Konrad Szczygieł//Reporters Foundation

‘Dear gentlemen, Salve Maria!’ – he opened his letter to Catholic activists around the world. We have acquired some of the electronic exchange that circulated in the TFP network. As a result, we know what role the Polish branch played in funding Catholic organisations overseas.

For years, guided by goodwill and trust to all members of the Foundation’s Council, at their request we supported financially TFP organizations in Brazil and in many other countries. In total, our financial support has been counted in millions of Euro over the last years.

Thanks to our key support, TFP organizations have been created or effectively developed in such countries as Australia, Estonia, Croatia, Slovakia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Ecuador. In Poland, we have established the legal organization Institute Ordo Iuris and the pro-life Center for Life and Family*. In addition, we co-financed the renewal of TFP activities in Canada and South Africa.’

Why did Olejniczak want to email them? It is part of the struggle for leadership over the organisation. He had just been dismissed from the management board of the Polish foundation by the supervisory board chaired by Caio da Silveira, a Brazilian national who founded and remains the key figure of the TFP movement in Europe.

Olejniczak is an important figure too. The former head of the Skarga Foundation spent years overseeing the development of the movement in Poland and Central Europe. Caio da Silveira, with whom he remains at odds, is even more important, as he is the founder and supervisor of most TFP organisations in Europe (including the Kraków-based one) and the head of France’s Pro Europa Christian Federation. Their feud started as a result of a conflict over money and control of substantial assets managed by the Skarga Foundation. The latter, drawing little publicity, has become a source of funding for the entire network of TFP-linked entities.

At some point, Olejniczak complained to members of the network that the Polish office has had to bear the costs of supporting the organisation in Brazil and France since 2004.The biggest burden for us has been to participate in the fixed costs of maintaining the organizations in Brazil and France from 2004 until today. These amounts annually are about 500,000 Euro’, he complained.

Olejniczak also suggested that since Poles helped the TFP headquarters in Sao Paulo survive for many years, others should also participate in the cost of maintaining the network. He declined an interview that Reporters’ Foundation requested. Instead, he chose to reply to our email. ‘The email exchange was private – he wrote. – It was meant for activists of Catholic organisations who are close to us and who cooperate with us in other countries. It aimed to present our position in the dispute with Caio Xavier da Silveira.’

The international money transfers that Olejniczak talked about in his email can be also confirmed by the documents we have obtained. These include court documents and reports filed by the Kraków-based Foundation, as well as TFP’s financial documents in France, the USA, and other Central European states. The information is scattered among countries and remains fragmentary – some pieces of the financial puzzle are still missing, but we have managed to put together a part of a larger picture.

The financial documents of the Kraków-based Foundation reveal, for instance, that in 2017, it transferred 295,000 euros to Brazil’s Instituto Plinio Correa de Oliveira. In 2019, in February and March alone, it transferred 67,500 euros to IPCO. The money from Kraków also supported two other Brazilian organisations that can be linked to the TFP movement – Associação Dos Fundadores da TFP and Associação Devotos De Fatima.

Our estimates indicate that between 2009 and 2019 (the data we have gained access to), the Kraków-based Foundation transferred over 9.3 million euros overseas. Moreover, the email from Olejniczak confirmed that it had sent money to Brazil and France before (since 2004). As a result, the total amount transferred from Kraków has been much bigger. Can we speculate as to the size of the transfers? We have no verifiable information in this regard. The Foundation has never publicly disclosed those transfers, but it is clear the funds came from Polish donors. The Kraków-based foundation has created efficient machinery for obtaining funding in exchange for rosaries, images of Our Lady of Fatima, books, and calendars that cater to the cravings of ultra Catholics. This ‘business model’ adopted by the TFP network, replicated in other countries around the world, turned out to be particularly successful in Catholic Poland. What was the funding transferred overseas used for?

A luxurious chandelier overhead

The majestic Château de Jaglu is situated a 1.5-hour trip from Paris. Situated in the middle of the forest next to a quiet village of Saint-Sauveur Marville, it has been owned by the French branch of TFP since 1991. Da Silveira was looking for a house that would harmonise with the movement’s medieval concepts. The Château de Jaglu turned out to be just the perfect spot to flesh out those ideas.

Château de Jaglu has been owned by the French branch of TFP since 1991. Photo by Audrey Lebel

Caio da Silveira, a stern-faced man who resides at the Château de Jaglu, oversees the activities of the organisations he controls throughout Europe. He avoids publicity and journalists – when we try to arrange an appointment with him to talk about TFP finances, he refuses to talk to us. However, when he is unaware he is talking to journalists – our reporter manages to get inside the castle under the pretext of looking for a wedding venue – he quickly opens up. He proudly stresses that he is the president of an organisation present in many countries in Europe.

Extravagant chandeliers, porcelain vases, chesterfield armchairs, numerous libraries, and a chapel. A huge portrait of the TFP movement’s guru and founder Plinio de Oliveira hangs in the middle. One of the residents at the Château de Jaglu shows us around – apart from him and the 83-year-old da Silveira, the castle is home to a dozen of other associates.

‘It was in France that TFP first established itself in Europe,’ says Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights in a report called ‘Modern-Day Crusaders in Europe.’  

‘This country [France] served as a base for TFP to spread to other European countries and to create satellites in Germany, Austria and Poland in the early 1990s,’ he adds.

The early years, however, proved difficult. When the French branch of TFP was established in the late 1970s, it set up an association that opened a male boarding school. Two years later, the school closed after parents accused its staff of indoctrination. ‘The management of the school, mainly Brazilian, conducted a kind of psychological action on young students so that they would become militant supporters of a foreign organisation’ – we read in the court ruling from 1982, which resolved the civil dispute between TFP and the owner of the school’s buildings. After the parents protested, TFP lost its lease agreement.

Over the next few decades, more satellite organisations emerged from the French TFP. One fought against ‘moral deprivation of the media,’ the other against ‘the right to abortion,’ and the third organised youth events. All three were established by Caio Xavier Da Silveira, a lawyer and one of the founding fathers of TFP in Brazil.

Litigation and a police search

In 1979, Da Silveira left Brazil and resettled in France, embarking on a mission of building a European branch of TFP. He chose religious fundraising and that decision turned out to be extremely effective.

The French branch of TFP decided to organise large-scale mailing campaigns to collect donations from the members of the Catholic church. In the 1990s, Avenir de la Culture, one of the three TFP subsidiaries, continued the fight against LGBT rights and flooded politicians’ mailboxes with letters. In 1997, similar efforts resulted in sponsors of the Gay Pride Parade withdrawing their support.

The 1990s were the golden years for TFP in France. As a result, tens of thousands of requests for donations delivered to the country’s residents sounded alarm bells among the institutions of the secular state. In 1995, a parliamentary inquiry commission included TFP in a register of sect-like movements. In 1999 and 2006 investigators from the commission on sects repeatedly tried to determine the actual scale and purpose of the organisation’s fundraising ventures but with little success.

In response to new reports, TFP filed a request, asking the French prime minister to shut down the commission on cults. It also filed for defamation after reports circulated that suggested the unlawful nature of their activities. Years later, in 2016, it won the lawsuit because the French court decided that the government agency should have exercised greater restraint in its statements.

TFP campaigns have drawn opposition from several religious sites in France. They include the famous Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Paris, as the medal was sent by TFP to thousands of the country’s residents, alongside a letter that asked for donations. The priests in charge of the chapel have said that some believe that their donations support their sanctuary. In 2005, the police entered the Château de Jaglu and searched the property. The move came in the wake of suspicions that TFP might have illegally obtained personal data and information about the religious views of citizens. However, the investigation was later dropped. The design of the medal, like other religious imagery, is not proprietary and anyone may use it. Caio da Silveira, whose apartment at the Château de Jaglu was also searched by the police, won a lawsuit against the French state for violating his right to privacy and the professional rights of a lawyer before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Meanwhile, the websites of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paray-le-Monial or the famous Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris contain a disclaimer. It states that the respective churches should not be associated with the fundraising effort of TFP-linked organisations. It also warns the Catholic community that any miraculous medals, calendars and other devotional items used in the campaign are in no way linked to their activities.

If you pay for the medals, you feed the network

As French authorities attempted to crack down on TFP, the movement expanded its international activities and funding sources, growing independent of local donors. In the early 2000s, it was active not only in France but also in Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland and Portugal. But it did not stop at using its own brand, it also hid behind a facade of religious campaigns, Christian associations, or anti-abortion groups.

TFP expanded its international activities and funding sources. In the early 2000s, it was active not only in France but also in Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland and Portugal. Source: https://la-noblesse-aujourdhui.org/

In 2002, Caio Xavier da Silveira established another organisation in France called Fédération Pro Europa Christiana (FPEC). The entity consists of organisations from other countries. In Europe, da Silveira or his associates at that time control a network of organisations, most of which have run large-scale fundraising campaigns.

According to Victor Gama, a historian at Brazil’s Pontifical Catholic University, TFP established an international network of associations. Still, some of them have not stepped forward and disclosed their ties to the movement.

‘People in many countries find images of saints in their mailboxes and a letter asking them to make a donation for religious purposes. They think they are supporting local Catholic institutions, but if they choose to donate, their money feeds global TFP. The money is then funneled to people associated with the movement and its headquarters. TFP then recruits new members, young people,’ Gama reveals.

According to Neil Datta, TFP has created a kind of international franchise for anti-abortion campaigns that target sexuality and reproduction.

A network of TFP-linked organisations in Europe collect donations as efficiently as a religious corporation – they launch massive postal campaigns, in which they send cheap rosaries or medals, calendars (that usually look nearly identical), or images of Our Lady of Fatima to people in their database. They also ask them to make small donations.

“365 days with Mary” – Polish version of the calendar. Source: https://zamow.kalendarzmaryjny.pl/

The success lies in the size of the database, which includes potential donors. The pioneer fundraising model was inspired by American Republican politicians and activists linked to the American Leadership Institute, where  TFP members were trained and also shared their experience giving lectures. This topic will be the focus of the second part of our report.

Millions generated by the heart of Jesus

The Château de Jaglu, where da Silveira lives today, is not the only property owned by the organisation. The official headquarters of Fédération Pro Europa Christiana (FPEC) is Villa Notre-Dame de la Clairière in Creutzwald. The property, situated in eastern France, includes a 3.5-hectare park. Until summer 2019 the organisation had also rented a representative office in Brussels to carry out lobbying activities at EU institutions in line with its ultra-Catholic agenda.

Maintaining those properties, organising rallies that attract members of organisations from around the world for events in a medieval entourage, training for the youth, and the fight against liberal values conducted in several dozen countries – all of this generates considerable costs.

Apart from collecting donations in individual countries, organisations that are part of the network send money to each other. An important source of income for the TFP movement includes ‘donations from members and associated societies.’ As a result, money that circulates around the world (most likely untaxed), is funneled to the ultra-Catholic entities.

Fédération Pro Europa Christiana’s financial statements show that since 2012 the organisation’s income has tripled. Contributions from individual donors continue to grow: they amounted to 604,000 euros in 2012 against almost 2 million euros in 2019. Last year, FPEC earned a total of over 2.3 million euros, 345,000 euros of which (about 15 percent) came from ‘membership fees and funds from related associations.’

The sources include the Kraków-based Skarga Foundation, where da Silveira is a member of the supervisory board. The documents we have obtained from Polish registers reveal that the Skarga Foundation transferred hundreds of thousands of euros annually to FPEC, an organisation based in Creutzwald. In 2017, the transfers amounted to 220,000 euros, while between January and May 2019, they amounted to 74,000 euros. A part of the transfers was labeled as a membership fee, and part as ‘contractual donations.’ The next seven tranches, each of which amounted to 15,000 euros were to be wired by the Kraków branch to FPEC each month until the end of 2019 (a total of 105,000 euros).

Internal feud puts an end to transfers

Except it didn’t. When a conflict broke out in a Polish organisation in May 2019 – a day before Olejniczak was dismissed from the management board – transfers to foreign organisations controlled by da Silveira were suspended.

Apart from organisations from France and Brazil, money from Kraków was long used to support a dozen or so other organisations around the world, the list of which we are now disclosing. Most of them are controlled by Da Silveira. The documents we have gained access to reveal that between 2009 and 2019, money transfers to the organizations overseed by Da Silveira amounted to over 6.8 million euros. The annual amount of this tribute increased from 358,000 euros in 2009 to around 1 million euros (annually) in 2015, 2016, and 2017. At that time, the transfers, labeled as ‘donations to da Silveira-controlled organisations,’ accounted for up to half of all donations made by the Skarga Foundation to associated entities.

In early 2020, Da Silveira started its own consulting company. Why did he need it? Did this have anything to do with the internal power struggle at TFP? Neither he nor FPEC spokesperson Jean Goyard (who is also the head of French TFP) agreed to grant us an interview (Goyard hung up as soon as we asked about the organisation’s finances).

We asked representatives of the Skarga Foundation about the transfers to foreign organisations, including France’s Federation Pro Europa Christiana and Brazil’s Instituto Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Were those contributions funneled to the international TFP movement? ‘Donations made to those organisations did not differ from those made to other entities supported or co-created by the Foundation in Poland and in other countries,’ replied rather vaguely Piotr Kucharski, spokesperson for the Skarga Foundation.

Were the individual Polish donors aware that the money was transferred to foreign organisations associated with the TFP movement? ‘We informed about the Foundation’s involvement in various international projects via our website and publications,’ Kucharski replied in an email.

He also said that the projects included sponsoring the annual Summer Academy for Catholic youth and ‘other types of training for members of social and religious organisations from Poland and beyond.’

A new opening

In August 2020, TFP members from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Belarus arrived in France for the TFP European Summer School organised at the villa in Creutzwald. This is the most recent meeting as the previous Summer School had been held three years earlier in southern Poland at the Niepołomice Castle.

Caio da Silveira was the focal point during an event held at the mansion. He wore a traditional red cape emblazoned with a golden lion, the emblem of the TFP movement. During a photo op, Ferdinand Aldunate, a member of the new management of the Skarga Foundation, who is suing Olejniczak’s group to get back control over tens of millions of zlotys and the properties of the Kraków organisation, proudly posed in the front row. The old management had transferred the most valuable assets to the Piotr Skarga Association of Christian Culture – a sister organisation, which it still controls. Today, it has become a source of funding to organisations that remain in the sphere of influence of Olejniczak’s group.

During a ‘family’ photo, Da Silveira smiled with a visible reserve, an indication that he might not be able to defend his dominant position at TFP.

His former students from Kraków have surpassed the master from the Château de Jaglu. It was they who built, financed and eventually took over the new network of ultra-Catholic organisations, which now exercise increasing influence over the thinking of Central European societies.

‘Generally speaking the old TFP in France, and Germany and Italy is more of a money-making thing than ideology. It provides stability and comfort to the people that are involved. The new generation coming out from Poland, they are very ambitious and professional,’ comments Neil Datta during an interview.

Recently, the group celebrated the ruling adopted by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal. At the end of October, it drastically narrowed the path to legal abortion. Now the Central European network is bracing itself to defend Christian values in the upcoming constitutional referendum in Estonia.

[This concludes the first part of the report on funds transferred from Poland to Brazil and France. The second part reveals how hundreds of thousands of euros from Polish donors helped build a network of ultra-Catholic organisations in Central Europe.]

* both played an active role in the effort to introduce a nearly complete ban on abortion in Poland

Report by:

Julia Dauksza, Anna Gielewska, Konrad Szczygieł (Reporters’ Foundation, Poland)

Juliana Dal Piva (Brazil)

Audrey Lebel (France)

Read in Polish: onet.pl


The production of this investigation was supported by a grant from the Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU) fund. 


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