Cardinal George Pell has cast doubt on whether a big Vatican financial trial will go ahead, saying “it might fail for legal reasons”.
The trial concerns the Holy See’s 350 million euro (nearly $A550 million) investment in a London property deal but has expanded to include other alleged financial crimes.
Vatican prosecutors accuse Italian brokers, Vatican officials and a self-styled security analyst of bilking the Vatican coffers of millions of euros, largely donations from the faithful.
The uncertain fate of the trial has concerned Cardinal Pell, who as Pope Francis’ money czar flagged problems with the London investment years ago but was unable to get to the bottom of it.
In a recent interview with the National Catholic Register, the Australian cardinal said he wasn’t sure if the case could go ahead.
“I’m not confident of anything with the Vatican trial. I don’t know what’s going on,” Pell was quoted as saying.
“I’m not even entirely sure that it will go ahead. It might fail for legal reasons.”
Pell’s and his enemies
Pell ran into stiff resistance from the Vatican’s old guard during the three years he tried to impose international financial transparency, budgeting and accounting standards on the Holy See bureaucracy.
He left his job as prefect of the Vatican’s economy ministry in 2017 to face charges he sexually molested two 13-year-old choir boys in the sacristy of the Melbourne cathedral in 1996.
After a first jury deadlocked, a second unanimously convicted him and he was sentenced to six years’ jail.
The conviction was upheld on appeal only to be thrown out by Australia’s High Court, which in April unanimously found reasonable doubt in the testimony of his lone accuser.
Lawyers for defendants in the Vatican financial trial asked the Holy See newspaper on Friday to correct the record after it ran a front-page editorial largely defending the investigation and insisting that the rights of the defence were being respected.
The letter to L’Osservatore Romano editor Andrea Monda was signed by eight defence attorneys and follows a December 20 editorial penned by the Holy See’s editorial director Andrea Tornielli.
Defence team’s protests
Ever since the indictments were handed down in July, lawyers for the 10 defendants have objected to a series of actions and omissions by the prosecution that they say have irreparably harmed their ability to mount a defence.
They have cited the prosecution’s refusal to turn over all the evidence and to interrogate the suspects on all charges during the investigative phase of the case.
In preliminary decisions, the tribunal president has largely agreed with the defence, ordering prosecutors to deposit all the evidence, nullifying the indictments against four of the suspects and ordering the prosecution to essentially start over.
In the editorial, Tornielli stressed that the two-year investigation amounted to the biggest, most complicated case ever brought before the tribunal. The fact that it was sparked by internal controls is evidence that the trial represents “a real stress test for the Vatican City State’s judicial system,” he wrote.
He insisted that the right to a fair trial, enshrined in a Vatican law in 2013, was being guaranteed.
Lawyers for the defence disagreed and asked Monda to print their side.
In their letter they said the editorial didn’t correspond “to the reality of the trial” and appeared to be an effort to “normalise the multiple procedural violations” by the prosecution that the court has already sanctioned.
The court reconvenes on January 25, when prosecutors are expected to announce whether they will seek new indictments against the four suspects whose cases were in limbo, or will shelve some of the charges.