Sandro Magister blogs from Rome – There was a stir on June 5 over the arrest and jailing, at the Vatican, of Gianluigi Torzi, the financier accused of extorting 15 million euros at the secretariat of state, in the tawdry dénouement of the purchase of a pricey building in London, backed in 2014 by the secretariat of state itself with money taken to a large extent from Peter’s Pence.
The investigations are in the preliminary phase and the trial has not yet been set. But at the top of the Vatican curia the war is already on. Substitute secretary of state Edgar Peña Parra is in the sights of one of the suspects, Mauro Carlino, who in turn was the secretary of the previous substitute, Giovanni Angelo Becciu, now cardinal prefect of the congregation for the causes of the saints. And Becciu, who gave the go-ahead on the operation in 2014, has been made a target of criticisms by his direct superior at the time, cardinal secretary of state Pietro Parolin, while Angelo Perlasca, another top-ranking suspect, accuses Parolin of having approved the operation as well.
Everything suggests that the trial will spare no one. And likely in order to prevent other such disasters in the future, produced by out-of-control operations and by incompetent and unreliable executors, on June 1 at the Vatican a severe tightening of the rules was passed regarding public contracts stipulated by the Holy See, including those of “real estate,” a clear reference to the London operation.
The cornerstones of this reform of the Vatican codes are the centralization of contracts, from now on under the sole jurisdiction of the APSA, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, or of the governorate of Vatican City, and the restriction of access to a single register of professionals whose absolute correctness must be certified. All under the supervision of the secretariat for the economy and the auditor general.
This reorganization and centralization of powers, in the face of an administrative disorder whose wreckage has long been plain for all to see, was welcomed at the Vatican with a general chorus of approval, although it is not known how sincere this was.
What has happened has in fact been the implementation of that same reform which had been courageously initiated at the beginning of the current pontificate by Cardinal George Pell, appointed in 2014 by Pope Francis as prefect of the newly created secretariat for the economy, but which had been opposed immediately and then completely reversed, to a large extent precisely by the secretariat of state and by its leaders and officials who have now ended up under investigation.
Pell left Rome in 2017 for his home country of Australia, where he was hammered with allegations of sexual abuse that led to a six-year prison sentence, confirmed on appeal but finally overturned completely by the Australian supreme court, which last April 7, Tuesday of Holy Week, set the innocent cardinal free.
But in that year of 2017 the reforms initiated by Pell at the Vatican had already been mostly demolished. Not only that. In June of that same year auditor general Libero Milone was also driven out with brutal methods. Who three months later – in a joint interview with Corriere della Sera, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and Sky TV – singled out none other than Becciu as the executive at the secretariat of state who most of all had wanted his expulsion, and also did not fail to complain about the silence of the pope, who already as of the spring of the previous year was refusing to receive him and even to respond to any request of his for a meeting.
In effect, it was no mystery that Francis had made an about-face shortly after calling Pell to put the Vatican’s finances in order.
The pope had initially entrusted the Australian cardinal with the centralization of the assets of all the offices of the curia, including the large sums, never shown on the public balance sheets of the Holy See, administered by an almighty office of the secretariat of state that was even obeyed by the APSA, the strongbox of the Vatican’s resources and real estate.
And Pell hadn’t pulled any punches. Right away he publicly disclosed the amount of the unaccounted-for funds in the possession of the secretariat of state and other Vatican offices, 1.4 billion dollars, obviously claiming control of them, and presented as imminent the absorption of the APSA into his own secretariat.
He never got that far. Without making any noise, the power centers Pell had put under siege circled the wagons and then counterattacked. With the pope listening to and siding with them more and more, instead of the Australian cardinal. And with secretary of state Parolin, whom Francis had in the meantime added to his eight cardinal advisers on the government of the curia and of the Church, pulling the strings of the counter-offensive.
Now, however, the fortunes have reversed. Cardinal Pell, restored to freedom in Australia during the days of Easter, has also had his Pentecost, with the publication on the eve of this holiday of the new Vatican codes on contracts, all finally in line with his much-opposed reforms.
While the secretariat of state is now in the vortex of an investigation that has already toppled a few midranking officials but that tomorrow could also hit its top executives of today and yesterday, after having already dimmed their fame, partly in view of a future conclave.
As for Francis, he has gotten into step with the times, even anticipating on his own initiative – during the press conference on the return flight from Japan – the conviction for corruption of the men of the secretariat of state embroiled in the purchase of the London building.
But if one just goes back to December 26 of 2018, at the height of the Christmas celebrations, one discovers that the pope’s guest at Santa Marta, along with his family, was none other than that Gianluigi Torzi who is now behind bars in a cell of the papal gendarmerie.