Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Vatican justice system is on trial in finance case

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 26, 2022

See if you can follow the logic here. I’m having a little trouble myself.

In the Vatican’s financial-misconduct trial, lawyers for Cardinal Angelo Becciu are asking the court to throw out evidence supplied by Becciu’s former deputy, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, because during an interview the prosecutors asked Perlasca inappropriate questions. Specifically, they asked about rumors that the cardinal had an inappropriate relationship with Cecila Marogna, another defendant (Msgr. Perlasca denied any knowledge of such a relationship.)

The Pillar site—which is providing consistently excellent coverage of the case—offers text from yesterday’s hearing:

Becciu said the line of questioning, during which investigators referenced the work of an Italian comedian who has repeatedly lampooned Becciu and implied a sexual relationship between the cardinal and Marogna, was based on “insinuations and untruths.” Becciu’s lawyers argued that the exchanges should invalidate Perlasca’s evidence since they introduced prejudicial speculation and rumors into the evidence and, the cardinal said, are “harmful to his priestly dignity and offensive to the entire college of cardinals of which he is a member.”

So investigators asked the witness about a rumor, and on that basis the testimony of that witness should be disregarded? Even though the witness said that the rumors were inaccurate? By that standard, it seems, if an eyewitness testifies that he saw John Doe rob a bank, and investigators ask whether John also robbed a liquor store, that question invalidates the eyewitness testimony about the bank robbery.

Sometimes investigators ask probing questions; that’s one way they collect information. The testimony of a qualified witness cannot be dismissed simply because the answer to one of those questions is No. (And prosecutors insist that the Perlasca testimony has already been edited to remove any salacious suggestions, to “safeguard the morality of the accused.”)

Does the suggestion of an inappropriate relationship tarnish the defendant’s reputation? Yes, unfortunately it does. So does a criminal indictment for embezzlement, abuse of office, witness tampering, and suborning perjury. The trial is indubitably harmful to Becciu’s priestly dignity. But it’s a bit late in the game to introduce that argument; the trial has begun.

And notice the last phrase of the protest from the defendant’s lawyers, charging that the rumor is “offensive to the entire College of Cardinals of which he is a member.” Pillar makes an appropriate observation here: “Becciu has repeatedly invoked his cardinalatial dignity, despite being made to resign his rights and privileges as a cardinal by the Pope.”

Cardinal Becciu retains his title, but not his privileges as a member of the College. He retains his legal right to the presumption of innocence, but not the right to be immune from accusations of criminal behavior. If these are the most compelling arguments his defense can mount, his case is mighty weak.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the courtroom, the prosecution is under fire—again—for failing to comply with repeated court orders to provide defendants with witness testimony. Defense lawyers report that they have received only 16 of the 255 exhibits they need. The prosecution has argued that some of these materials are privileged—for reasons the tribunal has found unpersuasive. Still, weeks after a clear court order, the evidence has not been supplied to the defense.

The Vatican tribunal will not actually weigh the evidence in this case until mid-February, at the earliest. But we have already seen abundant evidence that both prosecutors and defendants think that they can set their own rules for the proceedings. As many reporters have observed, it isn’t just the ten defendants that are on trial in this case; the Vatican’s criminal justice system will be under scrutiny as well.

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: ewaughok - Jan. 31, 2022 6:44 PM ET USA

    Hmm… “under scrutiny” is a far cry less grave than “on trial” Being under scrutiny has few serious consequences, being on trial my result in findings of guilt with respect to illegal actions. So which is it, Phil?