Pope meets with child protection board as events outside Vatican show abuse scandal isn’t going away

By Nicole Winfield

Pope Francis sought to encourage his child protection board on Thursday to continue helping victims, as new developments outside the Vatican underscored that the Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse scandal isn’t going away anytime soon.

Francis met with his Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which is expected to soon release the first-ever audit of safeguarding procedures and policies church-wide.

But as that report is being compiled, church officials in Switzerland reported a surge in victims coming forward since the September publication of a bombshell report that found over 1,000 cases of abuse since the mid-20th century in a country with a relatively small Catholic population.

The diocese in northwestern Basel, for example, reported that more than half of the suspected 183 cases in the last 13 years emerged in the last six months. Swiss news agency SDA-Keystone reported at least 70 other cases across four other dioceses since the report was issued.

Closer to home, a criminal court in Sicily handed down an important verdict this week against a priest whom the Vatican apparently exonerated on a technicality even after one of his victims wrote to Francis, begging for him to intervene.

The case was being closely watched since Italy’s Catholic hierarchy has only recently and reluctantly begun confronting its legacy of abuse in a country where the issue is still somewhat taboo.

The verdict by the tribunal in Enna sentenced the priest, the Rev. Giuseppe Rugolo, to four and a half years in prison for attempted sexual violence and violence-related charges against three minors. The court also held his diocese, Piazza Armerina, Sicily, responsible for paying civil damages and legal fees, according to the sentence on Tuesday.

Piazza Armeria Bishop Rosario Gisana was caught on intercepted wiretaps confessing to having covered up for the priest. But a lawyer for the diocese, Gabriele Cantaro, stressed in a statement Thursday that the liability didn’t stem from the actions of Gisana or his predecessor, but merely from the diocese’s general responsibility for the actions of its priests.

According to the newspaper Domani, which covered the case closely, the Vatican’s sex abuse office shelved the case on technical grounds because Rugolo was only a seminarian when the abuse occurred. The Vatican’s in-house norms at the time only called for canonical sanctions against priests who abused minors, not seminarians.

Il Messaggero newspaper reported in 2021 that one of Rugolo’s victims wrote to Francis directly, begging him to intervene after he and his parents had spent years trying to get the church to take action against Rugolo, who was sent to a diocese in northern Italy after the accusations were raised.

Amid Italian media coverage of the case, Francis on Nov. 6 heartily praised Gisana when the bishop led a group of pilgrims to the Vatican.

“This bishop is great. He was persecuted, calumnied but he’s been firm, always correct, a correct man,” Francis said in remarks that outraged victims’ advocates.

Francis told his child protection advisers on Thursday that listening to victims was crucial to helping them heal.

“In our ecclesial ministry of protecting minors, closeness to victims of abuse is no abstract concept, but a very concrete reality, comprised of listening, intervening, preventing and assisting,” he said in remarks read by an aide as Francis continues to recover from the flu.

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Despite reforms, victims say church’s in-house processes to handle sex abuse cases retraumatizes

Pope Francis prays at the beginning of the third day of a Vatican’s conference on dealing with sex abuse by priests, at the Vatican, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Five years ago this week, Francis convened an unprecedented summit of bishops from around the world to impress on them that clergy abuse was a global problem and they needed to address it, but now, five years later, despite new church laws to hold bishops accountable and promises to do better, the Catholic Church’s in-house legal system and pastoral response to victims has proven again to be incapable of dealing with the problem.

By Nicole Winfield

Five years ago this week, Pope Francis convened an unprecedented summit of bishops from around the world to impress on them that clergy sexual abuse was a global problem and that they needed to do something about it.

Over four days, these bishops heard harrowing tales of trauma from victims, learned how to investigate and sanction pedophile priests, and were warned that they too would face punishment if they continued to cover for abusers.

Yet five years later, despite new church laws to hold bishops accountable and promises to do better, the Catholic Church’s in-house legal system and pastoral response to victims has proven incapable of dealing with the problem.

In fact, victims, outside investigators and even in-house canon lawyers increasingly say the church’s response, crafted and amended over two decades of unrelenting scandal around the world, is downright damaging to the very people already harmed — the victims. They are often retraumatized when they summon the courage to report their abuse through the church’s silence, stonewalling and inaction.

“It’s a horrific experience. And it’s not something that I would advise anyone to do unless they are prepared to have not just their world, but their sense of being turned upside down,” said Brian Devlin, a former Scottish priest whose internal, and then public accusations of sexual misconduct against the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien marked the cardinal’s downfall.

“You become the troublemaker. You become the whistleblower. And I can well understand that people who go through that process end up with bigger problems than they had before they started it.”

At the end of his 2019 summit, Francis vowed to confront abusive clergy with “the wrath of God.” Within months, he passed a new law requiring all abuse to be reported in-house (but not to police) and mapped out procedures to investigate bishops who abuse or protect predator priests.

But five years later, the Vatican has offered no statistics on the number of bishops investigated or sanctioned. Even the pope’s own child protection advisory commission says structural obstacles are harming victims and preventing basic justice.

“Recent publicly reported cases point to tragically harmful deficiencies in the norms intended to punish abusers and hold accountable those whose duty is to address wrongdoing,” the commission said after its last assembly. “We are long overdue in fixing the flaws in procedures that leave victims wounded and in the dark both during and after cases have been decided.”

At the 2019 summit, the norms enacted by the U.S. Catholic Church for sanctioning priests and protecting minors were held up as the gold standard. The U.S. bishops adopted a get tough policy after the U.S. abuse scandal exploded with the 2002 Boston Globe “Spotlight” series.

But even in the U.S., victims and canon lawyers say the system isn’t working, and that’s not even taking into consideration the new frontier of abuse cases involving adult victims. Some call it “charter fatigue,” or a desire to move beyond the scandal that spawned the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The Rev. Tom Doyle, a U.S. canon lawyer who worked for the Vatican embassy in Washington but now provides legal consulting for victims, says he no longer even advises they pursue church justice and instead work through secular courts.

Why? Because “the church will screw them every which way from Sunday,” he said.

Nearly every investigation into abuse in Catholic Church that has been published in recent years – church-commissioned reports in France and Germany, government inquests in Australia, a parliamentary one in Spain and law enforcement investigations in the U.S. — has identified the church’s in-house legal system as a big part of the problem.

While some reforms have been made – Pope Francis lifted the official pontifical secret covering abuse cases in 2019 – core issues remain.

—The structural conflict of interest. According to church procedures, a bishop or religious superior conducts an investigation into allegations that one of his priests raped a child and then renders judgement. And yet the bishop or superior has a vested interest in his priest, since the priest is considered to be a spiritual son in whom the bishop has invested time, money and love.

It is difficult to think of any other legal system in the world where someone with a personal, paternal relationship with one party in a dispute could be expected to objectively and fairly render judgment in it.

The independent commission that investigated the abuse scandal in the French church said such a structural conflict of interest “appears, humanly speaking, untenable.”

Even the pope’s own Synod of Bishops came to a similar conclusion. In its November synthesis document after a monthlong meeting, the world’s bishops identified the conflict between a bishop’s role as father and judge in abuse cases as a problem and called for the possibility of assigning the task of judgement to “other structures.”

—The lack of fundamental rights for victims. In canonical abuse investigations, victims are mere third-party witnesses to their cases. They cannot participate in any of the secret proceedings, have no access to case files and no right to even know if a canonical investigation has been started, much less its status.

Only as a result of a Francis reform in 2019 are victims allowed to know the ultimate outcome of their case, but nothing else.

The Spanish ombudsman, tasked by the country’s congress of deputies to investigate abuse in the Spanish Catholic Church, said victims are often retraumatized by such a process, which it said falls far short of national or international standards.

The French experts went even further, arguing that the Holy See is essentially in breach of its obligations as a U.N. observer state and member of the Council of Europe, which requires it to uphold the basic human rights of victims.

— No published case law. The Vatican’s sex abuse office doesn’t publish any of its decisions about how clergy sexual abuse cases have been adjudicated, even in redacted form.

That means that a bishop investigating an accusation against one of his priests has no way of knowing how the law has been applied in a similar case. It means canon law students have no case law to study or cite. It means academics, journalists and even victims have no way of knowing what types of behaviour gets sanctioned and whether penalties are being imposed arbitrarily or not.

The legal experts who investigated abuse in the Munich, Germany church said the publication of canonical decisions would help eliminate uncertainties for victims in how church law was being applied; Australia’s Royal Commission, the highest form of inquest in the country, similarly called for the redacted publication of its decisions and to provide written reasons for their decisions “in a timely manner.”

In-house, canon lawyers for years have complained that the lack of published cases was deepening doubts about the credibility and effectiveness of the churches’ response to the church scandal.

“All we can conclude is that this lack of systematic publication of the jurisprudence of the highest courts in the church is unworthy of a true legal system,” canon lawyer Kurt Martens told a conference in Rome late last year.

Monsignor John Kennedy, who heads the Vatican office that investigates abuse cases, said his staff was working diligently to process cases and had received praise from individual bishops, entire conferences who visit and religious superiors.

“We don’t talk about what we do in public but the feedback we receive and the comments from our members who recently met for the plenary are very encouraging. The pope also expressed his gratitude for the great work that is done in silence,” he said in a message to AP.

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Pope Francis accused of opposing reforms to tackle clerical sexual abuse

— Activists say pontiff also ‘turning a blind eye’ to priests who assault nuns and force them to have abortions

Activists for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse say Francis has failed to fulfil his promises and new rules have made little impact.


Pope Francis has been accused of opposing reforms that would seriously address the problem of clerical sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, while “turning a blind eye” to priests who assault nuns and force them to have abortions.

Francis promised to “spare no effort” to bring to justice paedophile priests and the bishops who covered up their crimes at an unprecedented summit in February 2019, an event that was supposed to mark a turning point in the handling of a scandal that has embroiled the Catholic church for decades.

A week before the summit, Francis became the first pontiff to publicly admit that priests had also sexually abused nuns, some of whom shared testimony during the event, and pledged to do more to fight the problem.

Three months later, the Vatican established procedures for every diocese to report allegations of abuse and foster accountability for the actions of bishops and cardinals. Francis also abolished the rule of “pontifical secrecy” – a kind of code of confidentiality – in an effort to improve transparency in sexual abuse cases.

Five years on, activists for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse say Francis has failed to fulfil his promises and the new rules have made little impact.

On Tuesday Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of BishopAccountability, which tracks alleged clergy sexual abuse cases, cited 10 cases since 2019 that allegedly show the pope favoured accused bishops and clerics over their victims. The cases include that of Marko Rupnik, who was excommunicated in 2020 after accusations of sexual and psychological assault against nuns dating back three decades, but in 2023 was accepted into a diocese in his native Slovenia.

“It would be one thing if we were coming here to talk about an overall good record with an occasional inconsistency, but we’re not, we’re talking about a continued pattern of the pope backing accused abusers,” Doyle told reporters in Rome. “It’s not that this pope doesn’t have his heart in reform or is maybe being blocked by other members of the curia. I believe he is opposed to reform – his measures have been designed to produce little impact.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican had been aware of the abuse of nuns by priests for decades before the public acknowledgment by Francis, but “nothing has come of his commitment” to fight the issue, said Doris Reisinger, an activist and survivor of clerical sexual abuse who authored a research paper on the girls and women impregnated by priests and their subsequent forced abortions.

“While the pope publicly condemns abortion, comparing it to hiring a hitman, he turns a blind eye to the priests who force nuns into having abortions,” said Reisinger.

Reisinger said that while some nuns had come forward about abuse since 2019, they were mostly too afraid to speak out. There is scant care for abused nuns, many of whom have been thrown out of their orders and made homeless, and under canon law they “have no status at all”, she said.

“The pope has admitted abuse of nuns but he has not acted on it,” said Reisinger. “And we have never heard a pope or bishop acknowledge coerced abortion at the hands of priests. They always treat abortion as a female issue yet they have never spoken about priests forcing abortions, despite knowing it is going on.”

In her research, Reisinger had come across cases in which the priest paid for an abortion, including one occasion when money from the offertory collection was used.

The Vatican has been approached for comment.

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‘Anti-pope.’ ‘Blasphemous.’

— Criticism of Francis comes in strident terms.

Gerhard Müller receives his biretta cap, making him a cardinal, from Pope Francis in February 2014. Today, he is one of Francis’s leading critics.

By , and

Pope Francis is facing some of the most vociferous objection to papal authority in decades, in language that might have stunned past popes.

German Cardinal Gerhard Müller derided the pope’s new guidance allowing priests to bless same-sex couples as “blasphemy.” One Italian priest found himself rapidly excommunicated after he referred to Francis in his New Year’s Eve homily as an “anti-Pope usurper” with a “cadaverous gaze, into nothingness.” Still holding on to his title is Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who recently dubbed the pontiff a servant of Satan and announced a seminary to train priests free from the “deviations of Bergoglio” (Francis’s name before becoming pope).

Some of this resentment is long-simmering. Almost as long as he’s been pope, Francis has been confronted by dissenting church traditionalists. Viganò, for one, has previously called for Francis’s resignation.

The death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had been widely expected to clarify any muddiness about the hierarchy in Vatican City, leaving just one figure wearing papal white within its ancient walls. A year later, the voices questioning Francis’s basic authority have only grown louder, at the same time that bold, legacy-cementing moves by the 87-year-old pope have prompted broader backlash within the church.

Francis is experiencing a level of reproach that some observers say is the fiercest since Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the church’s ban on artificial birth control in 1968. Today’s criticism is further amplified by social and digital media. An even more striking distinction, though, may be the overt disdain some clerics are showing to a man seen by Catholics as the Vicar of Christ atop the Throne of Saint Peter.

“What we’re seeing under Francis is to a very high degree [the kind of dissent] we saw in 1968,” said Austen Ivereigh, the pope’s biographer. “But what’s new is the lack of respect, the lack of deference to papal authority, which has become somehow permissible in this pontificate in a way that I’ve never seen before.”

>The opposition to Francis is “unprecedented,” said John Carr, a former longtime lobbyist for the U.S. bishops conference who founded Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. “It is strong, it is narrow, and it is about power — ecclesiastical, economic and political power.”

“They didn’t say John Paul [II] wasn’t pope. They didn’t say Benedict was illegitimate. This is part of a larger project to undermine his credibility.”

The rise in anti-Francis rhetoric doesn’t seem to reflect or have affected his public standing — his popularity remains the envy of politicians in many countries. But the barrage of criticism presents a direct challenge to his papacy and renews an age-old question for the Roman Catholic Church: How far is too far when you fault a pope?

Blessings for same-sex couples

A same-sex couple receives a blessing outside Cologne Cathedral on Sept. 20. Clergy in Germany began bestowing such blessings before the pope’s recent guidance.

The number of Catholic clerics loudly and proudly announcing their intent to disregard the pope grew last month after Francis shifted Vatican guidance and authorized priestly blessings of same-sex couples and other “irregular” relationships, as long as those benedictions are kept separate from marriage.

Some clerics heralded the decision as long overdue, a move that puts Francis’s past statements about a more welcoming church into practice. The declaration “is a step forward,” wrote Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, “and in keeping not only with Pope Francis’s desire to accompany people pastorally but Jesus’s desire to be present to all people who desire grace and support.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — at times an epicenter of criticism of Francis — was muted in its reaction, saying in a statement that the pope was simply affirming that “those who do not live up to the full demand of the Church’s moral teaching are nevertheless loved and cherished by God.”

Even some bishops loyal to Francis, however, appeared genuinely confused over how such blessings were meaningfully different from condoning same-sex unions, and how the Vatican could support same-sex blessings while maintaining that homosexual tendencies are “intrinsically disordered” and homosexual acts immoral. The Vatican’s stance is that the new ruling marks an expansion of the role of blessings in the church rather than any acceptance of homosexuality, and that the seconds-long benedictions by no means validate the legal or sexual relationships of same-sex couples.

And then there were those who rejected the guidance outright. The African bishops conferences issued an extraordinary joint statement on Thursday, attesting to their allegiance to Francis but at the same time saying members could not carry out the blessings he suggested without “exposing themselves to scandals.” Two bishops in Kazakhstan, in a letter forbidding their priests to obey the Vatican edict, “respectfully” said the pope was not walking “uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel.”

“Of course, it is a crisis of authority,” one of those bishops, Athanasius Schneider, said in an interview with The Washington Post. He is critical of bishops who show outright disrespect to Francis, such as Viganò. But, he added, “the pope is losing the firmness of his words and authorities.”

He continued, “If I will be punished for [saying] this, it will be for me an honor, because I will be punished only for the truth.”

The Vatican released an extraordinary “clarification” last week, stating that while bishops and priests could exercise personal judgment in offering such blessings, there were no grounds to consider the declaration approved by the pope “heretical, contrary to the Tradition of the Church or blasphemous.”

And yet two days later, Cardinal Robert Sarah, a senior cleric from Guinea, wrote in apparent defiance: “We are not opposing Pope Francis, but we are firmly and radically opposing a heresy that seriously undermines the Church, the Body of Christ, because it is contrary to the Catholic faith and Tradition.”

Unusually public criticism

Participants in the Synod of Bishops follow Pope Francis on monitors in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on Oct. 4.

Seen as the heirs of Saint Peter, popes possess “supreme, full, immediate, and universal” authority, according to doctrine, over what is today a church of 1.3 billion Catholics. Despite widely held perceptions that Catholics consider popes infallible, they are viewed as such in very rare instances — with the last universally accepted time being in the 1950s, when Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven, body and soul, as a fundamental article of Catholic faith.

Under church norms, clerics may question the pope — albeit in respectful, reasonable ways.

Francis has shown significant tolerance for dissent, but his patience may be wearing thin. In recent months, one critic, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Tex., was stripped of his diocese. Another, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who frequently spoke at conservative conferences that excoriated Francis, lost his pension and Rome apartment.

“In the case of both Strickland and Burke, the amazing thing is that [Francis] took so long to do it,” said Ivereigh, the biographer. “No previous pope would have put up with anything like that.”

John S. Grabowski, a professor of moral theology and ethics at Catholic University in D.C., said that such criticism is hardly unique in papal history. Consider the 11th-century split between the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches, he said. That was a severe break far greater than anything Francis faces now.

The more frequently cited point of comparison is the 1960s, when the majority of a papal commission on artificial contraception advised approving its use. Shortly afterward, Pope Paul VI, wrote “Humanae Vitae,” a high-level papal document reiterating traditional teaching and classifying the use of the birth-control pill and other artificial contraception as a sin. Some bishops conferences and theologians rejected the document, saying Catholics should honor their own consciences.

The 1968 contraception ruling “was the last big time when we had such a strong disagreement with something that came out of the Vatican,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a political scientist and longtime journalist who has written several books about the inner workings of the Catholic Church. “But bishops did not criticize [Pope Paul VI] so publicly, the way that some of them are with Pope Francis.”

“I’m stunned at the criticism of Pope Francis by conservatives,” said John McGreevy, a historian of Catholicism and provost at the University of Notre Dame. This extremely public nature of papal criticism, he said, is totally new and modern. As contributing factors, he cited a changed media landscape that provides a platform for outspoken critics such as Strickland or Viganò, as well as the rise of populist impulses around the world.

“The attacks on the institution are symbolic of a populism you would have thought Catholicism would be immune to, because it’s the ultimate bureaucratic institution,” he said.

Some experts said the fact that Benedict is no longer around to temper conservative dissent could be working against Francis.

Same-sex blessings were “the first important action [Francis] took after Ratzinger’s death,” said Alberto Melloni, a Rome-based church historian, referring to Benedict by his pre-papal name. “But this time Ratzinger is no longer there to tell the others: ‘Who cares if you don’t like it, he is the pope and you need to obey.’”

The pushback from dioceses on the same-sex marriage ruling stands somewhat apart from the cluster of fringe extremists who have scandalized even lesser critics of the pope with their incendiary language.

The Italian priest excommunicated on Jan. 1, for instance, is part of a group of Roman Catholic priests, many of them now excommunicated, who hold an almost Trumpian belief that Benedict remained the “true pope” even after his retirement, and that Francis has never been legitimate.

In an interview, the priest, Ramon Guidetti, said he had received emails from U.S. lawyers volunteering to appeal his case within the Vatican.

“I’m no expert on geopolitics but I can grasp something,” he said. “There will be presidential elections soon in the U.S., so basically all those Catholics who are against Bergoglio, who do not recognize him as a Roman pontiff, possibly connected to Trump’s movement, have seized on the chance to offer their support.”

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Cardinal found guilty of embezzlement in Vatican ‘trial of the century’

Italian Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu attends a Vatican consistory for the creation of new Cardinals on Aug. 27, 2022 at St. Peter’s Basilica.

By and 

Inside the high walls of the Holy See, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu — former head of the office of “miracles” that minted saints — was considered papabile, a possible next pope.

Then his career collided with church prosecutors, who charged the 75-year-old Italian and nine other officials with corruption, setting up the Vatican’s trial of the century.

On Saturday, Becciu — the first cardinal tried by the Vatican’s little-known criminal court — was found guilty of several counts of embezzlement after a trial of marred by allegations of witness tampering and papal interference. Becciu was sentenced to five years and six months in a verdict read out in a converted quarter of the museum that houses the Sistine Chapel.

Becciu’s lawyers said the decision would be appealed, but it put the cardinal closer to one of Vatican City’s handful of jail cells — a result that amounts to both a sign of accountability and embarrassment for an institution that has long struggled to root out corruption. He was also barred from holding any Vatican office.

The case, a marathon of 86 courtroom hearings that mixed a hodgepodge of various charges, further exposed the murky world of Vatican finances, as well as the pope’s crusade for accountability, even, critics argued, at the cost of the rule of law. The star defendant was always Becciu, once a papal confident who renounced his senior post after a surprise 2020 meeting in which Pope Francis dramatically confronted him with the accusations against him. Francis stripped him of his privileges as cardinal before any finding of guilt. Later, some of those rights were unofficially reinstated.

The Vatican, meanwhile, emerges worse for wear, with new questions raised about the effectiveness and fairness of its legal system. Portrayed as an exercise in transparency under a crusading pope, the case nevertheless appeared to backfire in key ways, opening an unwanted window into the intrigue, infighting and ineptitude at heart of the world’s smallest sovereign state.

“The pope ended up kicking a hornets’ nest,” said Giovanni Maria Vian, a former editor of the Vatican newspaper.

A bad Vatican investment in a tony London property that ultimately led to massive losses prompted the sweeping investigation, including unprecedented raids of Vatican offices. As prosecutors dug, they claimed Becciu had wrongly funneled 125,000 euros to a Sardinian charity run by his brother and another 575,000 euros to Cecilia Marogna, a Sardinian woman with a humanitarian organization in Slovenia who, Becciu said, was supposed to help free a kidnapped nun. Other senior Vatican officials who signed off on the London deal were never indicted, and the pope had been previously apprised of the transaction.

Before the trial began, Francis appeared to use his powers in ways that supporters saw as a quest for transparency, but critics called overreach by a man who serves as Vatican City’s absolute monarch. He approved a series of secret edicts aimed at empowering prosecutors, including one allowing investigators to engage in wiretapping.

Pope Francis makes the sign of the cross during the weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.

As prosecutors sought to prove their case, they were plagued by setbacks, including questions about the credibility of their star witness and revelations that he had been coached by a Becciu enemy.

The trial came as a pope elected with a mandate to reform the Roman Curia — the opaque bureaucracy that runs Vatican City — was seen as having made strides, if still not enough, to improve financial transparency. The Vatican bank — long tainted by secretive accounting and money laundering scandals — underwent a cleanup during the past decade, a process begun under Pope Benedict XVI and accelerated under Francis.

Francis has also banned gifts to Vatican employees worth more than $50, and forced Holy See officials to sign a pledge that they have no assets in tax havens.

The Becciu case “says a lot about the pope’s will — theatrical and spectacular — to clean house,” said Emiliano Fittipaldi, an Italian journalist and noted Vatican watcher. He added, “Becciu became a sort of symbol, or a scapegoat, even if he didn’t commit any crime, of a system that had to be dealt with at last.”

Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi sought prison sentences between four and 13 years for the defendants, as well as nearly 500 million euros in restitution. Becciu maintained his “absolute innocence” and contended he did not steal “a single euro.” During the case, Becciu appeared to suggest the pope had turned on him even as he was forced to deny reports that he funded an international smear campaign against one of Francis’s fiercest conservative critics.

Some observers wondered why the Vatican sought to prosecute the complicated case that ran from Britain to Slovenia to Italy in the first place, rather than turn it over to better equipped Italian authorities.

After Francis became pope, Becciu, who formerly served as de facto chief of staff at the Vatican’s secretariat of state — its diplomatic arm — would frequently travel with him and was seen as one of the few men within the Holy See who could freely knock on the pope’s door.

During his time in that post, the secretariat invested in a luxury building on London’s fashionable Sloane Avenue through an Italian financier, Raffaele Mincione. The property had once served as warehouses for the Harrods department store. With upgrades, the Vatican was supposed to make a mint.

Instead, it turned out that the property had been radically overvalued. It was sold last year at a $175-million loss. But before that, attempts by the secretariat to refinance a loan through the Vatican bank set off alarm bells that got back to the pope and triggered the broader investigation.

A view, on Feb. 18, 2021, of 60 Sloane Avenue, a period building in West London owned by the Vatican.

On the stand, Becciu decried his transformation from pious cleric to “monster.” Behind the scenes, he set out to prove his innocence. In 2021, before the trial started, he wrote a series of letters to Francis, urging the pope to confirm he had knowledge of, and even supported, the London deal.

Becciu additionally asked Francis to admit he had prior knowledge of the agreement with Marogna, the woman with the charity in Slovenia who was paid an exorbitant fee for unclear services. Becciu has said he believed the money was going to assist the liberation of Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez, a Colombian nun kidnapped in 2017 in Mali.

In a subsequent call to Francis, made the day after the pope was released from a Rome hospital for colon surgery, Becciu secretly recorded the pontiff, who appeared sympathetic to his plight. But a follow-up letter to the pope requesting his written support against the charges resulted in a frosty letter in legalese, in which Francis expressed his “surprise” at Becciu’s request and said he could not help him.

The prosecutors’ case in part rested on the testimony of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, the Vatican official who had signed contracts related to a London property in 2018. Initially a target of the investigation, he altered his testimony and became a witness for the prosecution against Becciu. Former Vatican diplomat Francesca Chaouqui — jailed for 10 months in connection to the Vatileaks scandal which was seen as helping to prompt Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation — later testified that she had sought to influence Perlasca after blaming Becciu for playing a role in her downfall.

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