Lawyers for defendants in a big Vatican financial trial asked the Holy See newspaper on Friday to correct the record after it ran a front-page editorial this week largely defending the investigation and insisting that the rights of the defense were being respected.
The letter to L’Osservatore Romano editor Andrea Monda was signed by eight defense attorneys and follows a Dec. 20 editorial penned by the Holy See’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli.
The trial concerns the Holy See’s 350 million euro (nearly $400 million) investment in a London property deal but has expanded to include other alleged financial crimes. Vatican prosecutors accuse Italian brokers, Vatican officials and a self-styled security analyst of bilking the Vatican coffers of millions of euros, largely donations from the faithful.
Ever since the indictments were handed down in July, attorneys for the 10 defendants have objected to a series of actions and omissions by the prosecution that they say have irreparably harmed their ability to mount a defense. They have cited the prosecution’s refusal to turn over all the evidence and to interrogate the suspects on all charges during the investigative phase of the case.
In preliminary decisions, the tribunal president has largely agreed with the defense, ordering prosecutors to deposit all the evidence, nullifying the indictments against four of the suspects and ordering the prosecution to essentially start over.
In the editorial, Tornielli stressed that the two-year investigation amounted to the biggest, most complicated case ever brought before the tribunal. The fact that it was sparked by internal controls is evidence that the trial represents “a real stress test for the Vatican City State’s judicial system,” he wrote.
Tornielli acknowledged that the 1913 procedural code in use created “objective problems” and that Vatican prosecutors “often had to confront notably complicated questions without precedent” for the tiny city state. But he insisted that the right to a fair trial, enshrined in a Vatican law in 2013, was being guaranteed.
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Lawyers for the defense disagreed and asked Monda to print their side.
In the letter sent Friday, they said the editorial didn’t correspond “to the reality of the trial” and appeared to be an effort to “normalize the multiple procedural violations” by the prosecution that the court has already sanctioned.
The lawyers argued that even the large “dimensions” of the case and the use of computerized evidence is in fact fairly normal in the legal profession and “do not affect the respect of defensive guarantees.”
The court reconvenes Jan. 25, when prosecutors are expected to announce whether they will seek new indictments against the four suspects whose cases were in limbo, or will shelve some of the charges.
The uncertain fate of the trial has concerned Cardinal George Pell, who as Pope Francis’ money czar had flagged problems with the London investment years ago but was unable to get to the bottom of it. In a recent interview with the National Catholic Register, Pell said he wasn’t sure if the case could go ahead.
“I’m not confident of anything with the Vatican trial. I don’t know what’s going on,” Pell was quoted as saying. “I’m not even entirely sure that it will go ahead. It might fail for legal reasons.”