VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The president of the Vatican's financial watchdog agency excluded from his annual report any details of a raid on the agency's offices last fall.
Carmelo Barbagallo, president of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority (AIF) — an anti-laundering body set up in 2010 under Pope Benedict XVI — released AIF's annual report on July 3. While pledging greater "transparency of its financial transactions," Barbagallo's report fails to mention a raid by Italian police on Oct. 1 that uncovered nearly a half-billion dollars diverted from Peter's Pence, the pope's charitable fund for the poor.
Barbagallo's report, likewise, is silent on how the AIF scandal led to the dismissal of several key officials (including AIF director Tommaso Di Ruzza) and the resignation of AIF president René Brülhart in November.
Di Ruzza was helping to stamp out financial corruption in the Vatican by rewriting the Vatican's anti-money-laundering laws. Brülhart, for his part, was well respected by AIF personnel. Following his resignation, half of AIF's board members resigned in protest.
The October raid by Vatican police sought to unravel the financial scandal involving AIF and the Vatican's Secretariat of State. It was part of an investigation by Vatican prosecutors into the secretary of state's 2012 investment into upscale London real estate. The Holy See, through the Secretariat of State, dumped nearly €400 million into the purchase of a residential building in London.
Many Catholics were scandalized that the money used for the shady business deal came from Peter's Pence. But prosecutors were concerned about the questionable role that middlemen played in the deal for which they were paid millions of euros in fees.
Pope Francis, during an in-flight press conference on Nov. 26, blamed AIF while upholding Ruzza's suspension.
"It was AIF that did not control, it seems, the crimes of others," asserted Francis. "And therefore [it failed] in its duty of controls. I hope that they prove it is not so. Because there is, still, the presumption of innocence."
The annual report did note, however, that AIF had tracked 64 cases of suspicious financial activity in 2019 and referred 15 of those cases to the Vatican prosecutor. This compares to 11 such referrals to the Vatican promoter of justice in 2018. Cases of suspicious activity were up slightly as well from 2018, when only 56 cases were tracked.
The report comes out just days after Vatican prosecutors conducted a financial raid on offices at St. Peter's Basilica. On June 30, criminal prosecutors in the Vatican authorized the seizure of financial documents and computers from offices that manage the pope's basilica. The same day, Vatican officials confirmed that Pope Francis had named a special commissioner and tasked him with fixing financial irregularities at the pope's basilica.
Financial scandals have plagued the Francis papacy and have yet to be cleared up. In 2014, Cdl. George Pell, former Vatican secretariat for the economy, uncovered nearly €1 billion hidden in the accounts of various dicasteries in Rome.
During a recent interview with Sky News, anchor Andrew Bolt asked Pell, "Have you ever considered that the trouble you are causing to corrupt officials in the Vatican was related to the troubles that have since happened to you here?"
Pell responded, "Most of the senior people in Rome who were sympathetic to financial reform believe that they are."