Vatican in the dock: Biggest criminal case in its modern history underway
- Among the defendants is an Italian prelate, Angelo Becciu, a long-time Vatican diplomat whom Pope Francis raised to cardinal’s rank in 2018.
A trial opened on Tuesday, within Vatican City’s imposing walls, of 10 defendants including a once powerful cardinal in a case based on a sprawling probe into the allegedly criminal management of the Holy See’s portfolio of assets, including donations by countless Catholics from the pews.
Among the defendants is an Italian prelate, Angelo Becciu, a long-time Vatican diplomat whom Pope Francis raised to cardinal’s rank in 2018. After a web of scandals started unravelling during a two-year investigation, Francis gave Becciu the boot last year as chief of the Catholic church’s saint-making office. Francis also has removed Becciu’s rights as a cardinal.
Less than three months ago, it would have been impossible for a cardinal to be in the dock in Vatican City state, which has its own justice system and even a jail. But Francis had a Vatican law changed so that Vatican-based cardinals and bishops can be prosecuted and judged by the Holy See’s lay criminal tribunal as long as the pontiff signs off on that. Becciu, 73, is charged with embezzlement and with pressing a monsignor to recant information he supplied to prosecutors about the handling of a disastrous Vatican real estate investment in London. Becciu has denied any wrongdoing.
The presiding judge, Giuseppe Pignatone, is a retired chief prosecutor of Rome who earlier in his career took on the Mafia and economic wrongdoing in Sicily.
To accommodate the largest criminal trial in the Vatican’s modern history, the hearings are being held in a large hall converted into a courtroom in the Vatican Museums. Defendants are alleged to have had various roles in actions that effectively cost the Holy See tens of millions of dollars in donated funds through poor investments, dealings with shady money managers and purported favours to friends and family.