giovedì 24 febbraio 2022

Did Pope Francis restrict defendants’ rights?

(The Economist) Holy See-saw. Did Pope Francis restrict defendants’ rights? The pontiff signed secret decrees authorising wiretaps -- It had been billed as the trial of the century. It would spotlight Pope Francis’s determination to stamp out financial jiggery-pokery by establishing whether and how the Vatican was tricked and extorted out of tens of millions of euros in a botched property deal. Among the defendants was a “prince of the church”: Cardinal Angelo Becciu (pictured), former deputy head of the Vatican’s most exalted department, the Secretariat of State. Yet seven months after Cardinal Becciu and nine other defendants were arraigned in court in the Vatican, not a word of evidence has been heard. The main outcome from seven preliminary hearings has been awkward questions about the genial pontiff’s respect for the rule of law.
The case centres on the Secretariat of State’s purchase and subsequent sale of a commercial property in London—transactions in which more than €100m ($113m) in donations collected from the faithful were lost. Like previous Vatican financial scandals, this one is richly spiced with improbable detail. The latest twist to emerge is that in 2019, shortly before the scandal broke, Pope Francis signed an edict authorising the Vatican’s prosecutors to use wiretaps that were placed on Italian subjects in Italy.
The edict was among four, known in Latin as rescripta, signed by the pontiff between July 2019 and February 2020 at the request of the prosecutors overseeing the investigation into the property deal. The rescripta exempted them from several limitations placed on them by the Vatican’s legal code. Unlike all previous papal rescripta, they were kept secret.
The edicts are now at the heart of the courtroom wrangles that have so far delayed the case. Defence counsel have argued for the charges against their clients to be dismissed on two grounds. Firstly, that the rescripta in effect suspended the rule of law in the Vatican, vitiating any investigations conducted while they were effect. The second is that, armed with pontifical waivers, the prosecution acted with a contempt for the rules that violated the defendants’ rights to a fair trial. The prosecutors are still refusing to comply fully with an order by the presiding judge to hand over to the defence all the evidence collected. They argue that the omissions are to shield the reputations of the accused. And, of course, they have the backing, if not of God, then of the man Catholics believe is His earthly representative.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline "Holy See-saw"