VATICAN CITY ( Associated Press) — The Vatican’s huge financial trial may have produced no convictions so far, and no new leads as prosecutors complete a first round of questioning of 10 suspects accused of embezzling tens of millions of euros from the Holy See. Campus.
But the remarks have offered much insight into how the Vatican operates, with a cast of characters worthy of a Dan Brown thriller or a Shakespearean tragicomedy. Recent hearings showed a church bureaucracy resorting to espionage, giving access to the Apostolic Palace to outsiders with unverified qualifications, and appealing to the oft-repeated motto of sparing the pope responsibility — until someone was in danger.
Here are some of the revelations offered so far in this rare glimpse into the Vatican’s dirty laundry.
WHAT IS THE JUDGMENT ABOUT?
The investigation stems from a €350 million ($370 million) investment by the Secretary of State in a London property, a debacle of such caliber that the Vatican sold the building this year with a cumulative loss of more than €200 million. euros.
Prosecutors have accused Italian middlemen, the Vatican’s veteran financial manager and Vatican officials of embezzling tens of millions of dollars in commissions and fees and extorting 15 million euros ($16 million) to finally hand over control of the London building. .
Pope Francis wanted a trial that would show his determination to pursue the alleged financial wrongdoing. But three years later, the investigation has thrown unwelcome attention on some of Francis’ decisions and how Vatican monsignors managed a 600 million euro ($630 million) portfolio of assets with little outside expertise or oversight.
WHAT ABOUT THE BRANCHES?
The original research has given rise to new research. In one, the once-powerful Cardinal Angelo Becciu is charged with embezzlement for donating 125,000 euros ($130,000) from the Vatican to a charity in Sardinia run by his brother.
With him is accused Cecilia Marogna, a security analyst accused of embezzling 575,000 euros ($600,000) that Becciu had earmarked as payment to free a Colombian nun held hostage by Al Qaeda militiamen. Both deny any wrongdoing, as do the other defendants.
SPIES, SPIES EVERYWHERE
The Marogna story, details of which first became known last week, is a striking episode that, if confirmed, would be a chapter in itself in the colorful Vatican diplomatic history.
She and Becciu say that she gained access to the Apostolic Palace because of an email she wrote to Becciu in 2015 about security concerns. Because of her knowledge of geopolitics and her apparent connections to Italian intelligence, she became an adviser to Bacciu, who was then number two in the secretariat of state.
According to his own statement, Marogna became Becciu’s intermediary for everything from Russian emissaries demanding the return of holy relics to efforts by the Catalan separatist leader to establish a channel of communication with the Vatican.
Becciu stated that he had come to Marogna in 2017 following the kidnapping of a Colombian nun in Mali, and Marogna suggested that a British intelligence firm could help free her. Becciu testified that Francis had agreed to spend up to a million euros on the operation and insisted that it be kept hidden even from the Vatican’s intelligence chief.
The account suggests that Becciu, with permission from the pope, created a parallel Vatican intelligence agency using an Italian freelancer.
It is not the only case of espionage that raises questions about the status of the Vatican as a sovereign state: Becciu declared last week that Francis himself ordered the removal of the first Vatican auditor general because he had hired an external firm to spy on alleged infractions of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. .
In an earlier statement, a Vatican official told prosecutors that Becciu’s successor, Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, had brought members of the Italian secret service to the Holy See to check his office for bugs, once again eluding the Vatican’s own gendarmes.
A CAMEO BY MONSIGNOR PERLASCA
No character in the trial arouses as much intrigue as Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who was the internal economic manager of the Secretariat of State, responsible for the Vatican equivalent of a sovereign wealth fund with assets estimated at around 600 million euros (about 630 million dollars). .
It was Perlasca who recommended some investments or discouraged others, and it was he who signed the contracts at the end of 2018 to give Italian intermediary Gianluigi Torzi operational control over the London property. The extortion charge against Torzi is based on the prosecution’s allegations that he deceived the Vatican to gain that control and did not relinquish it until he received 15 million euros (nearly $16 million).
Perlasca was initially one of the main suspects in the case. But after his first round of questioning in April 2020, Perlasca fired his lawyer, changed his story and began cooperating with prosecutors.
Despite his involvement in all the operations investigated, no charges have been filed against Perlasca. Last week, the court allowed him to join the trial as an injured party, which could allow him to receive compensation.
Hours after the president of the court, Giupseppe Pignatone, admitted him as a civil party, Perlasca appeared in court unannounced, sat in the front row of the public area and stated that “I am not going to move”.
Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi immediately objected, and Pignatone ordered him to leave, which he did.
PROTECT THE POPE AT ALL COSTS
Many of the defendants have testified that at key moments Francis was not only informed of the affairs but authorized them, including the crucial moment when the Vatican had to decide whether to pay Torzi or try to sue him for the London estate. .
Several witnesses and defendants have said that the pope wanted to “turn the page” and negotiate a deal. The prosecution said that Francisco had basically been duped by his subordinates.
But blaming the pope is an unusual development, given that the Vatican culture generally revolves around exempting the pope from responsibility for anything that goes wrong.
Becciu explained that tradition during his statement with the Latin phrase “In odiosis non faceat nomen pontificis,” roughly meaning that the pope should not be dragged into unpleasant business.
Becciu responded to a question about why the pope had only authorized financial decisions orally, and not in writing.
“I am of the old school (…) in which one tries to protect the pope, protect his moral authority without involving him much in worldly affairs. This does not mean not informing him, but not giving him the responsibility for some decisions, ”he said.
Becciu stuck to that argument until Francis released him from pontifical secrecy so he could testify and defend himself. Later, Becciu revealed that Francisco had authorized the operation to free the Colombian nun and ordered the resignation of the auditor general.
The week ended with the testimony of one of Perlasca’s subordinates, Fabrizio Tirabassi, who explained how investment decisions were made and the origin of the contract for the London property. His lawyers said that Tirabassi’s statement showed that there was no crime in that operation.
“The only mystery in this story is why anyone would want to hold a trial on an issue that the heads of the Holy See wanted to settle,” the lawyers said.