Monday, December 18, 2023

Cardinal sentenced to prison following Vatican criminal trial

Inside the high walls of the Holy See, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu — former head of the office of “miracles” that minted saints — was considered papabile, a possible next pope.

Then his career collided with church prosecutors, who charged the 75-year-old Italian and nine other officials with corruption, setting up the Vatican’s trial of the century, reported the Washington Post.

On Saturday, Becciu — the first cardinal to be tried by the Vatican’s little-known criminal court — was found guilty of three counts of embezzlement and sentenced to five years and six months in a verdict read out in a converted quarter of the museum that houses the Sistine Chapel. He was acquitted of charges of money laundering, abuse of office and influencing a witness.

Becciu’s lawyers said they would appeal the decision. But the ruling put the cardinal closer to one of Vatican City’s handful of jail cells — a result that amounts to both an affirmation of accountability and an embarrassment for an institution that has struggled for decades to root out corruption.

Becciu was barred from holding any Vatican office and fined 8,000 euros (around $8,700).

The trial, a hodgepodge of charges heard over a marathon of 86 courtroom hearings, offered an unusual glimpse into the murky world of Vatican finances and Pope Francis’s campaign for accountability — even, critics argued, at the cost of due process.

Eight of Becciu’s co-defendants — Vatican officials, Italian business executives, consultants and brokers — were found guilty of financial crimes or abuse of office. A ninth was acquitted of all charges.

But the star defendant was Becciu, a papal confidant before a surprise 2020 meeting during which Francis dramatically confronted him with the accusations against him.

In response, Becciu resigned as head of the Vatican department that leads the canonization process. Francis stripped him of his privileges as cardinal before any finding of guilt. Later, some of those rights were unofficially reinstated.

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