I’m pretty sure the video I received from a friend in Rome was not – as it purported to be – actual footage from the Vatican City courtroom taken while the trial of Cardinal Angelo Becciu and
ten six alleged co-conspirators was in session earlier this week. In fact, I’m almost certain the video was a clip from a clown show.
The whole business is on hold for now, anyway, because the prosecution won’t show the defense what they’ve got. The prosecution claims the lacunae in discovery – the official exchange of evidence by the sides in a legal dispute – are owing in part to the sensitive nature of some of the materials, which are being used as part of ongoing investigations not connected to the case currently at trial.
It may be so, but there are lots of ways around that. In any case, it is a universally recognized maxim of civilized jurisprudence that the right to defense includes the right to examine the evidence the prosecution has used to make its case.
The judges have already tossed several of the indictments, citing prosecutorial error.
At the end of Wednesday’s roughly three-hour session, the presiding judge adjourned the trial until December 1st. “We will not begin the examination of the questions of this process,” said Judge Giuseppe Pignatone, “until the defense has complete knowledge of the acts.” That may mean an effective start date is set for the Greek calends.
The big news in the trial this week regarded the Vatican’s star witness, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, who shepherded the $400 million Sloane St., London, development venture from the Vatican side, and was a suspect in the investigation before he turned witness for the prosecution.
It turns out Msgr. Perlasca may well have been influenced by a narrative proffered by one of his erstwhile superiors in the Vatican power structure: Pope Francis.
Msgr. Perlasca apparently told prosecutors at one point that Pope Francis himself had authorized the machinations they are now saying were part of a criminal shakedown of the Vatican. During the course of an interrogation, however, prosecutors told Perlasca they’d heard a different story from the pope. The prosecutors may or may not have spoken to Pope Francis as part of their investigation, but evidence suggests they did – and that is a problem for the Vatican’s lawyers and for the pope.
Defense lawyers want the court to order prosecutors to turn over transcripts of the pope’s remarks – they want the prosecution to turn over all the evidence they have, and it seems a reasonable request – but Vatican prosecutors insist they “never heard from the Holy Father [on the record]” and say that the remarks to which Perlasca reacted with “supreme bewilderment” were “what the Holy Father … testified regarding this affair in non-suspect times.”
The prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, said he was referring to the remarks Pope Francis made to journalists aboard the plane taking him from Tokyo to Rome in 2019.
In the portion of a recording defense attorney Luigi Panella attempted to play in court, however, the prosecutor tells Msgr. Perlasca: “Before doing what we are currently doing, we went to the Holy Father and asked him what happened.”
In the remarks to journos during the in-flight presser, Pope Francis admitted to close involvement, from the very start, in the investigations that led to the trial currently underway. He admitted authorizing the botched raids that led to the media frenzy around the blue chip London real estate deal, which in turn led to the Holy See’s temporary suspension from the Egmont Group of financial intelligence units’ critical information-sharing network.
Subsequent reporting has strongly suggested that Pope Francis was better informed about the shady London deal than either he or his flacks in the Vatican have let on, and may well have approved at least some of the steps in the deal that prosecutors now allege was a massive hoodwink and swindle.
The Associated Press obtained a memo from the sostituto of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See – roughly, the papal chief-of-staff – Archbishop Edgar Peña, in which Peña says Pope Francis’s express desire was to lose as little money as possible, and that the best way to do that was to deal with the erstwhile middle-man, Gianluigi Torzi, rather than sue him.
Basically, the Vatican decided to buy Torzi out of the deal, after Torzi outmaneuvered the Vatican types. That option “simply aligned with the desire of the Superior,” i.e. Pope Francis, according to the memo quoted by the AP.
How did they manage to lose money on blue chip London real estate at all?
That question – in the form of an affirmation on the lips of a real-estate expert in the Financial Times – is the one John Allen picked for the winner of last week’s “sound bite sweepstakes” in Vatican news. It was a solid pick, because it speaks to the inveterate dysfunction of the whole outfit.
Still, it is only part of the reason why people should care about this story.
CNA’s Andrea Gagliarducci, in his analysis of the trial-to-date this week, noted that the trial is being conducted under the laws and jurisdiction of Vatican City – a microstate, the primary raison d’être of which is to protect and facilitate the interests of the sovereign actor known as the Holy See – but the implications of the whole business are far reaching and potentially disastrous for the Holy See itself.
It’s admittedly a wonky point, but like many wonky distinctions, it is crucial.
“The Vatican” is at best an abstraction, usually no more or less meaningful than any other journalistic shorthand. Vatican City exists in order to guarantee the temporal independence of the papacy. It is the territorial subject of the Holy See. Its purpose is to support the Holy See, which is the real sovereign expression and vehicle of the pope in the world.
“The balance of power has been reversed,” wrote Gagliarducci. “Today, state interests seem to have somehow gone on to ‘eat’ the Holy See,” he observed. “This is a sign of the ‘Vaticanization’ of the Holy See[.]” One gigantic story, in other words, is that we’re dealing with an institutional case of the tail wagging the dog.
That has made this London business messier than it needed to be, but it is a more general problem. It is the result of Pope Francis’s governance, and it has serious repercussions, only some of which have begun to make themselves felt.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!