VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Over a year into the proceedings, the Vatican mega-trial of 10 individuals accused of defrauding the Catholic institution’s finances through a controversial real estate deal began again this week after a summer recess with an interrogation of the prosecution’s witnesses.
The trial, which resumed Wednesday (Sept. 28) after being on break since July, revolves around a 2018 London real estate purchase by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State that ultimately cost the institution well over $200 million, mainly taken from papal funds destined for charity.
After more than a year of hearing from defendants, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, judges will now be presented with testimony from the Vatican prosecutor’s submitted list of 27 witnesses.
On Friday, Revisor General Alessandro Cassinis Righini described to judges a culture of mismanagement within the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. Righini was appointed to oversee Vatican budgets and transactions by Pope Francis in March 2021 but had already been fulfilling that role since 2017, when his predecessor, Libero Milone, was accused by Becciu and Vatican gendarmes of spying on Vatican employees.
Righini painted a bleak picture of the Secretariat of State to the Vatican judges, also detailing his experience as an assistant to Milone in 2015. He described a “lack of competence” within the large department, which, he said, failed to implement due diligence and transparency.
In 2018, Pope Francis asked Righini to review the finances of the Secretariat as Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra took over the role of substitute, the Vatican equivalent of chief of staff, from Becciu. Righini told judges that the Secretariat adopted a position of “clear resistance” to any form of financial oversight.
“We are used to controlling, not to being controlled,” Becciu, who managed the Secretariat from 2011 to 2018, told Vatican financial revisors according to Righini.
When the revisor began investigating the department’s portfolio, he said he found 928 million euro deposited in a Credit Suisse account and invested “in highly speculative products.” Righini said that to his knowledge Pope Francis was not aware of the money.
In 2018, the Vatican revisors also found “strange” transactions tied to the London property, which would eventually lead the Institute for Religious Works, also known as the Vatican Bank, to flag the deal to Vatican police.
According to Righini, the funds used in the London real estate deal were “difficult to evaluate,” overrun with fees and commissions, and hard to trace back to the original owners.
“It was obvious that it wasn’t the appropriate way to manage the money derived from Peter’s Pence,” Righini said, referring to the fund comprising of donations made by faithful to the Vatican, which he confirmed was used for the London real estate investment.
Becciu’s legal defense underscored that there were no clear moral and ethical guidelines for investments before Pope Francis’ reforms last July. Becciu, who had been stripped of his cardinal rights following the financial scandal, was partly redeemed over the summer when Pope Francis allowed him to participate at a cardinal summit in Rome in August.