The initial cardinal to be charged in the Vatican's criminal court has been found guilty of embezzlement.

The initial cardinal to be charged in the Vatican’s criminal court has been found guilty of embezzlement.

On Saturday, a Vatican court found a cardinal guilty of embezzlement and gave him a prison sentence of 5 ½ years. This was one of multiple verdicts in a complex financial trial that exposed the state’s internal issues and challenged its legal system.

During a 2 ½ year trial, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the first cardinal to face prosecution in the Vatican criminal court, was found not guilty of multiple charges. Nine other defendants also received a mix of guilty and not guilty verdicts out of the almost 50 charges brought against them.

Pope Francis presides Holy Mass for Ash Wednesday

During the Ash Wednesday penitential procession at the Basilica of Santa Sabina, Italian Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who is now the Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, led the procession.

Grzegorz Galazka/Archivio Grzegorz Galazka/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

According to Fabio Viglione, the lawyer for Becciu, he acknowledges the verdict but plans to appeal it.

The Vatican experienced a backlash from the financial reforms and efforts to address suspected financial wrongdoing under Francis’ leadership. However, this led to damaging revelations of revenge tactics, spying, and payments to Islamic extremists.

The state’s secretariat, for instance, requested compensation in order to finance a promotional effort aimed at repairing the damage to its reputation. The Vatican’s communications department also acknowledged that the trial had served as a test of the legal system’s capabilities.

Payments for property and charitable purposes in the city of London.

Much of the London case rested on the passage of the property from one London broker to another in late 2018. Prosecutors allege the second broker, Gianluigi Torzi, hoodwinked the Vatican by maneuvering to secure full control of the building that he relinquished only when the Vatican paid him off 15 million euros.

The Vatican prosecutors viewed it as a form of blackmail. However, the defense and a British judge, who denied the Vatican’s attempts to seize Torzi’s assets, saw it as a mutually agreed upon resolution to a legally binding agreement.

Ultimately, the court found Torzi guilty of multiple offenses, such as blackmail, and upheld a six-year imprisonment sentence for him.

It was uncertain where the perpetrators would be imprisoned. While the Vatican has a prison, the location of Torzi was not immediately disclosed.

Vatican Scandal

On September 25, 2020, Cardinal Angelo Becciu holds a press conference in Rome to speak with reporters.

Gregorio Borgia / AP

The initial London inquiry gave rise to two additional branches that revolved around the main defendant, Becciu, who was previously one of Francis’ main advisors and also seen as a potential candidate for the papacy.

The prosecutors alleged that Becciu committed embezzlement by transferring 125,000 euros from Vatican funds to a charity in Sardinia managed by his brother. Becciu defended himself by stating that the bishop had asked for the money to be used for a bakery that would provide employment opportunities for vulnerable young people, and that the funds were still held by the diocese.

The court recognized the charitable intentions behind the donation, but found him guilty of embezzlement due to his brother’s involvement.

Becciu was implicated in providing payment to Cecilia Marogna, a woman from Sardinia, in exchange for her services in gathering intelligence. Investigators discovered that 575,000 euros were transferred from the Vatican to a Slovenian company owned by Marogna and alleged that she used the funds for lavish purchases and trips.

Becciu explained that he believed the funds were intended to cover expenses for a British security company’s efforts to secure the freedom of Gloria Narvaez, a Colombian nun who was abducted by Islamic extremists in Mali in 2017.

According to him, Francis gave permission for up to 1 million euros to be paid in order to secure the release of the nun. This statement is surprising as it suggests that the Vatican was willing to pay a ransom to militants connected to al-Qaida.

The court determined that Becciu and Marogna were both at fault and imposed a sentence of three years and 9 months of imprisonment on Marogna.