VATICAN CITY (RNS) — After a trial lasting two and a half years, which addressed financial mismanagement by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, Vatican judges sentenced Cardinal Angelo Becciu to 5 years and 6 months in prison for the embezzlement of Vatican funds.
The sentencing on Saturday (Dec. 16), which also included a ban from holding any public office, marked the first time a cardinal was condemned by a Vatican penal court. Becciu was present at most of the hearings but did not attend the pronouncement of the final sentence of the tribunal.
While Pope Francis stripped him of his cardinal privileges in 2020, including the opportunity to take part in the conclave that will decide the next pope, Becciu has adamantly maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings.
His lawyers maintained the trial proved Becciu’s innocence. “We respect the sentence, but we will certainly appeal the decision,” lawyer Fabio Viglione told Vatican journalists after the sentencing.
In addition to prison time, the 10 defendants, including clergy members and lay individuals, were sentenced to compensate the Vatican — which prosecutors argued suffered reputational damage due to the scandals — a total of 200 million euros, to be paid to the Institute for Religious Works, commonly known as the Vatican Bank.
The lead prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, said he is “satisfied” that the work they have done, which was highly contested by defendants, was recognized. “We have been called incompetent and ignorant,” he told Vatican journalists on Saturday, “but the result proves us right.”
The Vatican tribunal, led by known anti-mafia judge Giuseppe Pignatone, voiced gratitude for those who took part in the proceedings of this “unusual trial” before retiring to make the long-awaited decision.
Pignatone admitted the decision will be met by “criticism from all sides. It’s normal, it’s part of the game.”
Described by Vatican experts as the ‘trial of a century,’ the financial trial attempted to tackle corruption and mismanagement in the Catholic institution within the context of papal financial reforms.
During its 86 hearings lasting over 600 hours, the trial also highlighted the challenges facing the Vatican’s judicial system, which was at times overwhelmed by the complexity and scope of the proceedings. It also exposed a network of rivalries and favoritism within the competing departments of the Vatican curia.
During the hearings, defendants pointed to the procedural irregularities of the Vatican trial, which uses a canon law system and attributes supreme authority to the pontiff. Pope Francis intervened during the 2019 investigations by issuing two papal decrees, called motu proprio, which gave the Vatican prosecutors and police extraordinary powers.
At the heart of the trial is the 2019 purchase of a London property by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State which resulted in the loss of over 200 million euros, according to Vatican prosecutors. The Secretariat hired Italian entrepreneurs Raffaele Mincione and Giangluigi Torzi to help manage the property, in 2013 and 2019 respectively, but they were accused of defrauding the Catholic institution through unexpected fees and charges.
Mincione was sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in prison for embezzlement, corruption and money laundering, while Torzi received 7 years and 6 months for aggravated fraud, extortion and money laundering. Both were ordered to pay fines and were banned from holding public offices.
Cardinal Becciu was the Substitute for General Affairs, the third highest ranking official at the Vatican, during the purchase of the property and was accused of embezzlement, abuse of office and attempt to influence the prosecutions’ key witness, Mons. Alberto Perlasca, a former officer at the Vatican’s Secretariat.
He was also accused of funneling Catholic funds to his brother’s company in his native region of Sardinia and of paying large sums to Cecilia Marogna for her intelligence services for the ransom of a nun kidnapped in Mali. Prosecutors said the funds were used to purchase designer bags and luxury vacations.
Cecilia Marogna was also found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison and her company was ordered to pay a 40,000 euro fine.
Becciu’s secretary, Mons. Mauro Carlino, and the man in charge of handling the Vatican’s Secretariat purse strings, Fabrizio Tirabassi, were also charged for allegedly colluding with Torzi and Mincione in the London deal. Enrico Crasso, who managed a large portion of the Vatican’s investments for decades, also played a role in the deal by introducing some of the main players. The lawyer who participated in the negotiations for the London property deal, Nicola Squillace, was also charged with fraud and money laundering, among other things.
Crasso and Tirabassi were sentenced to 7 years in prison while Squillace faces 1 year and 10 months for embezzlement, corruption, money laundering and aggravated fraud. Carlino was absolved of all charges.
The former leadership of the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency, René Brülhart and Tommaso di Ruzza, were also accused in the proceedings for not flagging the suspicious transactions. The judges found Di Ruzza and Brülhart guilty and sentenced them to pay a fine of 1,750 euros.
Hanging over the conclusion of the trial is its silence concerning key players who were not charged by the Vatican tribunal. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, and Bishop Edgar Pena Parra, who took Becciu’s place as substitute, were central figures in the dealings concerning the London property.
The Vatican tribunal will release detailed explanations of their decisions within the year and the accused will have a chance to appeal the decision. Until then, all sentences are suspended. The Vatican has yet to specify if the prison sentences would be carried out in Italy or inside the Vatican walls if the defendants were to be found guilty on appeal.