ROME — A relatively dull criminal trial is shedding light into what has been called a profound “opaqueness” and “disorder” in the handling of papal finances.
The trial concerns two former officials of the papally-sponsored Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital, who stand accused of diverting roughly $500,000 of the hospital’s money to pay for the remodeling of a Vatican apartment currently occupied by Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the former Secretary of State under Benedict XVI.
During the eight sessions of the trial on Oct. 9, the prosecution asked that Giuseppe Profiti, who served as both the president of the hospital and the president of its foundation from 2008 to 2017, be sentenced with three years imprisonment, a perpetual interdiction from public offices and a fine of roughly $5,000 dollars.
Profiti’s lawyers have so far worked hard to prove to the court that the massive transfer of funds from the hospital for the remodeling of the 4,500-square foot apartment was justified, because Bertone was going to allow fundraising events to take place in his home, which would more than recoup the costs.
Profiti has always maintained the whole operation was entirely above board, and that he would make the same decision again.
Concerning the other accused, Massimo Spina, who served as treasurer of the hospital, the evidence was found insufficient to justify any charges, as they “did not pass reasonable doubt.”
The lawyer for the prosecution, Roberto Zanotti, concluded the session by pointing out that the entire affair “unfortunately sheds light on a case of surprising opaqueness, of silences and terrible mishandling of public money: An opaque picture that is not thrilling, but no matter how depressing, is not an aspect relevant to the trial.”
Mariella Enoc’s eight-month silence
Mariella Enoc, who is the current president of Bambino Gesù, was the last witness called to testify during the Oct. 9 trial. What the prosecution tried to get at was why the president, upon learning of the hospital’s large deficit, had been so quiet for many months before addressing the issue.
While on the stand, Enoc said that she first learned of the apartment remodeling on February 12, 2015 when she was told by Spina that the hospital was going to have to ask Bandera’s English companies for about $200,000 in reimbursement. The president stated that she was not interested in the matter and “had to think of the future” of the hospital, in order to justify her lack of initiative in solving the problem for nearly eight months.
What also emerged from her testimony was a picture of confusion and disorder within the hospital management. Enoc stated that there was no official handover between herself and Profiti when she took his place in 2015, and that crucial documents for the trial – including letters between Bertone and Profiti – had not been logged, raising the issue of their veracity.
Enoc also recounted that Spina met with her at the beginning of her mandate with the documents concerning the apartment remodeling and offered to resign from his post as treasurer. “He led me to understand that he was a stranger to the affair and was even willing to hand me all that I needed, but I did not push the question further because it was not my concern,” Enoc said, adding that she never read those documents.
The elephant in the room
Despite the fact that the case is rather straightforward, several elements of the trial raise other, serious questions. Mainly the fact that two major players who have principally benefited from the operation have been excluded from the story.
The work on the apartment was led by Gianantonio Bandera, who owned a now-bankrupt construction company, which did not complete the remodeling of the apartment and who the court proved was paid twice for the work, first by the Bambino Gesù hospital and then by the Government of the Vatican City State.
Not only were no charges brought against Bandera, but he also appeared as a witness for the prosecution. The prosecution came to the conclusion that “there is no proof of collusion,” but it suggested that “someone should knock on the door of his companies to get restitution” of the money.
The other elephant in the room is Bertone, who currently lives in the remodeled Vatican apartment and was a friend to Bandera and Profiti from the time he was Archbishop of Genoa from 2002 to 2006.
“I found a letter where Cardinal Bertone was said to agree with the use of the apartment, but I always thought those were documents that did not concern me,” Enoc said while on the stand, referring to letters between the cardinal and Profiti.
During a meeting between November and December 2015, Enoc brought the issue up to Bertone who, according to her testimony, insisted that he knew nothing of the matter and did not agree to the remodeling. No charges were brought against the cardinal by the prosecution, nor was Bertone called to the court in order to testify.
The news of the lavish remodeling of the cardinal’s apartment broke November 4, 2015 in an article by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, on the same day the Bambin Gesù was setting out to approve its balance sheet. As a result, the board of directors insisted that an outside company, Deloitte, check the balance sheet for 2014 before its approval.
Enoc testified that she eventually wrote to Bertone asking him or the Secretariat of State to give the hospital the missing funds. The cardinal’s lawyer, Michele Gentiloni-Silverj – brother to Italy’s prime minister – initially refused to issue the money but later relented, and Bertone signed a $118,000 check in 2015 followed by a $59,000 check in early 2016.
The amount provided directly by Bertone was not enough to cover the whole expense and in the 2014 balance sheet Enoc listed a $455,000 loss. The hospital therefore did not obtain any benefit from the remodeling of the apartment.
Enoc dismissed the position held by Profiti and his lawyers that the apartment could serve as a fundraising tool for the hospital. “I didn’t know anything about it and in any case, dinners at a cardinal’s house or another personality are not the fundraising style that I have in mind,” Enoc told the court.
Profiti’s ‘misuse of power’
The prosecution charged Profiti with misappropriation of funds and questioned whether the former president had the authority to transfer such a consistent amount of money without consulting the board of directors. “There are limits” to the role that Profiti exercised, the prosecution stated, adding that such limits were exceeded by “a vice that is the misuse of power.” For this reason, Profiti was accused of dismissing the principles of good management and illicitly using public funds.
Since all of the witnesses have been heard, the next and final session of the trial will take place Oct. 14 when the judges will likely reach a verdict.