VATICAN CITY — A once-powerful cardinal was found guilty on Saturday by a three-judge Vatican panel of embezzlement, abuse of office and trying to induce a witness to give false testimony in a high-profile corruption case that rocked the Holy See’s hierarchy.
Following a trial that began in July 2021, Cardinal Angelo Becciu was convicted — along with nine others — in a courtroom located inside the Vatican Museums. He was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for his crimes.
Becciu, 75, an adviser to Pope Francis and the Vatican’s former deputy secretary of state, had become the first-ever prelate to be prosecuted in the Vatican’s criminal court system and the highest-ranking clergyman in the Catholic church to face justice by the Holy See.
While the trial exposed to the public the Vatican’s notoriously murky finances, Becciu’s legal team vowed to appeal the verdict. During the lengthy trial, Becciu denied any wrongdoing. His co-defendants — including financiers, lawyers and ex-Vatican employees — had also been charged with financial crimes, including fraud, money laundering and extortion. They, too, denied any wrongdoing.
Just weeks before the case went to trial in July 2021, the pope gave the Vatican’s civilian courts authority to put clergy on trial. Previously, they were judged by a court presided over only by cardinals. The decision was part of an effort by Francis to reform the Vatican’s court system.
Much of the trial itself revolved around the purchase of a London building by the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s administrative and diplomatic corps, though the help of donations. At the time of the deal in 2014, Becciu held the No. 2 position within the department when it began investing in a fund managed by Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, securing about 45% of the building.
The plan was to turn the building — a $200 million investment — into apartments. But the Vatican became dissatisfied with the investment property under Becciu’s watch. “Mincione had overvalued the deal and that the Secretariat of State had not informed of a $96 million mortgage on the property,” said prosecutors . As a result, Becciu’s successor, Edgar Pena Parra, decided to buy the building outright — but had to pay a hefty fee to Mincione.
Another Italian financier, Gianluigi Torzi, had been brought in to help — a move that compounded the problem. He was accused of structuring the deal in such a way that it left him in control of the building. Vatican officials said they were not properly told about this and had to pay Torzi millions to get out of the deal.
When it was discovered that the men who had taken part in the ill-fated real estate deal had fleeced the Vatican, the Holy See sold the building at a $153 million loss, prosecutors said.
Pope Francis ordered the initial investigation into the deal after Vatican Bank officials raised directly with him their concerns about a loan application from the Secretariat of State to finance the London deal.
Becciu, meanwhile, had been accused of other crimes. Italian authorities said the cardinal funneled money and contracts to charitable organizations controlled by his brothers in his native Sardinia in Italy. Another accusation involved Becciu hiring Cecilia Marogna, a self-proclaimed security analyst, as part of a plan to help win freedom of a nun who had been kidnapped in the African nation of Mali. Marogna was paid $600,000 to help release the missionary, but authorities said she instead spent much of the money on things such as designer clothes and visits to health spas.
Produced in association with Religion Unplugged
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