VATICAN (RNS) – A dull silence filled the room as Cardinal Angelo Becciu, with hunched shoulders and furrowed brows, entered the first day of the historic Vatican trial, in which he is one of 10 people facing a wide range of charges of involvement in a real estate deal on funds of the Catholic Church.
Becciu is the only cardinal – probably in history – betrayed by the Holy See before a trial for bribery and embezzlement. Speaking to reporters at the end of the afternoon session, he described his appearance in the courtroom as a personal commitment.
Pope Francis “wanted me to appear at the trial, and I go to the court,” Becciu said.
“I am calm and my conscience is clear,” Becciu added, hoping that the Vatican judges “will recognize my innocence.”
Becciu served as a “sustituto” in the secretariat of state, an office equivalent to the head of the Pope’s administration, when reports of financial abuse that the Vatican had invested in a luxury residential complex in London in 2013 began to circulate in Rome. In December, the Pope stripped him of his rights and positions in the church, leaving him only the title, citing other alleged financial irregularities related to donating to his brother’s charity.
The cardinal also announced that his lawyers are planning to bring libel charges against Monsignor Alberto Perlaski, who oversaw financial affairs at the secretariat of state, and Francesca Immacolata Chauka, who was found guilty in 2016 by a Vatican court for leaking confidential documents about the Vatican’s finances. …
Although no charges have been filed in the case, Perlaska has been questioned several times by the Vatican’s prosecutor’s office. Shawki publicly criticized Becciu in an interview with Italian media. According to the cardinal, both persons were the source of “serious lies” about him, which were included in the court documents.
Vatican prosecutors stated during the trial that during the investigation, Perlaska decided to act as a witness and testified several times without the presence of his lawyer.
However, for most of the day’s trial, it was not Becciu or any of his co-defendants who appeared on trial. Rather, lawyers did their best to portray the Vatican’s judiciary as outdated and authoritarian in turn.
The defendants’ lawyers – the lay defendants themselves chose not to attend the afternoon session – presented a wide range of objections to the trial, mainly complaining about the lack of documentation provided to the defense prior to its commencement.
Attorney Enrico Crasso, who advised the Vatican on his financial investments, gave an impassioned speech criticizing what he believed was a lack of due process. Citing a July ruling by Pope Francis that gave Vatican prosecutors extraordinary powers in their investigation, lawyer Luigi Panella said the move would be “impossible in any legal system in the world.” But it happened here. “
Other lawyers raised questions of jurisdiction, saying many of the charges were related to activities that did not take place in the Vatican.
The defense also criticized the civil case brought by two other Vatican financial institutions, the Institute for Religious Works and the Office of the Holy See, claiming that the Vatican court had no authority to rule on their claims.
Paola Severino, a lawyer for these Vatican departments, stated that their claims of injustice by the Vatican court are based solely on the fact that “this is different from the criminal proceedings in Italy.”
Severino also highlighted the “strong moral dimension” of the trial. Vatican Prosecutor General Gian Piero Milano invited lawyers to look at the process in the Vatican “not through the prism of a lawyer, but through the prism of a canon lawyer.”
The trial was postponed until the morning of October 5, when the judges announced that they would consider the arguments of the defense.