While Cardinal Parolin, as Secretary of State, has already taken personal responsibility for some controversial projects at the department he leads, Tirabassi, Carlino, and Perlasca all spent years reporting directly to Cardinal Angelo Becciu who, from 2011-2018 served as sostituto of the secretariat.
The reluctance to provoke further public scandal or exposure may prove to be a determining factor in decisions about whether to press charges, and could go some way to explaining the continued reluctance of the Holy See to even acknowledge, let alone address recent revelations.
At the same time, a decision not to prosecute apparent financial misconduct could have serious potential diplomatic consequences.
Vatican efforts to combat money laundering and other financial crimes are under continued evaluation by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, which is currently conducting a review ahead of issuing a report in December.
A favorable review from Moneyval is vital if the Vatican wants to be seen as a trustworthy member of the international financial community. A sufficiently damning report could lead to a return to international blacklists and, in extremis, the switching off of credit card machines in Vatican shops and museums.
A public financial crimes trial of senior Holy See officials of the Holy See’s most important government department could become an illustration of how badly some administrative issues are being handled behind the scenes.
Paradoxically, a trial might be the only thing that could satisfy Moneyval that the Vatican is taking real action.
At the time of its last report, in 2017, the watchdog noted the Vatican had yet to prosecute a single case of money laundering in court – it only prosecuted its first successful case in 2018.
The “overall effectiveness of the Holy See’s engagement with combating money laundering depends on the results that are achieved by the prosecution and the courts,” that report concluded.
Beyond diplomatic concerns there is the question of perception by the faithful.
Catholics have been calling for more transparency in ecclesiastical leadership, especially in the wake of the Theodore McCarrick revelations and other recent abuse scandals. A trial would be seen by some as evidence of movement towards that transparency. But those steeped in the old school will likely exert influence for a resolution that saves face, in deference to a long-standing disposition to avoid scandal. Tension between those camps will be real.
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The Vatican may soon have to decide if it is willing to allow prosecutors to commit to a full legal process, wherever that may lead and whomever it may implicate. That choice could decide the conflict between self-preservation and real reform for the highest levels of the curia.