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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