ROME – In the second full day of the Vatican’s first-ever criminal trial for financial crimes, a defendant testified he was told that Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who stands at the heart of the case even though he faces no charges, had personally “clarified” the situation with Pope Francis and there should be “no problems.”
The defendant, Italian layman Massimo Spina, served as the treasurer of a foundation administering Rome’s papally-sponsored Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital in 2013 and 2014. He and the foundation’s president at the time, another Italian layman named Giuseppe Profiti, now face potential jail terms and fines for diverting roughly $500,000 of the foundation’s funds to pay for the remodeling of a private apartment belonging to Bertone.
Spina was in the witness chair for roughly six hours before the three-judge panel in a Vatican courtroom on Thursday, after Profiti gave his testimony on Tuesday.
Spina told the court that when the affair came to light in the media in May 2014, he and Profiti met in a Roman coffee bar, and Profiti told him not to worry about it.
“In that meeting, Profiti told me there were no problems because Cardinal Bertone had clarified the situation with the Holy Father in person,” he said. “He [Profiti] told me to go ahead and do my duty, but in a very friendly way, not intimidating.”
Beyond that revelation, during the course of most of his testimony, the defense strategy of Spina and his lawyer, Italian layman Alfredo Ottaviani (a relative of the famous Italian cardinal by that name of the era of the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s), seemed clear: Spina was not a policy-setting figure, and was simply acting on the instructions of Profiti.
Spina insisted that his role with the foundation was “not executive.”
“I had to be responsible for accounting,” he said. “I was not a public official, because I had no role in the representation, administration or management” of the foundation.
“I did not have a penny. I could not even buy a pen” under his own authority, Spina said.
Spina insisted that when paid bills for work on Bertone’s apartment were submitted by companies owned by Italian businessman Gianantoinio Bandera, like Profiti a longtime friend of Bertone, he was simply following Profiti’s lead.
In fact, Spina said, the first time he even learned that the foundation was covering some of those expenses was when the first bill from a Bandera company arrived.
Asked about a letter Spina had written to Bandera asking about a $240,000 contribution to the foundation Bandera was supposed to have promised, Spina said the only reason he did so was because he was responsible for preparing the annual financial statement and needed to know whether Bandera intended to deliver on the promise, so it could be counted as a credit.
When Bandera did not respond, he said, he advised the new president of the foundation after Profiti had left to discount the credit, but said he doesn’t know what happened. In the meantime, Spina was removed by that new president, Mariella Enoc, in November 2015.
Pope Francis has adopted a series of both new laws and new structures intended to promote financial transparency and accountability in the Vatican, part of his broader project of reform of the Vatican’s administrative structures.
When the Vatican last faced a review from Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s primary anti-money laundering agency – whose approval is critical for the Vatican to qualify for “white lists” of trusted financial actors, meaning it pays less in transaction costs for vigilance and verification – evaluators praised the new laws, but said they wanted to see them applied to concrete cases.
Moneyval is set for another review of the Vatican in December, and many observers believe that obtaining convictions in the present trial, perhaps especially of Profiti, is considered essential by the Vatican’s top financial personnel.
On the other hand, critics of the proceedings insist that it’s illogical to assert that Profiti and Spina committed a crime by paying for Bertone’s apartment, but that Bertone himself, who hasn’t been charged by the Vatican and was never even considered a suspect, didn’t commit a crime when he benefitted from those expenses.
Those critics see the prosecution of Profiti and Spina instead of Bertone himself as a political decision, driven by the status of a cardinal rather than any legal or evidentiary considerations.
Bandera also hasn’t been charged in the case, though he has been called as a witness for the prosecution. He was scheduled to testify on Thursday, but because Spina’s testimony consumed the entire day, the presiding judge said Bandera will be called another time.
The court is scheduled to hold another session on Friday afternoon in Rome. After that, it remains to be seen how much more time may be required to reach a verdict.