An aide to Pope Francis said he would start paying the electricity bills of a squatted state-owned building in Rome after coming under fire from Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, for restoring the connection for hundreds of homeless people who live there.
Cardinal Konrad Krajewski is Vatican almoner, a job that Francis has transformed into a hands-on charitable mission. On Saturday evening he climbed down a manhole and broke a seal to switch the electricity back on in the building, where 450 people, including 100 children, had been living without electricity and hot water since 6 May.
“Now that it’s been reconnected, I will pay, there is no problem,” Krajewski told Corriere della Sera. “In fact, I will pay his bills too,” he went on to joke about Salvini.
The deputy PM had suggested that the cardinal should pay not just the electricity costs since Saturday but the entire overdue bill for the building, estimated at €300,000 (£260,000).
“You see, I don’t want it to become a political thing,” Krajewski added. “I am the almoner and I worry about the poor, those families, children … they finally have light and hot water.”
Salvini, who is also interior minister, defended his comments on Monday, arguing that it was his job to ensure rules were respected.
“Supporting illegal conduct is never a good sign,” he said. “There are lots of Italian people and legally resident immigrants who, even if they are in difficulty, pay their bills. If people in the Vatican also want to pay the bills of Italians in hardship then we’ll give them a bank account for it.”
Krajewski, from Poland, has worked tirelessly and, for the most part, discreetly, for the poor for years and because of this was named almoner by Francis in 2013. He regularly goes out in the evening to give food, blankets, sleeping bags and medicine to homeless people.
When Francis appointed him cardinal last year, Krajewski chose to celebrate with a dinner for 280 people living in poverty. He also supported those made homeless by the 2016 earthquake in Amatrice and recently returned from the Greek island of Lesbos, where he delivered financial aid to projects that help refugees.
The Vatican’s almoner often intervenes if informed by parishes that members of their congregation are struggling to pay for food or their rent.
Despite being aware of the potential legal consequences, he is unrepentant about his actions. “I take full responsibility, and I don’t have to give explanations,” he told Corriere. “Do you remember what happened last time there was a blackout in Rome? There was no light for a few hours and it caused a drama. Now, imagine what it’s like to be without light for days.”
He has declined to give further interviews. The Vatican has been contacted for comment.
Krajewski was told about the lack of electricity in the building by Adriana Domenici, a lay sister who works with the homeless. She said that if Krajewski was charged then “we will put ourselves forward to be charged too”.
“The minister [Salvini] should come and hear the stories of these people,” she added.
Separately, the neofascist group Forza Nuova protested outside the Vatican on Sunday calling on Pope Francis to “stop immigration”. They held a banner comparing the pontiff to the wartime general Pietro Badoglio, who covertly negotiated an armistice with the Allies in what was viewed as an act of betrayal by Italian fascists. Badoglio became prime minister after the fall of fascism.