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What is at stake in the Vatican’s “maxi-trial”

The spectacularly botched raids that opened the shady real estate saga in 2019 got a lot of egg on the Holy See’s face, and caused a good bit of headache internationally. Now what?

St. Peter's Basilica, Città del Vaticano, Vatican City (Image: Sean Ang |

Al amigo, todo; al enemigo, ni justicia. [“To the friend, everything. To the enemy, not even justice!”] That last is an expression found on the lips of Argentina’s long-time ruler, Juan Peron. It also led a trenchant analysis piece by a fellow – a Vatican-watcher, one presumes – writing in Italy’s Il Foglio not too long ago, under the pen-name Cincinnatus. Nice touch, that.

Cincinnatus had for his subject the Vatican’s “maxi-trial” of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu and his alleged co-conspirators. To great fanfare, the Vatican announced formal charges against the lot over the summer. The proceedings, however, have since become a parody of themselves.

After a rehearsal of the various peculiarities and procedural irregularities that the business surrounding the Vatican’s sideways Sloane Ave. real estate venture has included, Cincinnatus turned to say what is really at stake in the whole business.

C’è ancora il Papa-re, wrote Cincinnatus. “There is still a Pope-king,” that is to say, “and Pope Francis, intervening in the proceedings, behaved like one.”

The spectacularly botched raids that opened the shady real estate saga in 2019 certainly got a lot of egg on the Holy See’s face, and caused a good bit of headache internationally.

There were extra-judicial and informal sanctions, people moved or let go or just left to languish. The chief of the Vatican police fell on his sword.

Two years of raking for records and then combing through them led to indictments, some of which the prosecution handled so terribly that the presiding judge in the Vatican court where the criminal proceedings are lodged eventually tossed them out.

The prosecution’s star witness, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, is not among those charged in connection with the deal-gone-bad, nor are the Secretary of State or the second-in-command in the Secretariat, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra (the Sostituto in Vaticanese, roughly the papal chief-of-staff), even though their fingerprints – and signatures – are all over the venture and the management of it from the Vatican side.

In another piece for Il Foglio titled “Vatican Credibility” and just published this week, Cincinnatus explored the potential fallout, for the Becciu trial and beyond, of a memo the Sostituto prepared regarding the Sloane Ave. business sometime in 2018.

The memo details – over 20 pages, with some 200 pages of supporting documentation, to hear Cincinnatus tell it – how the Secretariat of State viewed the Sloane Ave. investment, considered its options, and made its decisions at the highest levels of governance. The investment per se was a solid one, the memo argues. The decision to buy out one of the erstwhile middlemen – Gianluigi Torzi, for those of you keeping score at home – was the best available under the circumstances.

It’s the option the Holy See went for, and the rest is history.

“Instead of defending its decisions,” wrote Cincinnatus in the latest piece, “the Secretariat of State decided to constitute itself a Civil Part in the case,” roughly an aggrieved party. Whether the memo comes up in trial, and what weight it will have if it does, are things that remain to be seen. The whole thing is a disaster, start to finish, but one does wonder how and why it is all unfolding the way it is.

Perhaps the key to understanding this whole sordid mess is to be found in one of the great period pieces of 20th century Italian cinema: Luigi Magni’s In nome del Papa re, starring Nino Manfredi as Mons. Colombo da Priverno, a prelate-judge in the papal state, only a few years before the breach of the Porta Pia and the collapse of the temporal power of the papacy in 1870.

Colombo agreed – sort of – to help a young revolutionary, Cesare Costa, suspected in connection with the bombing of a barracks housing elite papal soldiers. Colombo was hiding Cesare in his cellar, when the following exchange took place:

Cesare: Who are you, in the face of history – you priests, the Pope-king – what do you stand for?

Colombo: Let’s say … Power?

Cesare: Sure, but a power that doesn’t exist anymore. You’ll conduct this trial for the attack on the barracks, but in the name of what [rule of] law? In the name of … what, exactly?

Colombo: In the name of the Pope-king.

Cesare: Exactly. So, you know what will happen in the courtroom?

Colombo: Nope, I dunno. You tell me.

Cesare: The accused will become the accusers, and the cards will be overturned on the table of history.

Colombo: Well, well. That’s interesting. Only, you haven’t accounted for one thing: We print the deck [of cards], we hold all the aces, and when we don’t have [the cards], we cheat. You’ve lost.

That last line is the key. It’s nice to hold all the cards, but printing them is better, and it’s better still – from a certain point-of-view – to be willing to cheat when you don’t. Having the wherewithal to do all three – and sleep soundly – can keep an outfit going for some time.

Now, the Bersaglieri are not about to breach the Porta Pia, but the gang that couldn’t shoot straight that has the reins of the government in the Vatican has already caused a good bit of trouble, which will have more dire consequences. Reporters will try to make head or tail of what shakes out, but whatever does shake out, much of the damage is already done.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 196 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. In these pages, about one year ago, in response to “the McCarrick Report” from “The Vatican,” Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons (who in 1996 had personally reported to the Congregation for Bishops, that McCarrick was showing evidence of sex-predator grooming targeting his patient, a seminarian), told readers that the “report” was stocked with “falsehoods and fabrications.”

    The report was issued out of the Congregation for the Secretariat of State, without a single signature.

    So much for “justice” in the house of the Pontiff Francis.

    Of note is that the same Pontiff and same Secretariat of State are all involved in this farcical pretense of “investigating” and “prosecuting” this case of gross financial fraud.

    The gift of the Pontiff of the Land of Peron: “For my enemies, no justice.”

    I recall the grooming done to the faithful by “then-Cardinal” McCarrick, who often found his way onto Sunday morning news roundups, and repeatedly would remark, during the tenure of Pope Benedict, that the time was coming for a pontiff from South America. Nice grooming your ex-eminence. He was later to assure Catholics, gathered at Villanova, that he was a friend of then-Cardinal Bergoglio, who was miraculously elected Pontiff, though McCarrick insisted “no one was thinking about Bergoglio,” despite the fact that Bergoglio was the runner up in the conclave in 2005, where McCarrick and Danneels etc etc had all tried and failed to get him elected.

    We have all been given the gifts of McCarrick: (1) from 1967 when as a college president he joined others like him in breaking Catholic colleges away from the Church, via their Land of Lakes Statement; (2) sex-abusing Bishops; (3) the McCarrick Doctrine of the Eucharist, crafted in 2004 for the USCCB, by him and now-Cardinal Gregory, where they deceitfully undermine the duty of Bishops under Canon 915; (4) the secret China Accord, mid-wifed for years by Bishop McCarrick, who somehow in his role as Bishop in Metuvhen and then Newark and then Washington, served “the Secretariat of State” in repeated “diplomatic visits” to China, culminating in his stunning announcement at the Catholic Info Center, to a Washington DC audience, in his last year as Archbishop of Washington, that it was “time for the Church to work with China,” and (5) the gift of the Pontiff from Peron-Country.

  2. There’s a special place in Hell for clerics who lead the faithful away from Christ and into the hands of The Prince of Darkness.

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  1. MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

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