Wednesday 17 April 2024

Reports say star witness in ‘trial of the century’ confirmed in Vatican post

Vaticano, nuovi elementi emergono dalle rivelazioni di mons. Perlasca 

According to reports in the Italian media, the erstwhile star prosecution witness in the Vatican’s “trial of the century” for various financial crimes has been confirmed by Pope Francis in his role as an adjunct prosecutor for the Vatican’s supreme court.

Assuming the reports are correct, some observers likely will be tempted to see the confirmation as a reward for the role Italian Monsignor Alberto Perlasca played in the convictions of Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu and eight other defendants, despite critical questions raised at trial about Perlasca’s credibility and judgment.

First published by the Italian site “Dagospia,” the reports suggest that Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin has sent a letter to the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court in the church’s system of canon law, indicating that Perlasca “has been confirmed” in his role as an adjunct Promoter of Justice, meaning a prosecutor.

Though Parolin’s letter apparently did not specify, it’s widely presumed that the decision was made, or at least approved, by Pope Francis. The confirmation was necessary since Perlasca was first named to the Signatura in July 2019, at a time when an internal Vatican investigation of a $400 million property deal by the Secretariat of State in London was getting underway, and such appointments are normally for a five-year term.

While other news outlets subsequently have claimed to have confirmed the report, the Vatican has not issued any official statement.

In his previous role as the head of an office within the Secretariat of State responsible for financial administration, Perlasca effectively was the architect of the London deal, and early on was considered a likely target of an indictment. In mid-2021, however, Perlasca volunteered to become a whistle-blower in the case, offering to testify against Becciu and other former colleagues.

Though no plea bargain with the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice was ever confirmed, the fact remains that Perlasca was never charged. In 2023, chief prosecutor Alessandro Diddi described Perlasca as “more like a victim than a participant, a fragile person.”

The decision to confirm Perlasca as a prosecutor himself in the Vatican’s legal system has raised some eyebrows because of the way in which testimony during the trial raised questions about Perlasca’s own role.

At one point, an April 2021 memorandum prepared for investigators by Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Becciu’s successor as the sostituto, or “substitute,” effectively the pope’s chief of staff, identified Perlasca as the key figure in a system within the Secretariat of State which was intended to pressure top officials into making hasty decisions about financial matters, effectively rubber-stamping decisions already made.

“It’s a mechanism in which the superior is put under pressure, pushing him to act quickly and predicting catastrophe, such as, ‘If you don’t sign immediately, you risk losing a lot of money,’ ‘We don’t have an alternative,’ ‘Don’t worry, the practice is fine,’ and ‘This is only a formality’,” Peña Parra wrote.

With regard to the star witness, Peña Parra said, “In daily meetings with Monsignor Perlasca, in response to my request for explanations he provided incomplete or partial information that were limited to attempts to justify operations that were already underway.”

Perhaps most damningly, the Peña Parra memo asserted that Perlasca himself signed two key documents authorizing the London deal “before the question had been submitted to the attention of the Secretary of State or the Holy Father,” meaning, effectively, that Perlasca had presented his superiors with a fait accompli.

In addition to the Peña Parra memo, it also emerged at trial that Perlasca had allowed himself to be coached in preparing his testimony by two other figures: Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, a former PR consultant and member of a Vatican advisory body who was convicted of leaking confidential information in the Vatileaks 2.0 scandal in 2015; and Genoveffa Ciferri, a consecrated secular Franciscan who once consulted for the Italian security service and who is a longstanding friend of Perlasca.

According to Ciferri, Perlasca was kept in the dark about Chaouqui’s role, being told instead that her advice was coming from an “elderly magistrate.” At one point, Ciferri told the court that she went along with the deception because Chaouqui “is like charcoal — whoever touches it gets dirty.”

Ciferri also claimed that at one point in 2018 she feared Becciu wanted to have Perlasca killed, after Perlasca was administered barbiturates “that left him like a zombie for days.” At the time, an article by Vatican News, the state-owned news agency, said that what actually happened is that a doctor from the Vatican health service prescribed a few drops of valium for Perlasca after an “hysterical crisis.”

Many observers felt the disclosures about Chaouqui and Ciferri’s role undercut the evidentiary value of Perlasca’s testimony, and in his closing arguments last December, even Diddi appeared to try to downplay its significance. He insisted that Perlasca’s evidence was not the “cornerstone” of the prosecution, and that Perlasca himself was not the “super-witness” or “great accuser” in the case.

Now 63, Perlasca began his service with the Secretariat of State in 2003. From 2006 to 2008, he served in the Vatican embassy in Argentina, at a time when Pope Francis was still the Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Beginning in July 2009, he worked in the administrative office of the Secretariat of State, responsible for its financial activities.

Over the years, Perlasca also has served as member of the administrative council for the Vatican’s pension fund, a member of the board of a fund supporting the papally-sponsored Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital, and also a member of the “Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI” foundation. In addition, he has also been a consulter for the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.