At Vatican trial, cardinal says pope ordered auditor ousted

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By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic Press Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Questioned for 15 hours over two days in a Vatican courtroom, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 73, insisted that the “good of the Holy See” was the sole motivation for every financial transaction or decision he was involved in when he worked at the Vatican Secretariat of State.

However, testifying on May 18 and answering questions about hundreds of documents, the cardinal frequently replied that he did not know or could not remember the details.

Speaking for the third time, Cardinal Becciu, accused of embezzlement, abuse of power and witness tampering, told the court that the 2017 resignation of Libero Milone, the Vatican’s former auditor general, was ordained by Pope Francis.

The cardinal said he declined to answer questions about the resignation during the May 5 trial session “out of love for the Holy Father,” but has since “asked the pope if I could speak freely. (and) he said yes”.

“I had no responsibility for Milone’s resignation,” he told the court. “The order was issued by the pope without my participation. He asked me to summon Milone and inform him that he no longer enjoyed his confidence.

In June 2015, the pope appointed Milone as the Vatican’s first independent auditor, a five-year contract position seen as a key part of Pope Francis’ efforts to reform Vatican finances.

However, without any explanation, the Vatican announced in 2017 that Milone had tendered his resignation, which was accepted by Pope Francis.

Later, Milone told Reuters news agency he was forced to resign after opponents of Pope Francis’ financial reforms mounted a campaign against him.

Milone said that several months after his appointment, he hired an outside company to check his computer after suspecting it had been tampered with. Milone said the company discovered that his computer had been the target of unauthorized access and that his secretary’s computer had been infected with spyware that copied files.

The former auditor’s claims prompted a response from the Vatican, saying Milone “illegally engaged an outside company to undertake investigative activities into the privacy of representatives of the Holy See.”

“This, in addition to being a crime, has irreparably tested the trust placed in Dr. Milone,” the statement read.

During the Vatican trial on May 18-19, Deputy Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi led the Cardinal’s cross-examination, including on investments made while serving in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Tensions rose in the courtroom when Diddi made a sarcastic comment regarding Cardinal Becciu’s lack of memory, prompting Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican City State Criminal Court, to order a five-day suspension. minutes and to warn Diddi that his comment was a “provocation”.

“I made a mistake and I’m sorry,” Diddi said.

Cardinal Becciu was also asked about his relationship with Cecilia Marogna, an Italian political analyst whom he allegedly hired, but whom the Vatican court accused of embezzling money through a humanitarian organization that she was conducting in Slovenia.

The cardinal said he was still in contact with Marogna after an Italian news program reported that money allegedly sent by the Secretary of State to help finance the release of Catholic hostages was instead used for purchases at several high-priced fashion boutiques, including Prada, Louis Vuitton and Moncler.

“I was nervous, I called her and she denied everything,” Cardinal Becciu said. “I was convinced that she was telling the truth. I kept hearing her because she had to update me on the negotiations” to obtain the release of Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, a Colombian nun kidnapped by militants jihadists in Mali.

Pignatone accepted a May 18 request made by Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, main prosecution witness and former head of the administrative office of the Vatican Secretariat of State, will be a civil party in the trial against Cardinal Becciu for the charges brought against him for witness tampering. Although the court rejected a similar request, Msgr. Perlasca made against four other defendants.

However, the next day, Msgr. Perlasca arrived unannounced at the trial, surprising many people in the courtroom. Informed of his presence, Pignatone ordered Msgr. Perlasca to leave and said that as a witness for the prosecution he could not be present. Courtroom observers noted that Msgr. Perlasca reluctantly left the room and lingered outside for several minutes before finally leaving the area.

Before the prosecution continued its cross-examination, Cardinal Becciu read a statement expressing his dismay at the “humiliation” he suffered during the interrogation the day before.

“It pains me to say that certain questions addressed to me by the prosecution have offended my priestly dignity and my personal honesty,” the cardinal said.

Disputing Diddi’s insinuation the day before that “I was pretending not to understand or not to remember,” Cardinal Becciu said the deputy prosecutor’s questions were unrelated to the charges against him “and offend my dignity of cardinal and, through it, the whole of the church.”

Nevertheless, for several hours the prosecution continued to show Cardinal Becciu various documents, to which he continued to reply that he did not know or remember the details. After Diddi concluded his cross-examination, the lawyers representing the civil parties and the defendants, as well as the judges of the court were allowed to question the cardinal.

Pignatone also declined a request from Marogna’s lawyer to read a statement on his behalf, reiterating that the time was reserved for questions directed to Cardinal Becciu.

The purpose of the statement, which his attorney shared with the press, “was to report some clarifications and corrections” to Cardinal Becciu’s statement in court regarding how he met Marogna, as well as his role in the release of Sister Gloria.

The trial resumed on May 20. Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former official of the Secretariat of State accused of corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of power, must appear.

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