The Vatican’s sprawling financial trial may not yet have yielded any convictions or new smoking guns as prosecutors conduct an initial round of questioning of the 10 suspects accused of tens of millions of euros in mining for the Holy See.
But testimony so far has provided many glimpses of how the Vatican works, with a cast of characters worthy of a Dan Brown thriller or a Shakespearean tragedy. Recent hearings revealed a church bureaucracy using espionage, allowing outsiders with unproven qualifications access to the Apostolic Palace, and relying on a pervasive mantra of sparing the pope responsibility – until someone’s neck was on the line.
Here are some revelations made so far in this unusual exposure of the Vatican’s dirty laundry:
WHAT IS THE PROCESS ABOUT?
The investigation was buoyed by the Secretariat of State’s 350 million euros ($370 million) investment in a London estate, which was such a debacle that the Vatican demolished the building this year with a cumulative loss of more than 200 million euros ($210 million) sold. .
Prosecutors have accused Italian brokers, the Vatican’s longtime money manager and Vatican officials of cheating the Holy See out of tens of millions in fees and commissions and extorting 15 million euros (nearly $16 million) to finally take control of the London building gain.
Pope Francis wanted a trial to show his willingness to take action against alleged financial impropriety. Three years later, however, the investigation has thrown an unwelcome spotlight on some of Francis’ own decisions and how Vatican monsignors managed a €600 million ($630 million) portfolio of assets with little outside oversight or expertise.
WHAT ABOUT THE TANGENTS?
The original investigation has produced tangents, including one accusing a once-powerful cardinal, Angelo Becciu, of embezzlement for donating €125,000 ($130,000) in Vatican funds to a Sardinian charity run by his brother is conducted.
Associated with him is another co-defendant, Cecilia Marogna, a security analyst who is accused of embezzling 575,000 euros (over $600,000) that Becciu received in payment for the release of a Colombian nun being held hostage by al-Qaeda fighters had intended. Both deny wrongdoing, as do the other defendants.
SPIES, SPIES EVERYWHERE
Marogna’s story, detailed for the first time last week, is a remarkable story that, if confirmed, would write a chapter in the history of Vatican diplomacy in its own right.
She and Becciu say she was given access to the Apostolic Palace because of an email she wrote to Becciu in 2015 about security concerns. Because of her geopolitical understanding and apparent ties to Italian intelligence, she became an adviser to Becciu, then No. 2 in the Secretariat of State.
According to her, Marogna became a channel to Becciu for everything from Russian emissaries seeking the return of sacred relics to efforts by Catalonia’s separatist leader to set up a channel of communication with the Vatican.
Becciu testified he reached out to Marogna in 2017 after a Colombian nun was kidnapped in Mali, and Marogna suggested a British intelligence service could help free her. Becciu testified that Francis had approved spending up to €1 million on the operation and insisted it would be kept secret even from the Vatican’s own intelligence chief.
History suggests that Becciu launched a parallel Vatican intelligence operation with an Italian freelancer, with the Pope’s approval.
It’s not the only espionage case raising questions about the Vatican’s status as a sovereign state: Becciu testified last week that Francis himself ordered the removal of the Vatican’s first auditor general for hiring an outside firm to spy on the Vatican hierarchy, whom he suspects of wrongdoing.
In earlier testimonies, a Vatican official told prosecutors that Beccius’s successor, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, had brought members of Italy’s intelligence service to the Holy See to search his office for bugs, again bypassing the Vatican’s own gendarmes.
MONSIGNOR PERLASCA HAS A CAMEO
No figure in the trial is as intriguing as Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who was the chief internal money manager at the Secretariat of State and was responsible for the Vatican’s equivalent of a sovereign wealth fund with an estimated fortune of 600 million euros (about $630 million).
It was Perlasca who recommended or advised against certain investments, and it was he who signed the deals in late 2018 that handed operational control of the London property to Italian broker Gianluigi Torzi. The basis for the racketeering charges against Torzi is prosecutors’ allegation that he was quick to attack the Vatican to gain that control and only relinquished it after receiving 15 million euros (nearly $16 million).
Perlasca was initially a prime suspect in the case. But after his first round of questioning in April 2020, Perlasca fired his attorney, changed his story and began working with prosecutors.
Despite his involvement in all the deals under investigation, Perlasca escaped charges. Last week the tribunal admitted him to the trial as an injured party, potentially seeking civil damages.
Hours after the tribunal’s president, Giupseppe Pignatone, admitted him as a civil party, Perlasca appeared unannounced before the tribunal, sat down in the front row of the visitors’ gallery and declared: “I’m not moving.”
Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi immediately objected and Pignatone ordered him to leave, which he did.
SPARE THE POPE AT ALL EXPENSES
Many of the defendants have testified that at key crossroads, Francis was not only briefed on the issues, but sanctioned them, including the pivotal moment when the Vatican had to decide whether to attempt to sue Torzi to get the London property , or pay him off.
Several witnesses and defendants said Francis wanted to “turn the page” and negotiate a deal. Prosecutors say Francis was essentially duped by his own subordinates.
But blaming the pope marks an unusual development, as Vatican culture in general seeks to spare the pope responsibility for anything that goes wrong.
Becciu explained this tradition during his testimony, invoking the Latin expression “In odiosis non faceat nomen pontificis,” which roughly means that the pope should not be involved in unpleasant matters.
Becciu responded to a question about why the pope only approved financial decisions orally and not in writing.
“I’m from the old school…where you try to protect the pope, protect his moral authority, without involving him too much in earthly affairs. This does not mean not informing him, but not giving him responsibility for certain decisions,” he said.
Becciu complied until Francis freed him from papal secrecy so that he could testify in his own defense. Becciu then revealed that Francis himself had authorized the Colombian nuns’ liberation operation and ordered the resignation of the auditor general.
The week ended with the testimony of one of Perlasca’s deputies, Fabrizio Tirabassi, who explained how investment decisions were made and the origins of the real estate business in London. His lawyers said Tirabassi’s testimony proved there was no crime in the deal.
“The only mystery of this story is why anyone would want a trial over a matter that the Holy See hierarchs wanted to close with a deal,” the attorneys said.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/vatican-ap-london-italian-dan-brown-b2084537.html Vatican airs dirty laundry in London property trial