A cardinal stands trial
VATICAN SCANDALS are nothing if not colorful. The latest concerns allegations of extortion, a kidnapped nun and a security expert suspected of wasting prodigious sums of the Holy See’s money on luxury goods and services.
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On July 3, a Vatican judge sent ten people, including a cardinal, Angelo Becciu, to stand trial on charges of embezzlement, abuse of power, extortion and fraud. All deny wrongdoing. The news was overshadowed by news the next day that Pope Francis was undergoing an operation to remove part of his colon. But it is the trial, which is due to open on July 27, which risks leaving a more lasting mark on his pontificate.
Cardinal Becciu had been the second most powerful official in the Holy See’s bureaucracy, as Deputy Secretary of State, a friend of Francis and once considered his possible successor. Among his accused colleagues is the former president and director of the Vatican financial regulator. The indictments suggest that Francis will spare no one in his determination to clean up the dark Vatican finances. But they also raise questions about its methods.
Prosecutors rolled up three shutters in one trial. The first, which resulted in the cardinal’s dismissal last year, concerns his payment of € 100,000 ($ 118,000) to a diocesan cooperative run by his brother. The second concerns his relationship with Cecilia Marogna, whom he hired as a consultant and to whose firm his office is said to have channeled € 575,000. The money was intended for operations that included the release of a nun kidnapped in Colombia. The prosecution claims that much of the money was spent at places like Prada and Louis Vuitton and at spas.
At the heart of this tangled web is a real estate transaction. Cardinal Becciu is said to have inspired the Secretary of State’s investment of 350 million euros in a commercial building in London. Structured in a very complex way, the money was invested through a fund managed by an Italian financier based in London who is among those charged. The secretariat, using money largely donated by the faithful, initially took a minority stake. But, dissatisfied with the arrangement, he decided in 2018 to buy the entire property and turned to another Italian middleman, Gianluigi Torzi, who pocketed 15 million euros in fees that prosecutors of the Vatican claim to have been extorted. The Vatican financial regulator, who got involved in negotiations with Torzi, is accused of overstepping his powers and failing to report the transaction to prosecutors.
Whether it is wise to test regulators is a concern. Another is whether the defendants can get a fair trial: their lawyers only had 24 days to respond to a 487-page indictment. A third is whether the Vatican rejects the blame. According to Mr. Torzi, the Pope was aware of his involvement; and that his right-hand man, the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, approved it. Difficult, your Holiness. ■
* This film was first released in 2018 *
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Vatican Shaken”