Vatican City, Mar 1, 2022 / 09:30 am (CNA).
The Vatican tribunal has rejected defense motions in a landmark trial concerning alleged financial crimes, ordering the process to continue, starting with the questioning of Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
At a March 1 hearing, court president Giuseppe Pignatone read aloud a 40-page ordinance responding to objections from defense lawyers lodged since the process kicked off last summer.
The three-judge panel hearing the case rejected requests to throw out evidence and charges — which some lawyers indicated they would appeal — and set the next hearing for March 17.
March 17 will mark the first day of testimony, when Becciu will be called to the stand to respond to questions about Vatican and Italian bishops’ conference funds he is accused of illicitly giving to the charitable arm of his home Diocese of Ozieri, located on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Becciu resigned as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals in September 2020.
The 73-year-old Italian cardinal, who has been charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, and subornation of perjury by the Vatican, has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Speaking to the media after Tuesday’s hearing, the cardinal said: “Finally the hour to speak the truth has arrived. Good.”
“The hearing begins… we’ve been waiting seven months and now I can speak. I am glad,” he said.
Becciu’s lawyers said in a statement on March 1 that “we are ready to demonstrate, in an irrefutable way, the full innocence of the cardinal from every accusation.”
Out of 10 defendants, Becciu has been the only accused to appear regularly at hearings, having missed only one out of the nine audiences held so far.
Msgr. Mauro Carlino, the cardinal’s former personal secretary, has also attended some hearings.
Tuesday’s decision by the court marked the end of the preliminary phase of the Vatican’s historic trial to prosecute Vatican officials and their collaborators in connection with the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a London property for 350 million euros ($396 million).
In a Feb. 28 audience, Vatican head prosecutor Alessandro Diddi estimated that the Vatican’s total losses from the property at 60 Sloane Avenue amounted to 217 million euros (around $241 million).
A month prior, the Vatican’s prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy said that the controversial London building was being sold above its valuation price.
Father Juan A. Guerrero, S.J., told Vatican News that “the contract of sale has been signed, we have received 10% of the deposit and it will be concluded in June 2022.”
Also during the Feb. 28 hearing, defense lawyers again raised objections about what they said was the prosecutors’ failure to deposit certain evidentiary files for their inspection.
Court president Giuseppe Pignatone responded to their protests on March 1, saying he believed that the problem of the missing evidence was resolved in November 2021, and that he “does not have the power to order the promoters” to deposit any further documentation.
A lawyer for defendant Cecilia Marogna, a self-described security consultant, said on March 1 that his client had asked NATO, the Vatican Secretariat of State, and Italy to release her from the obligation of secrecy, and that she feared for her safety.
Marogna has been charged with embezzlement for allegedly receiving hundreds of thousands of euros from the Secretariat of State in connection with Becciu, and then reportedly spending the money earmarked for charity on luxury goods and vacations — which she denies.
According to Marogna, Becciu also paid her to create dossiers of incriminating information on Vatican personnel. Becciu insists that he was not involved in any wrongdoing.