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Make it easier to prosecute top Vatican clerics, financial watchdog urges

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By Reuters
Make it easier to prosecute top Vatican clerics, financial watchdog urges
Make it easier to prosecute top Vatican clerics, financial watchdog urges   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Philip Pullella

VATICANCITY – A financial watchdog urged the Vatican on Wednesday to sharpen up its procedure for prosecuting senior clerics and hire more investigators with financial expertise.

In a 275-page report on efforts to protect the city-state against the scandals that have plagued it down the decades, the monitoring body of the Council of Europe was broadly positive, giving only one unsatisfactory mark among about 50 ratings.

Since the first Moneyval report nearly 10 years ago, the Vatican has made numerous changes in financial oversight and has overhauled its bank.

“Internal control measures and procedures have significantly improved in recent years and the measures put in place are generally effective,” the report said.

In April, Pope Francis changed the law so that bishops and cardinals who work in the Vatican will be judged by the same lay tribunal that hears other criminal cases, not by an elite panel of prelates.

The new rules could affect Cardinal Angelo Becciu, whom Francis fired from a top Vatican post last year after allegations of embezzlement and nepotism.

Becciu, who is also caught up in a scandal involving the purchase of a London property by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

However, Vatican prosecutors still have to get the pope’s permission to go after cardinals and bishops, much as parliamentary consent is needed in some European countries to indict legislators.

Moneyval said this procedure should be set down in a transparent way, which would also “provide a clear time frame for completion”.

The report said both the Vatican prosecutor’s office and its police needed more experts in financial crimes, but noted that two more prosecutors had been hired after the onsite evaluation on which the report was based.

Moneyval also bemoaned the length of judicial procedures.

The former head of the Vatican bank and two other defendants were convicted of embezzlement and money laundering this year after a three-year trial that followed a five-year investigation.

Carmelo Barbagallo, head of Moneyval’s Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (ASIF), said he was “very happy with this assessment, especially considering where we were in the past”.