Home Christian News Historic Vatican Sentence Leaves Questions About the Power of the Pontificate

Historic Vatican Sentence Leaves Questions About the Power of the Pontificate

If this month’s prison sentences hold up, how they will be carried out is also a complex issue. All the convicted defendants are foreign nationals, with the exception of Becciu, who is the only citizen of the Vatican. The 1929 Vatican treaty with the Italian state, known as the Lateran Accords, provides that Vatican prisoners will be held in Italian prison, with the Vatican covering the cost.

If the Vatican ultimately controls the fate of the seven defendants, the final say will come down to Francis or his successor. As ruling monarchs, pontiffs may offer pardons for those sentenced within the state. A decade ago, Pope Benedict XVI pardoned his butler, guilty of stealing sensitive documents and offering them to journalists in the so-called Vatileaks scandals.

So while a trial aimed at cleaning up the Vatican finances and eradicating the corruption of the Roman Curia seems at first blush to be a win for Francis, the coming legal maneuvers will put on trial the temporal power of the pope and the Vatican’s attempt to to gain recognition in the international community for upholding financial transparency standards.

There is a sense too that the trial’s fallout will test the Vatican’s judicial system given that the pope can dispose of cases freely and unchecked of his citizens. Defense lawyers in the trial repeatedly questioned the rule of law in the proceedings, especially given the pope’s frequent interventions. Francis issued four decrees granting prosecutors and gendarmes extraordinary powers during the trial to support investigators.

Luis Badilla, author of the popular Catholic blog The Seismograph, alleged that the trial aimed less at justice than at “serving the narrative of Pope Francis in his fight against corruption.”

In an attempt at damage control, Vatican communication director Andrea Tornielli published an editorial on Saturday stressing that the trial “has shown that the Holy See and Vatican City State have the necessary ‘antibodies’ to identify presumed abuses or misconduct.” He said justice was “administered without shortcuts, following the code of practice with respect for the rights of each person and the presumption of innocence.”

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