VATICAN CITY—It has been nearly a year since proceedings in the financial scandal trial commenced within the walls of the Holy See. On Friday, May 6th, the senior-most defendant took the stand in his defense.
The Vatican police in October 2019 conducted the first of a series of raids on the offices connected to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. The raids targeted financial organizations linked to failed investment funds and a large property in London. As media reports began to surface, additional questionable financial expenditures were discovered, including payments made to an alleged intelligence operative and entities in Australia. Pope Francis issued a series of orders making way for the first-of-its-kind trial now underway.
The prosecution representing the Vatican alleges the ten defendants indicted in this trial were embroiled in the oversight and management of these financial scandals involving millions of euros in loss to the Vatican.
At the core of the Vatican’s case is the alleged gross mismanagement of money—much of which is donated in the form of tithes by the faithful and invested in the many humanitarian efforts headed by the Catholic Church. Some of these efforts are funded in part with US taxpayer dollars.
The question before the court is whether evidence is sufficient to prove incompetence or criminal exploitation by opportunists, including members of the clergy, and whether Vatican assets have been used for nefarious purposes.
On May 6, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 73, the highest-ranking defendant in the case, took the stand in his defense, submitting a two-hour statement before being deposed.
On Friday, the Cardinal appeared relaxed and in good spirits as he made his way towards his defense team, led by Fabio Viglione.
Viglione has argued over the course of a year, that the prosecution failed to provide key evidence to the defense, leading to further questions on whether or not those charged would receive fair hearings. During Friday’s deposition, Viglione and his team challenged the methods and questioning by Vatican prosecutor Alessandro Diddi.
The Credibility of Prosecution’s Main Witness
In testimony (pdf), Becciu focused on the credibility of the main witness for the prosecution, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca.
Perlasca has never been in court during the proceedings, nor has he been charged with any crime related to his work overseeing the financial investments at the center of the proceedings.
Perlasca’s witness statements have been the driving force behind much of the allegations against the members of the clergy, including his former boss, Becciu.
During his testimony, Becciu referenced his correspondence with Perlasca shortly after Perlasca’s office had been raided by police. Becciu said the communication prove that Parlasca was directly involved in the alleged actions and was unstable and unreliable.
“On July 3, 2020, I received from Mons. Perlasca’s alarming messages, already produced to the Tribunal, in which he announced his intention to commit suicide, according to him the only possible solution to get out of that situation that left him no prospect of seeing his innocence recognized by a Tribunal,” Becciu said.
Becci then read from one of the messages, in which Perlasca wrote: “I am not joking… at this point, it would be the only way to get out of it and to tell all the people who know me, who believe in me and who are suffering with me that I am innocent… the court will never recognize it…throwing myself from my room I would die right on the chapel… maybe the best thing.”
Becciu referenced another defendant, Cecilia Marogna. She has been charged with embezzlement and has been of particular interest to the Italian press, due to her alleged involvement in intelligence work on behalf of the Vatican and her connection to Becciu.
“I met Ms. Marogna in 2016 when she requested an interview with me. I immediately appreciated her expertise in geopolitics and intelligence. The lady proposed herself for a professional collaboration with the Secretariat of State on these matters of her expertise…I was able to cultivate this knowledge in subsequent meetings, which always had as their object geopolitical issues and international security. It was through these meetings that I learned more about her technical expertise. My trust in her and my appreciation of her expertise grew over time,” Becciu testified.
Continuing to detail his engagement with Marogna, Becciue confirmed that Marogna was, in fact, an agent involved in the negotiations, ransom, and release of a religious sister taken hostage by Islamic jihadists in 2017. The operation was approved by Pope Francis.
“In a subsequent meeting with the Holy Father, once in Rome, I told him in more detail about the conversation I had…about the amount of money we should have budgeted: about one million euros, partly for the operations of creating the network of contacts and partly for the actual release of the nun. I pointed out that we should not go beyond that amount. He approved. I must say that every step of this operation was agreed upon with the Holy Father. I confirm, therefore, that Mrs. Marogna took care of the security operations aimed at the liberation of Sister Gloria.”
Becciu testified that no money authorized was intended as payment for Marogna during the negotiation, seeming to lend support to the allegations of embezzlement against Marogna.
“I want to underline that no sum had been assigned as compensation to Ms. Marogna. However, in relation to the operation in which she was involved, I had pointed out to her that, if the negotiations were successful, I would ask the Holy Father to authorize a compensation for her.”