The Vatican’s Money Problems

The curious case of the cardinal, the Pope and the kidnapped nun. With a side order of what appears to be money laundering.

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Financial malfeasance isn’t just for Wall Street. It’s also beleaguering the Pope, whose name was recently invoked during the ongoing trial of Giovanni Angelo Becciu, a defrocked cardinal accused of embezzlement and abuse of office. The Vatican, it turns out, is quite the busy place.

The story gets gloriously weird, with the cardinal embroiled in a failed $200 million property deal in London’s upscale Chelsea neighborhood, as well as efforts to pay up to $1 million to free a Colombian nun captured by al-Qaeda-linked militants.

No doubt it would make a decent blockbuster Harrison Ford film – or perhaps you’d want Jude Law, since he’s already played the Pope in that HBO series that got canceled. It would be reason enough for a reprise.

Without getting too far into the weeds – and this is a deliciously weedy yarn you might want to read more about here – the cardinal attempted to persuade Pope Francis to sign statements confirming that he acted with the Holy See’s approval when he splashed out Vatican funds in the London property deal that lost the Vatican hundreds of millions of dollars and, separately, paid a woman who claimed she could secure the kidnapped nun’s freedom, but instead spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal travel and luxury goods. (The nun was eventually released in 2021, but it doesn’t seem the travel or luxury goods purchases helped.) 

The Pope, being a canny fellow, was not having any of it. “Evidently and surprisingly, I have been misunderstood by you,” he wrote in a letter to the cardinal. Responding to the cardinal’s entreaty for explicit approvals, the Pope said, “I regret to inform you I cannot comply with your request.”

In a case involving the Vatican bank, private banks and even global banks, Becciu is the first cardinal to face a criminal trial in a Vatican courtroom. He faces charges of defrauding the Vatican, reportedly involving funds from the Catholic faithful around the world intended for the poor and needy.

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