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Spy vs. spy at the Vatican

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 11, 2022

One Vatican office spying on another? It isn’t edifying. But read between the lines of the latest report emerging from the Vatican finance trial, and you can begin to see the outline of a larger scandal.

The Pillar site, which continues to set the pace for coverage of the financial shenanigans, broke the story for American readers. A former official of the Secretariat of State has testified that, at the bidding of his superiors, he brought in intelligence officers from the Italian government to check for electronic surveillance at the Vatican.

Pillar makes the point that the Holy See has its own experts on electronic surveillance, at the Vatican gendarmerie. So why would the Secretariat of State go outside the Vatican walls, to look for help in detecting illegal surveillance?

But maybe I shouldn’t assume that the Secretariat of State was worried about illegal surveillance. If it was being done by agents of the Vatican gendarmerie, investigating illegal financial activity, then it wasn’t illegal. You may recall that in October 2019, the offices of the Secretariat of State were raided—by officers of the Vatican gendarmerie. And now you can begin to connect the dots.

Vincenzo Maurillo, the former employee responsible for this latest bombshell, says that he was asked to contact the Italian intelligence agents in May or June 2019: just a few months before the raid. We now know that Vatican prosecutors were investigating reports about unauthorized financial dealings in the Secretariat of State. So officials there may have had very good reason to worry about electronic bugging—and good reasons not to talk to the Vatican gendarmerie about their concerns.

Look further back into this inglorious history, and recall that in September 2017, the Vatican’s auditor general resigned under heavy pressure, after then-Archbishop Angelo Becciu charged him with “spying on the private lives of his superior and staff, including me.” Apparently the auditor general, Libero Milone, was taking too much interest in the financial dealings of Archbishop Becciu, who at the time was the sostistuto or deputy Secretary of State. Today Cardinal Becciu is the most prominent defendant in the financial trial, which is the result of the investigation that prompted the October 2019 raid.

During his days in power as sostituto, Archbishop Becciu was the leading opponent of efforts by Cardinal George Pell to clean up Vatican finances. (And we still don’t know why his office transferred large sums of money to Australia, at a time when shaky charges against Cardinal Pell were emerging.) He forced out Milone, the auditor general. Later, two other officials who were connected with the financial investigation—Rene Bruelhart, the president of the Financial Information Authority; and Domenico Giani, the head of the gendarmerie—were also pushed out the doors.

Curiously, however, it was not Cardinal Becciu who asked Vincenzo Maurillo to call in the Italian experts. It was his successor as sostituto, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra. So if Maurillo’s story is true (and do you have any reason to doubt it?), Cardinal Becciu was not alone in his wish to thwart an internal investigation of questionable financial affairs in that office. And while Cardinal Becciu has been relieved of his duties at the Vatican while he awaits trial, Archbishop Peña Parra remains the sostituto: the 2nd-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, with enormous influence over the Roman Curia.

Now reflect on the curious behavior of the Vatican prosecutors in the finance case, who have repeatedly failed to follow court orders to disclose information, making mysterious references to “reasons of state.” Notice that some ranking Vatican officials who certainly seem to be involved in the questionable financial deals (including Archbishop Peña Parra) have not been indicted. Notice too that Pope Francis has intervened four times to change the rules of the trial.

Eventually you realize, sadly, that some Vatican officials have good reason to worry about surveillance: They don’t want the truth to come out.

If the Secretariat of State—to be more precise, the office of the sostituto—wants to keep some of its activities under wraps, there’s yet another intriguing aspect to the Maurillo testimony. He says that after speaking with the Italian experts about debugging his office, Archbishop Peña Parra met with them again, to discuss (as Pillar reports it) “conducting ‘reconnaissance’ for the Secretariat on certain individuals.” Maurillo says that he did not know who might have been targeted in this “reconnaissance,” and reasoned that if the archbishop “asked for the information it was for the good of the Holy See.” But was it?

Here—again, if Maurillo’s account is true—the sostituto was not merely seeking to thwart surveillance; he was looking to conduct surveillance on someone else. Were his targets inside or outside the Vatican?

It seems possible, at first glance, that the archbishop might have wanted confidential information about some of the financiers who had been doing business with the Secretariat, in deals that were now under investigation. But then why would he not have turned to the Vatican’s own investigators? Again, the fact that he looked to experts from outside the gendarmerie is suggestive. Perhaps there were things he didn’t want the Vatican’s own prosecutors to know. Perhaps, in fact, he was anxious to know how much they knew.

Is this all undue speculation. Perhaps. In fairness I should mention that, according to Pillar, “Italian intelligence authorities have denied Maurello’s account, calling his narrative ‘baseless.’” But if the sostituto’s request was made through backdoor channels, Italian authorities may never have been officially informed.

The finance trial resumes next week. Stay tuned for more revelations.

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: johnhinshaw8419405 - Feb. 12, 2022 3:19 PM ET USA

    The denial of Italian "intelligence authorities" are worth as much as warts. "Intelligence authorities" the world over think it essential to lie and lie abundantly. And Italian "intelligence authorities" (along with many others) were involved in the Russia Collusion Hoax.