If I were an airport fiction editor, and an author walked into my office with a pitch for a novel about a Vatican maxi-trial over $400 million in blue chip London real estate investment gone bad, with supporting characters taken from Hollywood gangster scripts, a femme fatale, bad blood between prosecutors and defense attorneys, a judge with ties to the infamous unsolved disappearance of a Vatican employee’s teenaged daughter, and an allegedly corrupt cardinal at the center of it, I’d send said author away rather unceremoniously.
What self-respecting dime novelist could possibly pitch such a thing?
“But wait!” I hear the desperate writer say in my fever dream. “You don’t get it! This. Thing. Will. Be. A. Yawn-fest!”
“OK,” I say, “I’m listening.”
At least, I would have been listening, before real life decided to ruin everyone’s chance for an epic transatlantic trash read.
In real life, the “trial of the century” in the Vatican has turned into something far worse than a nothingburger. It has turned into a parody of itself. It’s like the guys running the show picked up Edmund About’s On the Roman Question and read it cover-to-cover, only mistaking it for a how-to manual for good governance.
Tuesday’s hearing – the fifth pre-trial session since the business began, sort of, in July – lasted about ten minutes, and concluded with the judge expressing the “hope” that the trial will be able “at last” to begin after the next pre-trial hearing, which he slated for late January 2022.
Vatican prosecutors spent two years building their case against the ten people accused of various crimes, before bringing formal charges earlier this year. The prosecutors botched the procedure so badly that the presiding judge tossed the charges against four of the ten accused, and ordered the prosecution to start from scratch. Now, the prosecution says they need more time to decide whether to bring the charges anew or drop them.
Despite the bench’s repeated orders for prosecutors to release key evidence to the other side, defense attorneys still haven’t seen the raw recordings of the prosecution’s interviews with their star witness, a fellow by the name of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, who was up to his eyeballs in the Sloane Street real estate venture until he wasn’t, and has somehow escaped prosecution. The court has now ordered transcripts made of the interviews with Msgr. Perlasca, and appointed experts to make them.
The prosecutors, for their part, persisted in their refusal to turn over the recordings. They still say the cut portions concern matters unrelated to the Sloane Ave. trial, but bearing on other active investigations that require secrecy.
One may be forgiven the impression that such reasons are 1) awfully convenient and 2) not a very good excuse for not letting the defense have a go at them.
There’s a lot more to the whole affair, and the prosecutors may have scored some points by showing that the complaints of defense attorneys for Cecilia Marogna – the femme fatale of the piece – regarding missing documents may have been somewhat exaggerated, but if that little spat ends in victory for the prosecutors it could prove pyrrhic.
Pope Francis has kept close tabs on the business, right from the get-go.
He ordered the raids on the offices in the Secretariat of State and the Vatican’s financial intelligence unit (then styled the AIF), which led to the feeding frenzy in the press that in turn led to the temporary suspension of the AIF from the elite information-sharing network of the Egmont Group.
He signed four separate rescripts (roughly executive orders) abridging or waiving the procedural rights of the individuals under investigation, and authorized summary proceedings.
He skated awfully close to the edge of ex post facto legislation on several occasions, including but not limited to when he changed the law in Vatican City to make it possible for prosecutors to charge and try a cardinal – Giovanni Angelo Becciu, for those of you who don’t have your notebooks to hand – and has otherwise played fast and loose with basic protections considered commonplace in civilized societies.
Oh, and Pope Francis may well have personally authorized the very steps and measures that prosecutors now allege were part of something between a gigantic hoodwink and colossal shakedown. That, according to defense theories and several news reports based on leaked portions of the recordings the prosecutors don’t want the defense to see, is why the prosecutors don’t want the defense to see them. This isn’t airport trash. This isn’t even a clown show.
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