Historic fraud and corruption trial opens in Vatican: NPR
Vatican prosecutors accuse a once powerful cardinal, along with nine others, of defrauding the Holy See of millions of dollars. Their trial began this week after a two-year investigation.
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
A historic trial for fraud and corruption opened yesterday at the Vatican. The 10 defendants range from Italian financiers to former Vatican officials, including a cardinal – a first in modern history. According to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli, the trial is a key part of Pope Francis’ campaign for greater transparency in the financial affairs of the Holy See after decades of secrecy and scandals.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The case before the Vatican Court of Civil Magistrates concerns a botched real estate transaction in London that cost the Vatican tens of millions of dollars in losses. Much of the $ 415 million the Vatican paid for the property came from charitable funds known as Peter’s Pence which are intended for the poor and the sick. The charges include embezzlement, abuse of power, money laundering and fraud. And all 10 defendants face jail time, fines, or both if found guilty. Vatican observers say the trial is unprecedented.
ROBERT MICKENS: First of all, what he’s saying is that no one is untouchable, not even a cardinal.
POGGIOLI: Robert Mickens is editor-in-chief of La Croix International. He says Pope Francis is sending a clear signal.
MICKENS: That he’s serious about abuse, financial abuse, financial corruption, any kind of corruption inside the Vatican – that even a cardinal can be tried.
POGGIOLI: This cardinal is Angelo Becciu, formerly the # 3 person in the Vatican. Last year, Pope Francis sacked him from his post and asked him to relinquish all privileges of being a cardinal, including participating in a conclave to elect the next pope. Becciu and his former secretary, also defendant, were the only ones to appear in court on Tuesday. Dressed in a black clergyman’s costume, Becciu told reporters, the Pope wanted me to stand trial. I am obedient. I’m here. The other defendants exercised their right to be defended in absentia.
The first day of the trial was a long one – nearly eight hours – and marked by procedural issues, with the 27 defense attorneys raising numerous objections. Gerald O’Connell, the Vatican correspondent for Jesuit Weekly America, was in the group of reporters inside the courtroom. He said there was a distinct legal communication gap, with defense lawyers repeatedly citing Italian legislation and precedents.
GERALD O’CONNELL: What Vatican prosecutors have highlighted is that Italian law is not the same as Vatican law, and Vatican law must also be interpreted in terms of a code of law. cannon.
POGGIOLI: Canon law is legislation specific to the Catholic Church. O’Connell said the defense had also questioned the validity of recent rulings made by Pope Francis, such as lifting Cardinal Becciu’s immunity so he can stand trial.
O’CONNELL: And the Vatican prosecutor said no. The Pope is the chief legislator. And what he introduced are changes in the law.
POGGIOLI: Pope Francis has also made other rulings to ensure a thorough investigation before the trial begins, for example by allowing prosecutors to allow wiretapping of suspects. But Mickens de La Croix raises a different and delicate question before the magistrates.
MICKENS: How now the officials of the court, the magistrates of this monarchy, which is the Holy See, which is the Vatican – are they likely to say no, the man is not guilty after the Pope has already practically condemned? This is a big question.
POGGIOLI: At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, the trial was adjourned until October 5. And it should last for many months.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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