ROME – In the latest hearing on Friday of the Vatican’s first-ever trial for financial crimes, an official of the Government of the Vatican City State testified that a remodeling project for the private Vatican apartment of Italian Cardinal Tarcisio bypassed the normal bidding process, and was “singular” and “anomalous.”
That remodeling project is at the heart of the case, since two Italian laymen and former officials of a foundation for a papally-sponsored pediatric hospital in Rome called the Bambino Gesù are accused of diverting roughly $500,000 of the hospital’s money to help cover the costs.
The defendants are Giuseppe Profiti, the former president of both the hospital and its foundation, and Massimo Spina, who served as treasurer during Profiti’s tenure.
The Government of the Vatican State is responsible for the 108-acre physical footprint of the Vatican, and generally approves and oversees all building projects within its territory.
On Friday, Marco Bargellini, also a layman who’s responsible for building projects within the Government of the Vatican City State, told a three-judge panel that normally, projects costing more than 50,000 Euro require a competitive bidding process with at least three qualified firms involved, with their bids registered.
In this case, Bargellini said, Bertone, the former Secretariat of State under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, deposited a set of plans for the work on his roughly 4,500-square foot apartment with the Government of the Vatican City State, and then wrote directly to his fellow Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, who heads the city-state, informing him that the work would be carried out by a firm belonging to Italian business Gianantonio Bandera, a longtime friend of Bertone’s from Genoa.
Bertone also informed Bertello, according to Bargellini, that he would cover the costs himself. Bargellini denied knowing that any of those funds would come from the Bambino Gesù.
Bargellini also testified that there was a dedicated technical staff for the work on Bertone’s apartment, and also daily controls on the work site.
After Bargellini finished, three other witnesses testified: Paolo Cipriani and Massimo Tulli, both former officials of the Institute for the Works of Religion, better known as the “Vatican bank,” and Paolo Menini, an official of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which oversees the Vatican’s real estate and investment activity.
All three had been called by Alfredo Ottaviani, the lawyer for Spina, and all three substantially testified that Spina had no authority to authorize disbursements on behalf of the Bambino Gesù during the time period in question, which was 2013-2014. That authority, they said, belonged exclusively to Profiti.
Friday’s hearing last roughly four hours. The court is next scheduled to meet on Monday, Oct. 2, at 11:30 a.m. Rome time.
Although Vatican officials have attempted to describe the trial as a breakthrough for accountability and transparency as part of Pope Francis’s ongoing push for financial reform, critics wonder why Bertone is not only facing no charges in the case, but was never even investigated or called as a witness.