Vatican City, Feb 18, 2022 / 10:50 am (CNA).
The Vatican’s internal financial watchdog has joined an ongoing Vatican trial as a civil party.
The addition of the Financial Information and Supervision Authority, or ASIF (formerly the AIF), to the civil action of the trial took place at a hearing on Feb. 18. The court session, which lasted more than four hours with breaks, was adjourned until Feb. 28.
The reason for ASIF’s inclusion as a plaintiff in the case will be heard at the end of the month, during the continuation of Friday’s hearing.
The financial information authority joins the civil parties of the Secretariat of State, the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) as the injured parties in the Vatican’s historic trial to prosecute Vatican officials and collaborators in connection to the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a London property for 350 million euros ($396 million).
The trial, which began in July 2021 with 10 defendants, had encountered procedural problems. In October, the court ruled that the office of the prosecutor — who is known as the Promoter of Justice — needed to re-do part of the investigation into several of the defendants.
Meanwhile, the trial had proceeded with six defendants, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the highest-ranking cleric to be tried by the tribunal of Vatican City State in recent history. At the end of January 2022, the four other defendants were re-indicted.
Two of the 10 defendants, René Brülhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, are the former president and director of the body known today as ASIF.
The Feb. 18 hearing marked the reunification of the parallel investigations into a single proceeding.
Court president Giuseppe Pignatone said on Friday that the hearing on Feb. 28 should conclude the trial’s preliminary phase, and that, if all went well, an ordinance would be issued on March 1 related to defense lawyers’ requests for the case — or certain charges — to be dismissed.
Pignatone said that this would happen “If, and I stress if, everything is resolved.”
March 1 is also the date set by the court to begin creating a plan for the rest of the trial, in particular when defendants and witnesses will be asked to take the stand.
Another development in the finance trial is the submission of letters rogatory, also called letters of request, from the Vatican for an investigation into the Diocese of Ozieri on the Italian island of Sardinia.
The investigation involves Cardinal Becciu, who is from the Diocese of Ozieri and has been accused of illicitly giving Vatican and Italian bishops’ conference funds to the diocesan charity organization, which partners with Becciu’s brother’s corporation.
The cardinal, who has been charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, and subornation of perjury by the Vatican, has always denied any wrongdoing. He rejected reports last year that he directed Vatican and Italian bishops’ conference money to his brother’s non-profit, Spes Cooperative, which works with the local branch of Caritas.
Local authorities carried out searches in the Ozieri diocese on Tuesday at the request of the Vatican.
The diocese said through its lawyer on Feb. 15 that all funds of the diocese, Caritas, and the non-profit Spes, had been used for “an exclusive nature of solidarity and charity institutionally proper to these entities.”
Becciu admitted in November 2021 that he had given money to his diocese, but said he did not see any issue with it. At a diocesan event in Sardinia, he said that he was “proud, appreciative, happy to have helped you. Where is the scandal?”
On the sidelines of Friday’s hearing, Becciu gave a statement to the media about his financial giving to the non-profit managed by his brother, denying that he intended to favor family members.
“I am proud to have found funds to support this cooperative that gives work to 60 boys and girls who, as the pope calls them, are the ‘rejects’ of society: former drug addicts, ex-convicts, young people with health problems,” he said.
“The accusation that has been made against me is that by sending money to Caritas of Ozieri, I wanted to favor my family members,” the cardinal said. “This is an accusation from which I will defend myself in court and that I have always rejected and I reject.”
He said that he sent the diocesan Caritas 125,000 euros (around $140,000) from Peter’s Pence, the Holy See’s annual collection to finance the pope’s charitable works and the Roman Curia, but that the funds could still be accounted for, unused, in the diocese’s accounts.
“These 125,000 euros are there, what money went to my family members?” he asked.
The cardinal called the continued investigations and searches of the diocese “a humiliation for the diocese and for the bishop.”
“I want to express all my solidarity for the bishop who has suffered these humiliations,” he said.