I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise, or wealth to the brilliant, or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” —Ecclesiastes, 9:11

We are not talking about a mere financial scandal, but rather a particularly severe institutional crisis [in the Vatican]. It seems to be an attack on the institution from within the institution.” —Andrea Gagliarducci, “Vatican Finances, what is going on? Sloane Avenue and more,” Catholic News Agency, May 20, 2020 (link)

This trial was supposed to be a cornerstone of the pontiff’s campaign of Vatican reform, a demonstration to the world that… nobody, even a cardinal such as Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, would be above the law… Should the perception be, however… that the Pope (or his hand-picker prosecutor) have abused their authority by riding roughshod over the rule of law, in order to reach a pre-determined conclusion – then it could call into question the broader legitimacy of the Pope’s agenda.” —John Allen, “Convoluted trial may boil down to a simple question: Is the Pope above the law?”, Crux, November 12, 2023 (link)

If it is known that there were some secondary curial officials who took bribes to guide the investments… no one has ever even hinted that the now disgraced former substitute (Becciu) took… even one euro of the price paid or collected.” —Italian historian Alberto Melloni, in “The Becciu case, the ‘innocentist’ front is growing,” by Francesco Sales, Diritto & Affari (“Law and Business”), December 7, 2023 (link)

    I am innocent not only because I never stole a penny nor did I enrich myself or my family members. The investigators’ thorough checks on our bank accounts have proven it…” —Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 75. He held the very important post of “Sostituto” in the Vatican Secretariat of State. His words are from a statement he issued on July 25, 2023, four months ago

    Letter #177, 2023, Saturday, December 9: Trial #2

Guilty or… innocent?

The verdict in the Vatican’s “trial of the century” is nearing — it will come on December 14, 15 or 16, in six to eight days, after almost 2.5 years of testimony.

There are 10 defendants, making it a large, complex trial.

Last July 26, the prosecutor Alessandro Diddi asked for seven years and three months’ imprisonment for Becciu.

The big question is: has the prosecution proven guilt?

Prosecutor Diddi will use Monday, December 11, to make his final arguments in support of the accusations.

I will be there to listen and report on what he says.

The judges will decide by the end of the week.

So where are we today?

A number of observers who have closely followed the trial are saying the evidence does not seem enough to convict — at least, not enough to convict the most famous and controversial defendant: Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 75.

Who is Cardinal Becciu?

Who is Cardinal Becciu? Born in 1948 into a family of modest means in Sardinia, the eldest of several children, he entered the seminary and was ordained on August 27, 1972. Hard-working, pious, amiable and very intelligent, Becciu, who for 8 years was the efficient vice rector of the diocesan seminary in Sardinia, with other diocesan assignments, was “noticed” — and so, in May 1984 he was called to Rome to study at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy (link) to become a Vatican diplomat. After years of study, he was posted to Vatican embassies in the Central African Republic, Sudan, New Zealand (he recalls that New Zealand was “very beautiful”), Sierra Leone and Liberia, the United Kingdom, France, and the US (for just one year, but precisely at the time of the events of September 11, 2001). Pope John Paul II named him a bishop on October 15, 2001, and he was consecrated a bishop on December 1, 2001, by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then the Vatican Secretary of State. Becciu was then promoted to Nuncio (Ambassador) and served in Angola (2001-2009) and in Cuba (2009-2011) before being called back to Rome by Pope Benedict XVI to become “sostituto,” or Deputy Secretary of State. This essentially made him the “#3 man” in the Vatican, after the Pope and the Cardinal Secretary of State. Becciu, therefore, was so trusted that he was chosen to be at the very top of the Church’s hierarchy. He was the reigning Pope’s trusted “right-hand man” for administration and finances for seven years, first under Pope Benedict XVI (from 2011 to 2013), then under Pope Francis (from 2013 until mid-2018).

So, with Cardinal Becciu we are dealing with a man who has spent his entire life in the service of the Church, first as a diocesan seminary vice rector, then at lower levels of the diplomatic service in many different countries, then as a nuncio, and finally at the very highest level inside Vatican City itself.

It is this man who has been charged with serious financial crimes, and it is because Becciu was at the highest level of Church government that the eyes of the Catholic world, and of the secular world as well, have been fixed on the unfolding of this trial.

After two and a half years of trial — and more than 80 days of actually testimony and cross-examination — on November 22, in Becciu’s defense, the cardinal’s defense lawyer, an Italian layman, Fabio Viglione — speaking for several hours and sometimes raising his voice in indignation — declared: “The cardinal has demonstrated his complete innocence, and we ask for absolution with the broadest formula, so as to do justice and restore to him the dignity that has been taken away from him in recent years.”

Becciu’s second lawyer, an Italian laywoman, Maria Concetta Marzo, also spoke with great precision and passion, arguing that the evidence presented by the prosecution did not prove the cardinal’s guilt.

The defense argument — which is difficult to summarize because there are so many different defendants, ranging from Cardinal Becciu and other Vatican officials, to wealthy financiers who made deals with the Vatican officials — has developed over these three main lines of argument:

#1) No investment crimes were committed.

The defense maintains that, despite large losses in the purchase and sale of the London property, no investment crimes were committed.

The defense has argued that, though money was lost in investing in a property at 60 Sloane Avenue in South West London in 2014, fully purchasing the property in mid-2019 (a year after Becciu ceased to be “sostituto“), and selling in 2022, (link) there has been no proof presented that these losses constituted crimes

The investment transactions, according to defense lawyers, were made as part of contracts which were within the range of typical contracts for these type of investments, and the losses came from unfortunate developments in the world (like Brexit in 2016, when England voted to leave the European Union, and property prices in London unexpectedly dropped sharply), not from theft and corruption.

Indeed — and this is striking — the defense has made the argument that the Vatican, if it had simply persevered with its original investment in the London property, and developed it as planned, would actually have earned millions of dollars (maybe tens of millions), and not lost any money at all(!).

How is this possible? It is possible because, over years, the value of investments — especially real estate — can change greatly, so the investor often must be very patient and “ride out” declines in value, waiting, sometimes for years, until the value rises again.

So why did the Vatican in 2022 sell the property for less than it bought it?

Because Pope Francis himself — having been informed by advisors that the property deal was causing terrible harm to the image of the Church and the Vatican (due to a global press coverage of “unwise” or “improper” investments) — in 2020 ordered that the property be sold “as soon as possible.”

And so the property was sold, not developed into a money-generating property as had been the original plan years before, when it was purchased…

So, note well: this order to sell the property came two years after Cardinal Becciu in June 2018 was created a cardinal and left the office of “sostituto” to become head of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.

In other words, Becciu had nothing to do with the sale of the property, and the booking of the enormous, more than $100 million, loss.

In an August 25, 2020 letter made public November 5, 2020 (linklinklink and link), Pope Francis asked for “particular attention” to be paid to two specific financial matters: “investments made in London” and the “Centurion Global investment fund.” Pope Francis requested that the Vatican “exit as soon as possible” from the investments, or “at least dispose of them in such a way as to eliminate all reputational risks.”

The Vatican, in two stages (in 2014 and 2018), spent about 350 million euros ($364 million) to buy a building that the previous owner had purchased for £129 million ($155 million), according to the Associated Press. The property was sold in 2022 to Bain Capital for £186 million pounds ($224.6 million), so the sale meant a loss of about $140 million in the deal (link).

#2) No funds illegally received.

The defense has also argued that, despite evidence of transfers, transactions and expenditure of Vatican funds that might appear at first glance to be “self-dealing” or in some way corrupt, there is no evidence that any funds ever were actually wrongfully received by Cardinal Angelo Becciu or by any members of his family.

Likewise, all of the movements of funds involved in the London property deal could legitimately be construed as payments of (sometimes large) business deal costs and commissions which were not criminal in nature, the defense attorneys have argued.

3) A prosecution case invented to destroy one man: Cardinal Becciu.

The defense has argued that the prosecution went to enormous lengths, and spent years (from 2019 to 2021) to develop a case in which it would appear that Cardinal Becciu was guilty of misappropriation of funds or misuse of his high position in the Vatican, but that this occurred because the prosecution from the outset embraced a “theory” that Becciu was guilty.

The defense argues that this “theory” was constructed by enemies of Becciu, who managed to persuade the prosecutors to “buy in” to the “theory.”

So this is the important point: Becciu had “enemies” who managed to persuade the Pope himself that Becciu should be tried for financial crimes.

Who were Becciu’s “enemies”? The answer will be the subject of upcoming letters.

This “constructed theory” was never actually supported by facts, despite years of effort, and remained a false theory, Becciu’s lawyers maintain.

“We went beyond the proof of innocence: we proved in the courtroom that Becciu was brought forcibly into the case during an investigation into an investment,” his lawyer, Viglione, said in court.

Viglione argued that what brought Becciu into the case was an August 31, 2020 “Memorial” composed by Monsignor Alberto Perlasca who had been Becciu’s closest and most faithful collaborator on financial matters throughout his entire period as sostituto. [Note: Perlasca, Becciu’s top assistant in the Vatican Secretariat of State, hesitated for months over what to say and do with regard to the history of these financial matters and Becciu’s role in them. He finally prepared his accusatory “Memorial” and accused Becciu of having acted improperly. So Perlasca became the “star witness” of the prosecution, turning against his former boss and winning immunity from prosecution for himself. Only under intense cross-examination, however, did Perlasca, who had at first said that he had prepared the “Memorial” himself, admit that he had prepared the “Memorial” with… the help of two others, one his close friend, and the second, a woman who had a profound grudge against Becciu because Becciu had opposed her employment in the Vatican. More on this in future letters…].

“These are the contaminated roots of what led to Becciu’s indictment. And the reconstructions had a single objective, which was to strike the cardinal,” Becciu’s lawyer, Viglione, said. “The prosecutor’s theorem meant that everything Becciu did and everything that revolved around him was seen as an offense.”

    The Prosecution’s Case

Now, after more than two years of trial, the prosecution’s case has weakened considerably, many observers agree, and this has led to some very important positions taken in the last few days in favor of Becciu’s acquittal.

The most significant is that of Alberto Melloni, historian of Christianity and distinguished scholar of the Second Vatican Council, student of Prof. Giuseppe Alberigo, who is generally regarded as a leading “progressive” and so close to Pope Francis.

In a collection entitled Potere del Papa e Giustizia Vaticana (“Power of the Pope and Vatican Justice,”) Melloni in the online magazine of Il Mulino recently wrote (link): “If it is known that there were some secondary curial officials who took bribes to guide the investments of the existing funds, no one has ever even hinted [Note: emphasis mine —RM] that the now disgraced former substitute (Becciu) or the incumbent substitute (Pena Parra) involved in the buying and selling took for themselves even one euro of the price paid or collected. Not even Professor Diddi [NoteAlessandro Diddi, an Italian lawyer who has normally been a defense lawyer but was selected by the Vatican to be the chief prosecutor in this trial], has made this suggestion, though, playing the role of the prosecutor for the first time, rather than focusing on proving the alleged crimes, he has simply depicted Becciu as a scoundrel who, for no evident reason, wished to deceive Pope Francis.”

Next week there will be two more hearings for the parties’ replies:

—on Monday, December 11, the prosecution and the civil parties, and

— on Tuesday, December 12, the defense making final rebuttals to the prosecution’s Monday presentation.

The decision is expected by:

— Thursday, December 14, Friday, December 15, or Saturday, December 16.

So on Monday, the prosecutors will make their final arguments, trying to rebut the arguments made by defense lawyers in recent days.

It should be riveting trial drama…

Then, on or before Saturday, December 16, the three-man judges panel will issue its verdict… just in time for Christmas… —RM

    P.S. Special Note! Any donation in support of this letter would be appreciated: here

Click here for a Press Review on the Becciu Case (link)

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