How the Vatican Reforms Its Justice

The decision due on Thursday January 21 will be historic. It is on this day that the Vatican Court must rule on the verdict to be applied to Angelo Caloia, president of the “Vatican bank” between 1989 and 2009, and Gabriele Liuzzo, former lawyer of the bank, both accused. of embezzlement.

An exceptional fact, first of all by the severity of the sentence required against the two men, aged 81 and 97: eight years in prison. Sign of a recent and rapid development: such a sentence was indeed unthinkable a few years ago.

→ READ. The trial of the former president the “Vatican bank” has opened

In their last report published in 2017, the Moneyval inspectors, sent by the Council of Europe to verify compliance with anti-money laundering rules at the Vatican, were not mistaken. While they welcomed, at the time, the strengthening of certain provisions and the freezing of assets by the Vatican bank, for suspicion of money laundering financing, they also deplored that no trial was ever held, about it, in the court of the smallest state in the world.

“To go quickly, the Vatican Tribunal has long served only to judge the sacristans who stole chalices in the sacristies”, explains a long-time observer of Vatican practices. A tribunal which has the specificity of having authority only to judge misdemeanors and crimes committed in the Vatican State.

A penal code

Besides the Caloia trial, other visible signs of this development exist. In October, a decree signed by the Pope increased the powers of the promoter of justice at the Vatican Tribunal – the equivalent of the prosecutor in the French judicial system -, who can now “Coordinate investigations in the field of preventing and combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism”, And this “By carrying out an investigative activity”.

→ READ. Vatican steps up financial supervision

A few days earlier, the Vatican had just announced the appointment of a promoter of additional justice, Gianluca Perone, a specialist in commercial law. And, at the very end of 2020, the Vatican Penal Code was published for the first time, of which there was no publicly available version.

A specialist in criminal law at the Vatican, the number two of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, sees two elements to explain this development. “First, the Holy See chose to adhere in 2009 to European monetary rules”, he exposes. Membership encouraged by the adoption of the euro, seven years earlier, and which had the consequence of initiating legislative changes, in particular in the field of terrorist financing. “Eleven years later, we are still on this momentum. The Holy See must adapt to the international context ”, continues Bishop Arrieta. A considerable effort for a State which has only 5,000 employees.


But this specialist also underlines that this movement, initiated under Benedict XVI, also comes from the desire for reform of the popes. And in particular from François. “The professionalization of magistrates, made essential by the international context, is strong. It is also a question of credibility, for Vatican justice, vis-à-vis other States of law ”, adds Archbishop Arrieta, who also specifies that the activity of the tribunal has considerably increased.

However, this logic of harmonization is not without limits. “The whole question is to know how far to go in this standardization”, notes Mgr Patrick Valdrini, Lateran canon and canonist. “From a moment, can this international harmonization hamper the autonomy of the Vatican as a State? The question is open ”, he analyzes. Because the fact remains that the Vatican, born to ensure the independence of the Pope, is not a state like any other.

“In this context, is independent justice really possible? “, asks another specialist, who notes that “The power of the telephone” huge home in the Vatican. The same source continues: “If the Pope calls and tells the judges not to prosecute So-and-so, or on the contrary to investigate, what happens? It is unlikely that the magistrates will resist… ” A reality that questions the possibility of a real separation of powers, in the Vatican, between the executive and the judiciary. And which forces the state authorities to find a fine line between the specificities of an extraordinary state and the desire to set an example.


A new trial for embezzlement

The Vatican court announced in a statement that it was preparing to open a trial against Cecilia Marogna, 39, who presents herself as a specialist in diplomatic relations. For this, she was remunerated more than € 500,000 by the Holy See, in particular in order to be able to build networks of relations in Africa and the Middle East on behalf of Vatican diplomacy. But the young woman has diverted half of it into luxury products.

After requesting his extradition to Italian justice, the Vatican finally waived his request, officially to allow his participation “Free” at his trial. But according to some sources, this decision allows the Vatican to avoid a refusal by the Italian judges, who consider that the Vatican procedure does not guarantee sufficient fairness to the accused.

→ PODCAST. Tackling financial scandals, episode 2 – The 7 jobs of Pope Francis


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