A trial of two former Vatican bank officials is looming, and with it, a question: is the Vatican able to bring its financial house into some semblance of order? The first hearing in the case was slated for Thursday, but was postponed at the last minute upon request from defence attorneys and lawyers for the Vatican bank.
When it does finally begin, the trial will be another major step in reform efforts started under Benedict XVI. Once again, however, the accused are laymen, raising the question of why clergy are so often so conspicuously absent from the prosecutions.
The accused are Angelo Caloia, the 78-year-old economist who headed the Institute for the Works of Religion (or “IOR” as the bank is officially known) from 1989 to 2009, and Caloia’s 94-year-old attorney, Gabriele Liuzzo. A third individual, Lelio Scaletti, also figured in the investigation that led to the indictments, but died before they were handed down.
Reports are that the men ran a real estate scam allegedly involving their profiting from the sale of Vatican property between 2001 and 2008, to the tune of €50 million. Both the accused deny wrongdoing.
Caloia’s indictment is significant for several reasons, not least of which are that he served 20 years as IOR president, and that he succeeded Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who ran the bank from 1971 to 1989 before resigning in disgrace in the wake of the infamous Banco Ambrosiano scandal.
A 2014 progress report on Vatican financial reform prepared by the Council of Europe’s financial watchdog, Moneyval, hinted at the investigation. Then, in late 2014, Reuters reported that the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, Gian Piero Milano, had ordered the freezing of assets held by the three men who were the subject of the investigation. The order hypothesised those assets to have been 29 buildings, from the sale of which the now-indicted IOR managers would have profited by under-reporting the proceeds in the bank’s books and taking the difference in separate payments.
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