The process that began in the Vatican on July 28th will not be a short one. Proof of this is that the first hearing, in which all the objections of the lawyers of the ten accused were presented, lasted 7 hours, without breaks, and the Vatican judges met for an hour and twenty minutes in the council chamber.
They call it “the Pope’s Last Judgment,” and although the expression may betray its marketing appeal, it is by no means exaggerated. Much of the credibility of the pontificate is at stake in this process, a pontificate that has reached its eighth year without having finalized any of the promised reforms. Much has been done, but everything has been done in an uncoordinated and disorganized manner. There is no reform. There are many minor reforms. And then there is the Pope, a lonely man in charge, who stands firmly at the top of a system.
At this moment, we are facing a turning point in the pontificate that seems to be experiencing its downward phase, also due to the recent surgery of Pope Francis, who, for the first time at the age of 85, made us realize the possible mortality of the Pope.
Why could a civil trial be a turning point? Because the Pope has put a lot of his credibility on transparency and financial reforms. With little success. The reforms that have worked with Pope Francis are the ones that have continued on the firm path set before him.
Today, however, none of the protagonists of that reform season is in the Vatican. René Bruelhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, president and director of the Financial Intelligence Authority, have not been renewed in their posts, despite their work having saved the Holy See from negative judgments by the Moneyval committee of the Council of Europe and having carried out the difficult job of reviewing and rearranging the current accounts of the IOR, the so-called “Vatican Bank.”
After the Pope decided to investigate, the architects of the first season of financial reform returned to the Vatican. Reforms aimed at Italy, which did not not even had a green light from the FATF. These reforms revealed the lack of knowledge of international anti-money laundering regulations.
We are back in the first season, also characterized by a certain closeness to Italy. But it is wrong to read this process with Italian lenses. This is what the Vatican judges want, who have or have had well-established careers in Italy and who bring that model into the Leonine City.
Reducing everything to Italy means not understanding the fundamental key to the process: the reference, for these crimes, is not Rome but Strasbourg and Brussels. Because it is in Strasbourg and Brussels that the international standards are drawn up that set the norm. It is there that is established whether human rights are respected and whether a fair trial is being held.
Seven hours of hearing served to unravel all the objections and guarantee the judges a long postponement that will help remedy their shortcomings. But the objections of the defendants’ lawyers are to be taken into consideration.
It was noted that the Pope signed four rescripts to help the procedures that preceded the trial, an important legislative activity about which the defendants had not been fully informed. Some situations were also highlighted that would be considered irregular in Italy or any foreign country. The possibility for the Holy See to celebrate a fair trial was questioned, in the light of the fact that not only was a special jurisdiction made but also that the defendants were not given time to read the documents – which in any case arrived incomplete to the lawyers.
In practice, the Pope put himself entirely in the hands of the judges. All his activity favors the judges and their work. Thus, we witness a Vaticanization of the Holy See because the State Court becomes more important than the very institution it serves. It is a risk, even at the international level.
In the name of this Vaticanization, cooperation activities have also been called into question, such as the exchange of intelligence information, seized without criteria by the Vatican judges and only afterwards the subject of an agreement between the Court and the Financial Intelligence Authority to avoid further incidents.
This process, however, is not a Vatican issue. While Vatican officials or former officials are put on trial, it is human rights and various other rights that are on trial. Rights that the Holy See supports internationally, but which the Pope has allowed to be trampled on. Not a problem for Rome. It is a global problem.
Another issue is that APSA and the Secretariat of State asked and were granted standing as civil parties in the trial. But why? Both bodies were involved or informed of the operations. Why then are they claiming damages?
There are many oddities in the process. These were noted in a ruling by an English judge, Baumgartner, who overturned the ruling of freezing Gianluigi Torzi’s funds that had been successfully requested by the Holy See. Torzi is the broker who the Holy See had used to buy the London property, of which he had shares.
Torzi is charged with allegations of extortion. Giuseppe Milanese acted as mediator between the Holy See and Torzi for Torzi to sell the shares of the property – shares that he owned because it was so indicated in the contract, from which he had to withdraw. The Vatican Tribunal declared, and Milanese confirmed, that the Pope had entered the negotiating room. Torzi also added that the Pope would have asked for a comprehensive resolution with a fair compensation. So, if we talk about compensation, where is the extortion?
Also, why is Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, for ten years at the head of the administration of the Secretariat of State, not among the accused? Perlasca testified, generating, among other things, a complaint for slander by Cardinal Becciu, who was also a defendant.
But any doubts must be framed in an international dimension, looking at the facts and broad perspectives. The risk, at the end of the trial, is that of a Holy See irrelevant from a diplomatic point of view because it is unable to implement commitments such as observing due process in its State, and because there are judges from another State in its territory, who work only part-time in the Court.
Looking more broadly than what is seen by looking through the Italian keyhole, allows us to understand that, beyond the verbal skirmishes, the question of the London apartment is more nuanced than previously thought and that, in the end, it was not such a costly investment for the Holy See.
It becomes clear that there was a desire to attack the old leadership that had worked for internationalization. Now, everything seems to come back to Italy and the Italian way of doing things. The consequences will not be minor.