In a first, Catholic cardinal testifies at Vatican criminal trial
Vatican City – The first cardinal to face criminal trial in a Vatican courtroom, once one of the most powerful officials in the Roman Catholic Church, told the court in the papal city-state on Thursday that he would defend his name against embezzlement charges. ready to clean. and abuse of position.
The cardinal, Giovanni Angelo Bacchiu, is facing charges along with nine others for defrauding the Vatican. Specifically, the case focused primarily on a London real estate investment that prosecutors say caused the Vatican millions in damages while enriching middlemen.
This was a view that was only possible when Pope Francis changed the law of the Vatican city-state to eliminate the special privileges that cardinals and bishops previously enjoyed regarding criminal offences.
All those charged have denied wrongdoing, and Cardinal Baqiu, 73, emotionally declared his innocence on Thursday.
He was subjected to “a media massacre”, a statement read, a “violent and obscene campaign” that questioned his moral integrity.
“I was portrayed as a corrupt man, greedy for money, unfaithful to the Pope,” he told the court, adding: “I am here with my head held high, with a clean conscience.”
At the time the deal was struck, Cardinal Baciu was the “Sostituto” or Chief of Staff at the State Secretariat of the Holy See, where he was instrumental in running the bureaucratic curia that controlled the Vatican. Pope Francis sacked him from his last Vatican post in September 2020 while the deal was under investigation.
The trial began on July 27, 2021, but was halted by preliminary arguments as defense lawyers raised several objections and motions to dismiss the case, arguing among other things that the prosecution had withheld evidence. which hindered their ability to protect their customers. Effectively.
The court rejected the defense’s motion earlier this month, allowing the trial to proceed.
While the case focused on the Vatican’s purchase of a building in Chelsea, one of London’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, it also contained unrelated allegations, including the allegation that Cardinal Bacchiu had bought a building run by his brother in Sardinia. The charity was given Vatican funds.
Cardinal Baqiu was set to take the stand on Thursday, but the Vatican’s prosecutor, Alessandro Didi, said he would not be able to question the cardinal because the cases of Covid-19 in his office did not allow him to prepare.
Instead, the bishop read a statement to the court declaring his innocence, and answered questions given to him by the chief justice, Giuseppe Pignatone, regarding two payments made by the Secretariat of State to a church account in Sardinia, who was related to his brother. led at that time. The prosecution claims that his family benefited from the money.
In the earlier case – payments of 25,000 euros, about $27,000 at current exchange rates, were made in 2015 – Cardinal Baciu said that the Secretariat had financed a bread-making machine for a bakery, “a project that helped socialize Gave work to the youth. The underprivileged.” He cited a May 2020 address by Francis about the dignity of work.
In the second case – €100,000 in 2018 – the cardinal said the money was set aside by a Sardinian bishop to pay for the construction of a social center that would organize various charitable activities. The money was still there, he said, and a ceremony took place last month to mark the start of construction work.
The cardinal said his brother was paid a salary by the charity group between 2016 and 2021, after which he retired and started working for free.
In his statement to the court, Cardinal Baciu said he was not afraid of the truth. “On the contrary, I want the truth to be declared as soon as possible,” he said. “I have always worked for the good of the Apostolic See and the Church as a whole.”
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