VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Italian police officers are investigating an envelope discovered Monday (Aug. 9) containing three 9mm bullets and a letter referring to Vatican financial mismanagement, in an apparent threat aimed at Pope Francis.
The message is the latest bizarre twist in a 3-year-old scandal that is at the center of a high-profile trial involving 10 individuals accused of misappropriating more than $400 million from the Catholic Church.
According to local media reports, the letter, addressed to “Pope Francis — Vatican City — St. Peter’s Square in Rome,” was sent from France and the suspect is known to Vatican police.
The envelope’s existence came to light just two weeks after the opening hearing of the historic trial of 10 ordained and lay Vatican employees and former financial partners, including one cardinal, in connection with a controversial investment in real estate in London largely paid for with Vatican funds destined for charity, known as Peter’s Pence.
This scandal has revealed possible financial mismanagement and outright corruption in charges that extend from fraud to money laundering and embezzlement.
This week, details about the allegations leaked in documents from both the defense and prosecutors, portraying a culture marked, in the words of one high-ranking prelate, by “clientelism and favoritism.”
According to trial documents obtained by the Italian daily La Repubblica and published Friday, the Vatican’s powerful Secretariat of State had policies that promoted mismanagement and confusion among supervisors, making way for financial malfeasance.
“It’s a mechanism that puts the superior under pressure, pushing him to act quickly and outlining catastrophic scenarios,” said Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, the sostituto, an equivalent of a papal chief of staff, in a memorandum sent April 13 to the Vatican prosecutors.
Parra was handpicked by Francis in 2018 to take over the role previously held by Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the first cardinal in memory to undergo a trial at the Vatican. Becciu was stripped of his Vatican positions and cardinal rights in September.
Parra explains in the memorandum that he was rushed into signing documents under the pretext that “there is no alternative,” that “it’s just a formality” and that if he didn’t sign “there’s a risk of losing a lot of money.”
Parra ended up approving two contracts that ended the Vatican’s partnership in the London property deal with Raffaele Mincione with a payment to the businessman of more than $40 million and that put the property under the exclusive control of Gianluigi Torzi.
The archbishop alleged that this “modus operandi” was carefully carried out by the head of its administrative offices, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who is reportedly cooperating with the Vatican prosecutors, and Fabrizio Tirabassi, Becciu’s ex-personal secretary, who is among those charged by Vatican prosecutors.
Parra described a “white strike” that occurred every time he asked uncomfortable questions, saying that his probing was followed “by silence or the promise of following up on my request, but it never actually happened.” The archbishop alleged that this behavior occurred especially when talking to Perlasca.
“In my daily meetings with Monsignor Perlasca, when I asked for explanations, he would give me incomplete or partial information that were limited to an effort to justify the operations that were taking place,” Parra said.
Perlasca is alleged to have been present at a meeting on Nov. 22, 2018, that led to the creation of the two contracts relinquishing the ownership of the London property to Torzi and signed them himself. According to the Vatican prosecutors, Parra saw the documents for the first time five days later and noticed they were signed “before the issue was brought to the attention of the Secretary of State and the Holy Father.”
Vatican prosecutors will determine whether Parra’s memorandum reflects the reality of internal Vatican operations.