The news of the acquittal “because the fact does not exist” of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a former official of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, came on the eve of the testimony in court of Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, substitute (deputy) of the Secretariat of State, in the trial on the management of the funds of the Secretariat of State. The Vatican’s number 3 told judges, promoters of justice, and lawyers that yes, he decided to take control of the London property, but that he practically found himself paying, and that in any case, Pope Francis had been informed of everything.
Although the Scarano case and the issue of the investment by the Secretariat of State in a property in London are different, the two cases are connected.
Scarano has been involved in two legal proceedings: usury and abusive exercise of credit at the Court of Salerno, and corruption and slander at the Court of Rome. As a result, Scarano was removed from APSA. Still, the case also led to the resignations of Paolo Cipriani and Massimo Tulli, director and deputy director of the Istituto delle Opere di Religione (the so-called Vatican bank), who wanted to allow the Institute to defend itself better.
That case represented the beginning of the great season of trials in the Vatican. The resignations of Cipriani and Tulli date back to July 2013. The two former managers of the IOR were then involved in a proceeding in Italy, in which they ended up acquitted, and a Vatican proceeding, which led to a conviction for mismanagement, then confirmed – with however some adjustments – in the second grade appeal, and now awaiting the third grade appeal.
It was a head-scratching conviction, considering that the two could not make decisions on investments and banking operations without the approval of the presidency of the IOR Superintendence Council. But it was a verdict carried out with ferocity.
Meanwhile, the IOR went from a profit of 86.6 million to one that fluctuated between 17 and 30 million, with a very high loss for a small financial institution and the vague suspicion that the poor management came later—when the season of major trials had begun.
After the Scarano case, the Pope established the commissions for Vatican finances and the IOR – COSEA and CRIOR – to study, evaluate, and possibly reform and abolish. The marching order was to cut with the past. From here, several assessment errors have also come in defining the reforms of the Holy See, including the great debate on the management autonomy of the Secretariat of State. After all, the Holy See is a state, not a company.
From the original sin of the Scarano case, we arrive at the current trial in the Vatican, originating from a report by the IOR to the Vatican auditor general. The fact is considered, in the narrative, a sign of the functioning of Pope Francis’ reforms: there is an internal signal, which means that there are tools to address the critical issues and clean up corruption.
In reality, the case arises from a short circuit: there is a state body, the IOR, which not only refuses to do what the government body, the Secretariat of State, asks to do but even denounces to the internal authority the work of the Secretariat of State, up to spectacular searches that also touch sacred places such as the Secretariat of State (where the Vatican police could not enter because it is under the jurisdiction of the Swiss Guard, like the whole Apostolic Palace).
The testimony of Archbishop Pena Parra last March 16 then seems to close a circle. The deputy of the Secretariat of State had already delivered a full memorandum, complete with attached documentation of almost two hundred pages, in which he explained in detail the situation he had found himself facing.
And, in the end, this emerges: the Pope not only knew of the situation of the building but was personally informed through various channels, knowing and approving how it was decided to resolve the matter; Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, was not only informed, but had also given guarantees on some situations which instead would have required further consideration; the ranks of the Financial Information Authority, involved by Pena Parra, behaved loyally, and so did the Secretariat of State’s official Fabrizio Tirabassi; Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who had wanted to sue the broker who had been entrusted with the management of the London property, had instead acted behind the backs of the Secretariat of State, making decisions that he could not make.
After such testimony, one wonders why Perlasca is among the witnesses, and the AIF leaders and Tirabassi are among the defendants. But, above all, one wonders why there is a trial if the Pope was informed of everything and approved everything. There is a substantial risk that this trial will end with the acquittal of most, if not all, defendants and possibly convictions for minor offenses only for other defendants.
From Scarano to the process of managing the funds of the Secretariat of State, one wonders what the season of Vatican trials was for. Was it needed to overcome corruption in the Vatican, or was it the result of a spoils system, a new system that wanted to replace the old one?
It can be said that a trial is always an exercise of truth. However, it is also true that when a trial seems to have to take place at any cost and in the light of the prejudice that the Vatican is corrupt spread by the media, the trial becomes more an instrument of power than an exercise of truth.
From the management of finances to less prosaic topics, the question of the condemnation action of the supreme legislator thus becomes one of the topics through which the pontificate will be judged.
The season of major criminal trials seems to have yielded few concrete results. What can we say about managing cases such as that of Cardinal McCarrick, laicized and the subject of a report that seemed more to be a self-justification than an assumption of responsibility? McCarrick had returned to the spotlight with the pontificate of Pope Francis.
The reduction to the lay state gives the impression that, deep down, they wanted to punish him without really punishing him.
And then there are other controversial cases: from the Rupnik case, the Slovenian Jesuit artist who continued to preach and hold public events even when he had already incurred a latae sententiae ex-communication, and who will perhaps end up like McCarrick, without going to the bottom of it but instead remaining on the charges; the management of abuses in Chile, where all the bishops ended up resigning; up to the handling of cases like those of Zanchetta and Wesolowski.
Everything has had its trial, but not all trials have led to fair outcomes. It’s human, and it’s understandable, of course. The question, however, is whether these media cases have not been more of a detriment than an advantage. And if the Pope, after all, hasn’t opened this season more as a show of a clean break with the past, than to face the situations that presented themselves.
There are so many different cases and so many nuances, and there is a sort of a common thread. What is not clear is whether this season of trials has done the Church any good and helped bring the truth to light. And if it did, whether it has been at an unnecessarily high price.