Financial clericalism & crimes


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  • Pope approved move against cardinal, who says he is innocent
  • Former head of Vatican Financial Intelligence denies charges
  • Becciu most senior Vatican official charged with financial crime
  • Trial to start July 27 2021

VATICAN CITY, July 3 (Reuters) – A prominent Italian cardinal was among 10 people sent to trial in the Vatican on Saturday charged with financial crimes including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, extortion and abuse of office.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, formerly a senior official in the Vatican administration, as well as two top officials at the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Unit will go on trial on July 27 over a multi-million euro scandal involving the Vatican’s purchase of a building in one of London’s smartest districts.

The trial will inevitably bring a swirl of media interest to the tiny city-state surrounded by Rome, and appears to underscore Pope Francis’ determination to cure the rot in Vatican finances, even if it involves messy public hearings.

Becciu, 73, whom the pope fired from his senior clerical post last year for alleged nepotism, and who has always maintained his innocence during a two-year investigation, becomes the most senior Vatican official to be charged with financial crimes.The pope personally gave the required approval last week for Becciu to be indicted, according to a 487-page indictment request seen by Reuters. The Vatican announced the indictments in a two-page statement.

The charges against Becciu include embezzlement and abuse of office. An Italian woman who worked for him was charged with embezzlement and the cardinal’s former secretary, Father Mauro Carlino, was accused of extortion.

Becciu said in a statement that he was a victim of a “machination” and reaffirmed his “absolute innocence”.

Carlino’s lawyer said his client was innocent, had been “acting under orders”, and had saved the Vatican millions of euros. He said starting a trial so soon did not give defence lawyers enough time to prepare.

Two Italian brokers, Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione, were charged with embezzlement, fraud and money laundering. Torzi, for whom Italian magistrates issued an arrest warrant in April, was also charged with extortion.

There was no immediate response to attempts to reach their lawyers, but both men have consistently denied wrongdoing.

Four companies associated with individual defendants, two in Switzerland, one in the United States and one in Slovenia, were also indicted, according to the document.

POLICE RAID

The investigation into the purchase of the building became public on Oct. 1, 2019, when Vatican police raided the offices of the Secretariat of State, the administrative heart of the Catholic Church, and those of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF).

The then-president of the AIF, Rene Bruelhart, a 48-year-old Swiss, and AIF’s former Italian director, Tommaso Di Ruzza, 46, were charged with abuse of office for allegedly failing to adequately protect the Vatican’s interests and giving Torzi what the indictment request called an “undue advantage”.

Di Ruzza was also accused of embezzlement related to alleged inappropriate use of his official credit card, and of divulging confidential information.

Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who has been caught up in a real estate scandal, speaks to the media a day after he resigned suddenly and gave up his right to take part in an eventual conclave to elect a pope, near the Vatican, in Rome, Italy, September 25, 2020.

Bruelhart said in a text message that he had “always carried out my functions and duties with correctness” and that “the truth about my innocence will emerge”.

Di Ruzza did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.

In 2014, the Secretariat of State invested more than 200 million euros, much of it from contributions from the faithful, in a fund run by Mincione, securing about 45% of a commercial and residential building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London’s South Kensington district.

The indictment request said Mincione had tried to deceive the Vatican, which in 2018 tried to end the relationship.

It turned to Torzi for help in buying up the rest of the building, but later accused him of extortion.

‘ENORMOUS LOSSES’

At the time, Becciu was in the last year of his post as deputy secretary of state for general affairs, a powerful administrative position that handles hundreds of millions of euros.

All told, the Secretariat of State sank more than 350 million euros into the investment, according to Vatican media, and suffered what Cardinal George Pell, the former Vatican treasurer, told Reuters last year were “enormous losses”.

Torzi was arrested in the Vatican in June 2020, and spent a week in custody.

According to the indictment request, Becciu is charged with five counts of embezzlement, two of abuse of office, and one count of inducing a witness to perjury. About 75 pages of the document are dedicated to Becciu.

It says Becciu tried to “heavily deflect” the inquiry into Vatican investments, including the London building, and tried to discredit the investigating magistrates via the Italian media.

Becciu continued to have influence over money transfers at the Secretariat even after he left the post, the document said.

The main charges against Becciu involve the alleged funnelling of money and contracts to companies or charitable organisations controlled by his brothers on their native island of Sardinia.

Another Sardinian, Cecilia Marogna, 40, who worked for Becciu, was charged with embezzlement. Her cellphone was not connected.

The indictment request said she had received about 575,000 euros from the Secretariat of State in 2018-2019.

She has said on Italian television that the money, sent to her company in Slovenia, was to ransom kidnapped missionaries in Africa. But the indictment request said much of it was used for “personal benefit”, including the purchase of luxury goods.”


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Indictments for Vatican financial crimes a sign of progress
Jul 6, 2021
by Thomas Reese, SJ, Vatican

:The Vatican’s criminal tribunal indicted 10 people July 3, 2021, including Becciu, and four companies on charges including extortion, abuse of office and fraud in connection with the secretariat of state’s 350 million-euro investment in a London real estate venture. Becciu helped engineer the initial London investment when he was the chief of staff in the secretariat of state.

The Catholic faithful are rightly outraged by news of financial crimes in the Vatican, especially since the latest alleged crimes involve Peter’s Pence, the collection for the pope’s charities. But last week’s announcement of indictments by Vatican prosecutors is not a scandal but a sign of progress.

Indicted by the Vatican are six former Vatican officials, including the cardinal who was behind a real estate investment in London involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Also indicted are Italian businessmen who worked with the Vatican on the investment, as well as a woman accused of buying luxury goods with Vatican funds intended for ransoming Catholic hostages.

The charges include embezzlement, corruption, extortion, money laundering, fraud, abuse of office and falsifying public documents.

For some years now, experts at Moneyval, the international agency dealing with money laundering, have complimented the Vatican on improvements in its laws and procedures, but they have wondered at the absence of prosecutions for financial crimes. In its most recent report, Moneyval warned the Vatican that it was still susceptible to money laundering and faced financial risks from “insiders.”

Many presumed that the Vatican preferred to cover up these crimes when they involved cardinals and other clerics. Vatican officials feared the scandal would hurt the church’s image and reduce giving. In addition, the accused were colleagues and friends.

In 2017, when two laymen were charged with diverting money from Bambino Gesu Hospital to finance the renovations of a cardinal’s apartment, the cardinal was not indicted. He was not even called to testify at the laymen’s trial. The occupant of the apartment was Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, one of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s closest collaborators and a former secretary of state.

Nor did the Vatican have prosecutors or investigators competent to dig up the truth.

In March, a Vatican presentation to a British court was so poorly prepared that it was laughed out of court. The judge ruled that the Vatican request to seize the bank accounts of Gianluigi Torzi, the broker involved in its disastrous London real estate investment, was “appalling” and riddled with “non-disclosures and misrepresentations.”


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What has changed?

First, Pope Francis, two months ago, changed the rules so that cardinals can now be tried like anyone else in Vatican court with lay judges. Before that, only the pope could judge a cardinal. The pope has also mandated more financial transparency and the disclosure of conflicts of interest. For the first time in modern history, a cardinal and his secretary are being charged with financial crimes by the Vatican.

Nor is this just any cardinal; it is Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who had dreams of someday becoming pope. Prior to becoming a cardinal, he was sostituto (substitute) in the Vatican secretariat of state — technically a position just under the secretary of state, but in reality, the sostituto acts as chief of staff to the pope. It was as sostituto that Becciu orchestrated the Vatican’s disastrous $400 million investment in London real estate in 2014.

Second, the pope beefed up the Vatican legal team dealing with financial crimes. In 2019, he appointed Giuseppe Pignatone, a former Italian prosecutor known for his anti-mafia efforts, to head the Vatican tribunal. He has been working with investigators from other countries to dig up the truth. The indictments announced last week are a result of his investigations.

The other good news in the current round of indictments is that this investigation does not involve the Vatican bank, which has been tarnished by major financial scandals in the past. The Vatican bank was cleaned up thanks to Benedict’s insistence that it be subjected to review by Moneyval. This cost millions of dollars as forensic accountants combed through the bank’s accounts.

In fact, it was the bank that first sounded the alarm over the London real estate deal when the secretariat of state tried to get a loan to cover its losses. For the bank to say “no” to the secretary of state, who is on its board, was an extraordinary act of financial responsibility and shows that the banking reforms are working. It is other parts of the Vatican that need to be cleaned up.

The Vatican’s criminal tribunal on Thursday, Jan, 21, 2021 convicted the former head of the Vatican bank and his lawyer of embezzling some 57 million euros in proceeds from the sales of Holy See-owned real estate and sentenced them to nearly nine years in prison.

What is next?

A preliminary hearing will be held July 27, but don’t expect a quick trial. The Vatican, like Italy, is not known for speedy trials, especially with complex financial issues. Tons of paper will be submitted, and there will be long stretches between actual sessions of the court while judges review the documents.

The cardinal will undoubtedly say he is innocent and was tricked by the people with whom he was dealing. Those outside the Vatican who worked with the cardinal will argue that he knew and approved what they were doing, and if he did not understand the consequences, it’s his fault, not theirs.

Will the prosecution be able to prove its case? That remains to be seen. Although the appointment of Pignatone is encouraging, remember that the “appalling” submission rejected by the British court was prepared after his appointment. That is not encouraging.

In addition, the most surprising indictment is that of René Brülhart, the former president of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, who has an international reputation for integrity and competence. The evidence against him has to be overwhelming or his peers will conclude he was set up by enemies who opposed his efforts to investigate Vatican finances. This could undermine the credibility of the judicial process.

Finally, there are unanswered questions about the role of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state, in the scandal. It was his shop that made the investments and it was he who asked the Vatican bank for the loan. The Vatican says he had not been “effectively informed to be fully aware of the juridical effects that the different categories of actions would cause.” At a minimum, he should testify at the trial, lest it look as if those closest to Francis are immune from prosecution while their subordinates take the fall.

There are three lessons from this fiasco.

First, papal leadership is needed to get Vatican finances under control. Most popes want be pastors and therefore delegate finances to others. This does not work.

Second, the church must put in place financial controls like those in any well-run nonprofit or business. The Vatican does not have to invent something new; policies and procedures already exist that the church can use.

Third, cleaning up Vatican finances costs money, as the reform of the Vatican bank showed. The Vatican is heavily criticized when it spends millions on outside accountants and lawyers, but doing so is cheaper in the long run. The credibility of Vatican financial managers is already diminished because they are not paid as well as their equivalents in the secular world. Some employees see “side deals” as ways to make up for low salaries.

There is more work to do. Numerous financial entities in the Vatican, including the city state, Propaganda Fide (the mission fund) and APSA, the Vatican investment and finance office, need to be examined. Real estate holdings in Rome and around the world need to be regularized, as do scores of contracts and purchases.

The Vatican bank has shown how to ferret out abuse and avoid scandals. Since Vatican finances are currently in the red, some big Catholic donors must go to the pope with a detailed plan and the money to clean up Vatican finances. Once the outside auditors arrive, the pope must make clear that anyone who obstructs their work will be fired.

Vatican financial scandals have repeatedly tarnished the image of the church. It is time for the Vatican to get its act together. Ironically, that will mean more bad news in the future as crimes and incompetencies are uncovered. But these should not be seen as scandals but good news.”

“History is being made with the upcoming Vatican financial crimes trials. It’s painful that the ugly underbelly of Church finances is being exposed, but it has to happen. In truth, money is at the root of much of the evil suffered by the Catholic community in the last 30 or so years. Most especially, the child abuse scandal took on gigantic proportions because protecting Church assets was treated as more important than getting to the truth.

As of today, we have made parishes and seminaries safer places, to be sure, but we have not dealt with financial clericalism – the sick tendency to hide financial realities from the laity.

The clergy and the laity are still not partners in managing finances, and this is no longer acceptable. For the Church to accomplish her mission in the late-modern world, bishops and those in the pews must be collaborators at every level. Certainly, it is harder to run large institutions when the financial knowledge is a shared commodity, but building a collaborative Church is worth whatever difficulties might come from opening the books.

It is shocking that a cardinal has been charged with financial crimes. But it is not shocking for the right reasons. We have learned to expect the crimes. The shock is the prosecution.” -Cy Kellett, Catholic Answers Radio

The Catholic Church never met a $ it didn’t like!!! I rate parishes based on how many asks for money are in the Sunday bulletin.

Judas was stealing from the purse. “‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” -John 12:4-6.


-Venerable Aloysius Schwartz

“Christ Himself was marked by the sign of poverty. He was born under it, lived under it, died under it. The historical Christ chose to be poor and a concomitant fact is, his disciples have no choice but to follow.”
— Venerable Aloysius Schwartz
Quoted in the book Priest and Beggar: The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz by Kevin Wells (Kevin Wells is a Catholic writer, speaker, and former sports reporter with the Tampa Tribune, where he covered major-league baseball. He is the author of the best-selling Catholic book The Priests We Need to Save the Church (Sophia, 2019) and Burst, A Story of God’s Grace When Life Falls Apart (Servant). His most recent best-selling book, Priest and Begger, tells the story of the heroic life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz, a priest from Washington DC who went on to serve the poor in South Korea. Within 15 years, Father Schwartz had changed the course of Korean history, founding and reforming orphanages, hospitals, hospices, clinics, schools, and the Sisters of Mary, a Korean religious order dedicated to the sickest of the sick and the poorest of the poor. All the while, he himself–like the Sisters–lived the same hard poverty as the people he served and loved.
Wells is currently the president of the Monsignor Thomas Wells Society for Vocations. He also serves a Director of Public Relations for World Villages of Children, which supports the works of Fr. Al Schwartz. His work with youths earned him the James Cardinal Hickey National Figure Award from the Archdiocese of Washington. He lives in Millersville, Md., with his wife and three children.)

Bitterly weeping,
Matthew

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