On Wednesday this week a trial began for the Vatican Bank's former president, as well as a lawyer who served the bank as a legal consultant.
The two men, Angelo Caloia, who served as the president of the bank from 1999 to 2009, and Gabriele Liuzzo, are suspected of embezzling an estimated 57 million euros (which is more than $68M US) from the sale of real estate holdings in Italy between 2001 and 2008. Caloia, aged 79, and Liuzzo, aged 95, are being tried by the Vatican, in their own internal legal system.
Yes, the Vatican is handling this internally. That does not inspire a whole lot of optimism. The Vatican's bank, the Institute for Works of Religion, has been implicated in plenty of controversial activity before. It should be said though, in the last few years, Pope Francis has been attempting to clean things up. But I remain pessimistic given how frequently Francis drops the ball with the Vatican's sex-abuse problems.
Liuzzo, being 95 and in deteriorating health, was not present. He was represented by his lawyer. Caloia was present, however, and listened as the court heard about missing documents and secret funds in Switzerland. The bank's lawyer, Alessandro Benedetti, told the court that the preliminary contracts involving the real estate transactions could not be found.
The prosecutors allege that the defendants under-represented the proceeds from the sales in the bank's ledgers, and then pocketed the difference. Some of the embezzled money was placed into their IOR bank accounts, while a separate Rome bank account was also used as well.
The trial has only just begun, and it is expected to drag on for some time, given that Caloia's defense attorney presented a list of more than fifty names to be called as witnesses.
It will take time to see how this ends, but no matter how it does, the Vatican remains a bastion of corruption and scandal.