VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Vatican prosecutors issued new indictments Tuesday (Jan. 25) against four individuals involved in a financial scandal over the Roman Catholic Church’s money-losing investment in a London real estate deal, further expanding the number of defendants in what is already being referred to as the Vatican “megatrial.”
All of the newly indicted are familiar figures in the scandal, and prosecutors have tried and failed to subpoena them before. They are Italian financier Raffaele Mincione; attorney Nicola Squillace; Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former employee of the Vatican’s powerful Secretariat of State; and Monsignor Mauro Carlino, a former secretary to the once powerful Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who is also a defendant in the trial.
According to the Vatican prosecutors, all four played some role in the deal to purchase a swank London apartment complex using Peter’s Pence, a fund gathered from Catholics worldwide for the pope’s support of the poor. Another Italian businessman eventually took control over the property, resulting in a loss for the church of well over $200 million.
Despite the new wave of indictments, observers of the trial’s preliminary legal machinations are focused on Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, a mysterious figure who for a time held the purse strings of the Vatican Secretariat of State. While Perlasca was initially a suspect in the Vatican investigations, he later emerged as a witness, offering prosecutors useful information on the complex financial maneuvering and the business relationships at the heart of the scandal.
Recordings of Perlasca’s November 2020 interrogation by prosecutors have been among the biggest points of dispute between the defense and the Vatican so far. Among the subjects discussed on the tapes is the possibility of “an intimate relationship” between Becciu and Cecilia Marogna, known in the Italian press as “the cardinal’s lady.”
Marogna was reportedly paid handsomely as an adviser to Becciu on international matters and is accused by Vatican prosecutors of acting as a spy for the cardinal.
On the recording, Perlasca denied that the cardinal and Marogna had a relationship beyond her advisory role, but Becciu, who has not missed a hearing since the beginning of the proceedings in July 2021, was absent on Tuesday. Becciu’s lawyer, Maria Concetta Marzo, explained that the cardinal “did not want to participate so as not to have to listen to the content of the conversations with Monsignor Perlasca.”
Marzo said the part of the recording in which Marogna is discussed should be excluded from the evidence, along with several other interrogation sessions involving Perlasca, saying the prosecution’s questions were either of a “moral nature” or “aggressive.”
“We tried to safeguard the morality of the accused,” said Vatican deputy prosecutor Alessandro Diddi, of the questioning of Perlasca, adding that any material that could harm the reputation of the defendants was redacted. He added that Perlasca’s lawyer was present and signed the final transcript of the interrogation.
The defense also raised the issue of missing or partial evidence submitted by Vatican prosecutors, a recurring issue in previous hearings. According to Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, of the 255 digital exhibits gathered by investigators, only 16 were made available to the defense.
Viglione argued that the defense’s lack of access to the evidence should render the proceedings “radically and absolutely” null.
Diddi said his team “feels confident” about the work done during the investigations and said he had already given over mountains of evidence. He also said that although the defendants had previously asked to be further questioned, none showed up for the interrogations.
Vatican judges gave prosecutors until Monday to provide an explanation for the missing data. The Vatican tribunal president, Giuseppe Pignatone, said the tribunal will decide at the next hearing, scheduled for Feb. 18, whether to accept the new indictments and issue a decision on the objections made by the defense.