Anomolies abound in Vatican trial

2017-10-14 15:27


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Vatican City - The Vatican trial over $500 000 in donations to the pope's paediatric hospital that were diverted to renovate a cardinal's penthouse is reaching its conclusion, with neither the cardinal who benefited nor the contractor who was apparently paid twice for the work facing trial.

Instead, the former president of the Bambino Gesu children's hospital and his ex-treasurer are accused of misappropriating €422 000 from the hospital's fundraising foundation to overhaul the retirement home of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state under Pope Benedict XVI.

Prosecutors have asked for a guilty verdict, a three-year prison term and a fine of €5 000 for the ex-president, Giuseppe Profiti. They asked to shelve the case against the ex-treasurer, Massimo Spina, for lack of evidence, but the trial determined he had no signing power or decision-making authority.

The trial, which began in July and resumes on Saturday with the defense's closing arguments, exposed how Bertone bent Vatican rules to get his retirement apartment in shape for him to move in after Pope Francis was elected in 2013 and named a new secretary of state.

And it laid bare the "opacity, silence and poor management" in handling Vatican assets, prosecutor Roberto Zanotti said in his closing statements. Such lack of financial transparency and accountability has bedeviled the Holy See for centuries and has been a top concern for Francis' reform-minded papacy.

The trial also shined a light on "the pope's hospital," which was the subject of an Associated Press investigation earlier this year. The AP uncovered a secret 2014 Vatican-authorised probe that found that the hospital's mission under the Profiti administration had become "more aimed at profit" than patient care.

After retiring in 2013, Bertone was assigned a 400 square meter top-floor bachelor pad in the Vatican-owned Palazzo San Carlo, which sits on the edge of the Vatican gardens and offers fabulous views of St Peter's Basilica and overlooks the Vatican hotel where Francis lives.

During the trial, Bertone was shown to have personally engineered the unprecedented maneuver to get an old friend, Gianantonio Bandera, to do the renovation. Bertone's project jumped the queue for Vatican real estate repairs, and avoided the normal external bidding process required for such an expensive overhaul — presumably because he promised to foot the bill himself.

And Bertone did indeed pay some €300 000 out of his own pocket. The problem is the hospital foundation also paid Bandera's firm €422 000 for a job that totaled €533 000, including communal repairs to the palazzo's leaky roof.

The chief engineer of the Vatican's building maintenance office, Marco Bargellini, testified that Bertone's August 2013 request for renovations was "unique." Bargellini said he had never seen a case where a tenant proposed a project with the construction firm already chosen, since the Vatican has a list of contractors who would normally bid for the contract.

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