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Five years later: the mounting costs of a stalled Vatican audit

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 17, 2021

Now and then, in search of a topic for one of these little essays, I consult the Catholic Culture archives, to see what was on my mind five or ten years ago. More often than not I find that the same subjects are still relevant.

Sure enough, when I looked for inspiration today, I found a piece that I wrote on June 10, 2016, entitled “The next Vatican scandal.” At that time I predicted:

Another scandal is brewing at the Vatican.

This time the subject will not be sex, but that other rich lode of corruption: money.

The occasion for that column was the announcement that the Vatican had scuttled the plan, set in place by Cardinal George Pell, for a thorough external audit. It was no secret, even at that early date, that Cardinal Pell’s campaign for financial transparency had encountered heavy resistance, and that the center of the resistance was the Secretariat of State.

Five years later we can be more specific. The focal point of the resistance to financial reform was then-Archbishop Angelo Becciu, who announced the cancellation of the external audit. Even at the time it was remarkable that Becciu, an archbishop, was able to thwart the plans of Pell, a cardinal; obviously Becciu had powerful support.

Not too long thereafter, Becciu—still an archbishop—engineered the forced resignation of the Vatican’s internal auditor, Libero Milone, in another display of both his clout and his resistance to financial reforms.

Well, we know that after being promoted to the College of Cardinals, and made prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Becciu finally met his downfall last year, when he himself was forced to resign his post, after revelations about his role in the unauthorized investment of Vatican funds in a shady London real-estate deal. And—here’s why the news from five years ago seems particularly relevant today—the echoes of that deal are still being heard around Rome. For instance:

But if Torzi has a reputation for “opaque” financial transactions, why was the Vatican involved with him? The papers submitted by Vatican prosecutors to the British court seemed clearly to confirm that ranking officials at the Secretariat of State had given their approval to whatever shenanigans Torzi undertook. Today’s latest revelations raise the possibility Torzi obtained that approval by trickery. Still the question remains unanswered: Why was the Secretariat of State dealing with this character?

To answer that question will require some tough questioning of several influential prelates. To date, Vatican prosecutors have shown no interest in pursuing such an aggressive investigation. In fact just last week—in one more demonstration of how this story keeps popping up— Europe’s top banking regulators questioned the Vatican’s commitment to prosecuting financial crimes. The “Moneyval” assessment found that the Vatican has made great strides in forming policies to combat financial misconduct, but not as much progress in prosecuting offenders—in particular, high-level offenders. The Moneyval report said that the prosecutors’ exclusive focus on lower-ranking staff members—and outsiders like Torzi and Marogna—“raised a red flag for potential abuse of the internal system by mid-level and senior figures.”

Five years ago I predicted a financial scandal, and that prediction has been proven accurate. But the full story has not yet been told.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: td4207 - Jun. 18, 2021 2:18 PM ET USA

    Frankly, until the Vatican demonstrates the utmost transparency with its finances, I will not support any Peter's Pence collections, or even donate to Vatican sponsored charities. I am not alone: the Vatican's annual budgets have been in the red for several years.

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Jun. 18, 2021 2:36 AM ET USA

    Sometimes it is disappointing to be right! I wonder whether Becciu was feeding lies about Cardinal Pell to the Australians. And how widespread is the corruption, financial and sexual, in the Vatican. Again, I am prepared to be even more disappointed than I am now.