MELBOURNE, Victoria, Australia (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal George Pell may be called to give evidence for an inquiry into a growing Vatican financial scandal.
On Tuesday, the Australian Associated Press reported that Pell — currently serving a six-year prison term after a sex abuse conviction widely seen as dubious — may be required to testify as part of the Holy See's investigation into alleged financial irregularities involving the Vatican Secretariat of State
Pell was head of the Secretariat for the Economy from 2014–2017. As prefect, he was responsible for cleaning up Church finances and may be able to shed light on the alleged misappropriation of nearly half a billion dollars in contributions to Peter's Pence, the pope's fund for the poor.
The Vatican prosecutor's office is leading the investigation. According to newly revealed documents, the inquiry discovered "serious indications of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, money laundering and self-laundering" involving curial officials.
These documents include complaints filed by the Institute of Religious Works (the Vatican Bank), as well as files relating to a real estate transaction in which $200 million was siphoned from Peter's Pence to purchase a residential building in the heart of London's fashionable West End and another $250 million rerouted to fraudulent legal firms set up to cover the purchase of the property.
As part of the inquiry, on Oct. 1, Vatican police executed a raid on the Secretariat of State and the Financial Intelligence Authority, seizing files, computers and other equipment.
The following day, a confidential memo announcing the suspension of five Vatican officials was leaked to the press.
The raid was led by Domenico Giani, head of the Vatican police. On Oct. 14, after more than 20 years of service, Giani suddenly resigned from his post.
According to one Vatican source, he was forced out by Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin and his allies: "Parolin and his substitute Abp. Edgar Peña Parra were very embarrassed by the raid conducted by the Gendarmerie. Giani's head was more than payback, it was a warning to any others who would continue to probe in the future."
Giani is the latest in a string of officials reportedly forced out after trying to clean up Vatican finances, for decades dogged by allegations of corruption.
For example, in June 2017, Libero Milone, the auditor-general responsible for overseeing clean-up of the Vatican Bank, resigned without explanation. Charges of inappropriate use of funds were later leveled against him.
In September 2017, Milone broke his silence, denying corruption charges and telling reporters he was forced out after discovering financial irregularities. He also claimed that his computers and phones were bugged by Vatican officials. The Holy See denied his assertions.
In July 2018, a Vatican tribunal vindicated Milone, concluding there was no evidence to support the accusations against him. All criminal proceedings and penalties against Milone were dropped.
Ettore Tedeschi, head of the Vatican bank from 2009–2012, suffered similar treatment for his attempts to clean house.
After three years as chief, Tedeschi was accused of money laundering and forced from his position. Like Milone, he was later acquitted.
In a March 2019 interview, Tedeschi revealed that names on bank accounts were regularly changed illegally and that he hesitated to look too deeply into certain accounts, as he feared this would endanger his family and him.
In fact, Tedeschi admitted he feared being assassinated while trying to clean up the Vatican Bank.
"There were people inside about whom I wouldn't be surprised at anything they would do. Things that one couldn't imagine are perpetrated within the Church," he said.
Some observers claim that Cdl. Pell is the ultimate embodiment of this sentiment.
They suggest that as prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, he provoked entrenched Vatican interests when he revealed the Secretariat of State had significant unlisted funds and note that not long after, he was forced to step aside to fight suspect claims of sexual abuse.