Financial process in the Vatican sheds light on intrigues and rivalries at the papal court

VATICAN CITY (RNS) – New testimony in the Vatican’s massive corruption trial on Tuesday (May 31) sheds light on rivalries in the Roman Curia and the role officials close to Pope Francis played in brokering the costly real estate deal that was settled in the The focus of the procedure is .

Fabrizio Tirabassi, formerly in charge of investments at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, testified before the Vatican tribunal that the Vatican’s decision to invest around $200 million in a luxury apartment complex in London was “abrupt and unjustified”.

This is the second time Tirabassi has testified before the Vatican court. At the most recent hearing, he was questioned by prosecutors about a previous deal the Secretariat was considering for an investment: an oil rig in Angola, which Tirabassi pointed out would address Francis’ environmental concerns outlined in his so-called “green encyclical” on the Expression came, strongly disagreed. Laudato Si.

Tirabassi, who was interrogated for seven hours on Tuesday, touched on the turf wars taking place within the Curia, particularly between the powerful State Secretariat and the Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which Francis created in 2014 to advance his financial reforms.

Tirabassi confirmed statements by other defendants that Giuseppe Milanese, a friend of Francis since he was bishop in Argentina, introduced the key players in the real estate business. He said that when Milanese, who is not among the accused, was presented at the secretariat, he was portrayed as having a “privileged relationship with the Holy Father”.

Milanese knew both Torzi and Mincione when they were involved in the securitization of Catholic hospital debt.

Cardinal George Pell answers a journalist’s question during an interview with The Associated Press on November 30, 2020 at his residence near the Vatican in Rome. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

At the time of investing in the London property in 2014, Australian Cardinal George Pell was appointed head of the economic secretariat to work with Vatican chartered accountant Libero Milone.

But Milone was summarily ousted from the Vatican in 2017 after he was accused of spying on members of the Curia. In public interviews, he blamed Cardinal Angelo Becciu for his dismissal. Becciu, one of the ten defendants in the current trial and formerly the church’s third-ranking official, is also said to have often been involved in sexual abuse charges against Pell in Australia in 2017.

Eventually found innocent on appeal in 2020, Pell claims the secretariat of state, where Becciu was the deputy chief, may have played a role in sparking the charges.

Becciu has vehemently denied having anything to do with Pell’s legal troubles and told the court that Francis approved Milone’s removal.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu speaks to journalists during a news conference in Rome, in this September 25, 2020 file photo. Pope Francis approved spending up to €1 million to free a Colombian nun kidnapped by al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in Mali 5 British security and intelligence firm to find the nun and pay for her release.  (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Cardinal Angelo Becciu speaks to journalists during a news conference in Rome, in this September 25, 2020 file photo. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Vatican prosecutors cited evidence they claimed showed Milone had requested a review of the London deal and that Pell had asked for explanations regarding the Secretariat of State’s involvement in the investment, citing the Office of “Failure of the communication” accused.

In a document prosecutors submitted to the court, Tirabassi appeared to criticize the Economic Secretariat’s interference in the State Secretariat’s financial operations, which he said was against Vatican law at the time.

But Tirabassi defended the investment in the London property. “The Holy See has always invested in real estate,” he said, adding that this practice was often conducted by a Vatican agency called the Administrative Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA). He said that the State Secretariat has bought real estate for foreign embassies in the past.

Pope Francis stripped the Secretariat of State of its finances in December 2020, centralizing the Vatican’s economy and investments within the APSA.

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The Vatican looked to invest in the London property in 2014 when it struck a deal with Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, who owned the property through a fund. In 2016, when the investment began losing significant amounts of money, the Vatican sought full ownership of the London properties. The Vatican approached another Italian businessman, Gianluigi Torzi, to help them become the sole owner of the property.

Torzi eventually signed an agreement with Vatican officials including Tirabassi in London in November 2018, but retained ownership of 1,000 voting shares, giving him final say over the property.

Tirabassi testified that he was unaware that the shares Torzi kept for himself gave him ultimate control of the properties.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 6, when the court will hear Mincione’s testimony.

A previous version of this article said that Libero Milone resigned from his post at the Vatican in 2016. The article was updated to say he resigned in 2017.

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