VATICAN CITY — Two former executives of the Vatican’s pediatric hospital are going on trial on charges they diverted almost a half-million dollars in hospital donations to renovate the retirement home of the Catholic Church’s retired second-in-command.
Lawyers for former hospital president Giuseppe Profiti and ex-treasurer Massimo Spina argued at the trial opening Tuesday that the Vatican court had no jurisdiction to prosecute activities of a hospital foundation that was located in Italy, not the Vatican.
The tribunal president, Judge Paolo Papanti-Pelletier, rejected the motion and set new hearings for Sept. 7-9.
Profiti and Spina face between three to five years in prison and fines starting at $5,800 if found guilty of embezzlement. The penalty can be reduced if the amount diverted is repaid before the trial starts.
Profiti has said the funds he used from the Bambino Gesu (“Baby Jesus”) foundation to renovate the 3,230-square-foot apartment of Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was an investment, since he intended to use it for future fundraising events for the hospital.
Bertone agreed to host such parties, saying he would take care to ensure that “third parties” — not the foundation — would pay for any renovations needed. Whatever happened to those “third parties” is unclear, but Bertone spent almost $350,000 of his own money for the work on top of the nearly $500,000 that came from the foundation.
The scandal is the latest to strike the Holy See as Francis works to clean up centuries of shady business dealings in the walled-in, 109-acre offshore city state, the world’s smallest. And it comes as Francis copes with the fallout from the embarrassing exit of his top financial adviser, Cardinal George Pell, who returned to his native Australia last week to face trial on sex abuse charges.
Bertone, the former Vatican secretary of state, wasn’t charged or placed under investigation in the case, even though he personally benefited from the donations. After the scandal broke in 2015, Bertone made a $170,000 “donation” to the hospital for research, but insisted he had no idea the foundation had paid for his flat repair.
Also spared were the Castelli Re construction company and its owner, Gianantonio Bandera, a longtime Bertone associate who received around $870,000 for the whole project.
Prosecutors accuse Profiti and Spina of a conspiracy to “illicitly use money belonging to the Baby Jesus foundation to benefit Bandera.” The indictment, however, makes no suggestion of kickbacks or any other wrongdoing, merely that money belonging to the hospital foundation instead went to “completely extra-institutional” uses.
Profiti has said none of the donations used were intended for childcare.
Spina’s lawyer, Alfredo Ottaviani, said the expenditures were in the “general interest” of the foundation for fundraising purposes, and that regardless, Spina had no authority to make any decisions about how the money was spent.
Profiti resigned suddenly as president of the hospital in January 2015, nine months into a new three-year term. According to a recent Associated Press investigation, a secret Vatican-authorized task force concluded in 2014 that under his administration, the hospital’s mission had been “lost” and was “today more aimed at profit than on caring for children.”
When the trial reopens in early September, Pope Francis will be on a six-day overseas trip to Colombia. As it happens, the opening of the “Vatileaks 2.0” trial in November 2015 also coincided with a six-day overseas journey by the pontiff, in that case to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.