The Pope and the Sprawling Vatican Embezzlement Trial – The American Spectator

A major Vatican criminal proceeding is likely coming to a close, with defendants accused of corruption, extortion, blackmail, and treating the Vatican Bank like an ATM. At present, ten men are on trial before a Vatican criminal tribunal — including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the first cardinal to face such a trial — and are accused of attempting to defraud the Vatican Bank of hundreds of millions of dollars in the midst of a shady luxury property investment.

Vatican Bank lawyer Roberto Lipari told tribunal judges on Wednesday that the defendants treated the Vatican Bank “like a cash machine, which always had to respond positively to their requests.” He continued to list the defendants’ financial abuses:

In this trial, we’ve seen attempts at personal enrichment, oil extraction projects in Angola, the use of financial instruments in which the administrator of ecclesiastical assets lost all possibility of control, and the use of Church money without any control or accuracy.… We’ve seen the use of money without due diligence, extortion and blackmail, insiders who sympathized with the blackmailers, huge economic resources managed without taking into account the constraints imposed by the donors.

The trial began in the latter half of 2021, when Vatican Bank officials reported suspicions of fraud and financial corruption. Becciu and nine others — including former Vatican Financial Information Authority president René Brühlart, his deputy Tommaso Di Ruzza, and businessman and property broker Gianluigi Torzi — were charged in July 2021 with a host of crimes including financial corruption, embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, extortion, and blackmail. At the heart of the trial is an exorbitantly expensive London luxury property deal.

At the time, Becciu was the Substitute for General Affairs of the Vatican Secretariat of State — a wordy title essentially meaning he was chief of staff for Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and managed most of the office’s day-to-day affairs. In 2015, Becciu was accused of attempting to cover up a London real estate investment then estimated to be worth $200 million. Around the same time, financial auditor Libero Milone was hired by Pope Francis to serve as the Vatican’s first auditor-general.

For two years, Milone investigated Vatican finances, working closely with the late faithful Cardinal George Pell and meeting personally with Pope Francis every few weeks to discuss his progress. According to Milone, he reported concerns over secret and hidden bank accounts, including some linked to — you guessed it! — a quietly-conducted London real estate investment worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The next time he tried to meet with the Pope, in late 2016, Milone was told that he would have to schedule a formal appointment via the Secretariat of State, which Becciu practically ran. All of his requests for an appointment went unanswered.

In June 2017, Vatican police raided Milone’s office and questioned him for 12 hours. The day after the raid, he resigned from his position, following a visit from Becciu. According to both the head of the Vatican police and Becciu, they would have filed criminal charges against Milone had he not resigned. Becciu alleged that the auditor-general had been spying on the private lives of curial cardinals and top Vatican brass without permission. Milone later filed a lawsuit against the Vatican for “breach of contract, damage to reputation and moral damage to us and our families.” He maintains his innocence and argues that he was forced to resign when he uncovered financial corruption amongst the Vatican’s most senior officials, including Becciu. A Vatican tribunal will hear Milone’s case later this month. (READ MORE: Cleveland Catholic Diocese Protects Children From LGBT Indoctrination)

Meanwhile, the ex-auditor-general’s claims of financial corruption amongst the Vatican’s top brass are seemingly being proven true in the sprawling Becciu and co. trial. In December 2021, just as the trial was starting to kick off, Italian journalists leaked recorded testimony from one of Becciu’s former assistants, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca. In the recordings, Perlasca said he had been “distanced” from the London property deal by Pope Francis’s close friend Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, who replaced Becciu as the Substitute of General Affairs at the Secretariat of State in 2018. Interestingly, Perlasca claimed that Peña Parra was trying to keep the real estate investment a secret, and blocked Perlasca from working on it for fear the priest would report the financial corruption.

The labyrinthine trial’s star defendant, Becciu himself, has also implicated Francis.

Most sensational of all, Perlasca claimed that Pope Francis himself was aware of the London scheme and providing cover for those involved. In one video, Perlasca told investigators that certain orders came “from above.” When asked to clarify if he meant the orders came “from the Holy Father,” Perlasca responded, “Sure, sure.” Unfortunately, Perlasca’s testimony was considered contaminated since it was released to the public before being presented to the court.

But the monsignor isn’t the only person who’s pointed his finger at Pope Francis. Defendants René Brülhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza both claimed the charges against them stem from orders given to them by the Pontiff. As president and director (respectively) of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, Brülhart and Di Ruzza have been charged with abuse of office for not stopping the London investment plan after learning of it. But both men claim that Pope Francis asked them to support the Secretariat of State’s office in concluding the business deal. Brülhart even made clear in his testimony that the Pope wanted the deal to go through “under any circumstances.”

The labyrinthine trial’s star defendant, Becciu himself, has also implicated Francis, even providing circumstantial documentary evidence to corroborate his claims. In addition to charges stemming from the London property scheme, Becciu has been accused of overstepping his authority to fund projects his office has no involvement with. One such case was the payment of nearly $1 million to rescue Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, a Colombian nun who had been kidnapped by Islamist terrorists. A British security firm was paid around $350,000 to negotiate the nun’s release, and $500,000 was paid in ransom. Becciu claimed that the Pope had personally authorized the use of donation funds for this purpose, when those funds had already been earmarked for another purpose.

A secretly-recorded phone conversation between Becciu and the Pope seems to support the cardinal’s claim. In the 2021 call, Becciu asked Pope Francis to confirm that he had been the one to authorize the funds for the rescue. Francis responded that although he recalled that detail only “vaguely,” he was certainly aware of the situation. Becciu then asked the Pontiff if he could provide a written statement in the cardinal’s defense, clarifying that the decision to use those funds in that way had been made by Francis. In the recording, the Pope asked Becciu to write a statement and promised to look it over. In a later letter, Pope Francis told Becciu, “I regret to inform you that I cannot comply with your request.”(READ MORE: The Synodal Spirit: Dissent Against Doctrine)

Although the Pontiff himself cannot be called as a witness, the chief judge on the Vatican tribunal ruled that Peña Parra would have to testify. The archbishop addressed the court earlier this year, not addressing when the Pope learned of the property deal, but clarifying that the Pontiff ordered Peña Parra to fix Becciu’s mistake and close the deal as quickly and frugally as possible. He shifted the lion’s share of guilt onto Perlasca, who is not a defendant in the trial. At issue was the ownership of the building, into which the Vatican sank about $400 million by the end. According to Peña Parra, Perlasca did not have the authority to conduct negotiations with property broker Gianluigi Torzi, who sold the Secretariat of State 30,000 majority shares in the property, but kept the 1,000 shares with voting power for himself. He allegedly demanded $15 million to his own bank account in exchange for the controlling shares, resulting in an extortion charge against Torzi.

Although the twisting and turning trial has many questions still to answer, a crucial question it has raised is the question of how much Pope Francis knows about how donations to the Catholic Church are spent, and what his involvement is in those decisions is. Did Pope Francis know, for example, that money donated by faithful Catholics to support the mission of the Church had been siphoned off into secret bank accounts and, from there, funneled into multi-million dollar investment schemes? (By the way, the…

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