Catholic World News News Feature
Crime pays at the Vatican, prosecutor reports January 10, 2005
Citing a miniature crime wave, the Vatican's top prosecutor has called for reforms in the judicial system of the Vatican city-state.
Nicola Picardi, the "promoter of justice," delivered a sobering annual report at the opening of the 76th judicial year for the Vatican city-state. He recommended a streamlined system of cooperation with Italian authorities, and Vatican acceptance of Europe's Schengen accords, to cope with challenges that range from terrorist threats to bureaucratic delays.
The vast majority of crimes inside the Vatican grounds are committed by "foreigners," Picardi reported, and the vast majority of victims are also visitors. Those facts are not surprising, since the official population of the Vatican is only 492, whereas 18 million tourists and pilgrims pass through the Vatican each year.
The most common crime at the Vatican is theft, with pickpockets doing a brisk business among the crowds at St. Peter's Square and in the Vatican Museums. Picardi reported that the level of this petty theft is twenty times higher than in the surrounding city of Rome. Moreover, he lamented that 90 percent of these crimes go unresolved and unpunished because of the limitations of the Vatican law-enforcement system.
The Vatican has administered its own judicial system since the Lateran Accords of 1929, which established the Vatican city-state and set the terms of the Holy See's agreement with the Italian government. Prosecutors in that system face a heavy case load, with 552 people facing criminal charges last year. The cases proceed slowly, Picardi noted; the average criminal case takes 466 days to resolve. A large part of the problem is the cumbersome mechanisms by which Vatican officials coordinate their work with Italian civil authorities.
In 2004, Picardi said, matters were further complicated by "especially delicate police inquiries" related to crimes committed by foreigners-- a category that accounts for 98 percent of the Vatican's crimes. The prosecution of a foreign citizen often entails diplomatic complications, which can multiply the expense and complexity of the prosecutors' work. Picardi said that these "abnormal" costs "cannot be justified" in cases that involve petty crimes. The top prosecutor therefore asked for reforms in the Vatican judicial system, which would allow it to function "normally, in an autonomous and independent manner."
Picardi also recommended Vatican acceptance of the Schengen accords, established in 1985 to govern cooperation among the police systems of the European countries. Adherence to the Schengen accords would help Vatican prosecutors to "improve the qualify of legal administration," he said.