VATICAN— One year after Vatican City charged a priest and a laywoman in the second “Vatileaks” trial, it has begun a legal process against two laymen accused of misallocating funds from the Vatican-owned children’s hospital, Bambino Gesu.
The hearing, which began at 10 a.m. inside the Vatican July 18, focused on charges brought against the former president and treasurer, respectively, of Bambino Gesù, Giuseppe Profiti and Massimo Spina.
The Vatican announced July 13 it was charging the two with illicit use of hospital funds in the amount of more than 422,000 euro ($480,000) for the refurbishment of the apartment where Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, emeritus Secretary of State, lives.
The alleged crime is said to have been carried out between November 2013 and May 28, 2014, and to have benefited the construction firm of Italian businessman Gianantonio Bandera, which was carrying out the renovations.
Profiti and Spina were summoned to appear before the court by a June 16, 2017, decree from the president of the Vatican Tribunal, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, with the first hearing set for July 18.
During the hearing, Profiti and Spina were accompanied by their lawyers: Antonello Basi for Profiti, and Alfredo Ottaviano for Spina.
The judicial board was made up of Paolo Papanti Pelletier, president, Venerando Marano, judge, and Carlo Bonzano, judge. The office of the Promoter of Justice was represented by the promoter himself, Gian Piero Milano, and by an added promoter, Roberto Zannotti.
After the charge was read, the lawyers made an initial request that journalists be removed from the courtroom due to noise and pressure put on the defendants from their affirmation or dissatisfaction with the proceedings, suggesting that in the future, they be placed in a separate room to watch a live stream of the hearing.
Milano refused the request, insisting it is a public hearing, and that public interest itself demands that the process be public.
A second objection the lawyers brought, but which was also immediately dismissed, was that the Vatican had no jurisdiction over the case, since the headquarters of Bambino Gesu is located in a piazza that is not Vatican-owned, and because the money was sent to England.
However, both Milano and the tribunal affirmed that the offense happened the moment the transfer was made, and since it was done through an APSA account, it was therefore a Vatican offense.
APSA, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, oversees the Vatican’s real estate and investments.
Ottaviani and Basi also argued that the defendants are not public officials, given their work for the Vatican. However, it was ruled that in the Vatican’s statutes and laws, the definition of a public official does, in fact, include the responsibilities of Profiti and Spina.
The lawyers also requested that in future proceedings, all witnesses be called on the same day in order to avoid influence and pressure from the media, which was agreed on by everyone.
Finally, at the request of the witnesses, a letter that in some way involves Cardinal Bertone was added to the trial documents.
Although the nature and contents of the letter are unknown, Ottaviani held that it was essential to the trial process, asking the tribunal permission to quote it as a testimony of the emeritus Secretary of State. Milano agreed, saying, “if needed, it will be discussed.”
The hearing closed by setting the dates for the next one: Sept. 7-9.
Among those present at the hearing from the public was Jeffrey Lena, legal adviser to the Holy See.
The Vatican reported it was conducting an investigation into this matter in 2016 after documents published in the “Vatileaks 2” scandal implicated there may have been an illicit transfer of funds from the hospital’s foundation.
Earlier this month, the Vatican held a press conference on the hospital to confirm that though it has had problems in the past, the Vatican has worked to resolve them.
The operations of the Bambino Gesù Hospital had come under scrutiny after a report by the Associated Press, which examined the hospital’s operations under its 2008-2015 administration, finding among other things that the Vatican-owned hospital had shifted its focus from its patients to profits and had subpar standards of care.
In 2014, the Vatican conducted its own report on the hospital after fielding several complaints, and found many of the same things, including a focus on profits and breaches in accepted medical protocols including the reuse of disposable equipment, early awakening from surgery, and risk of infection due to overcrowding.
After the report, a widespread overhaul of the hospital staff and administration was conducted, and a 2015 report found that many of the previous issues had been resolved.
“For what regards the problems that were found, there was serious attention and effort to resolve them,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, said at the July 4 press conference.
The Bambino Gesù was founded in Rome in 1869 as the first pediatric hospital in Italy. In 1924 it was donated to the Holy See and became the “Pope’s Hospital.” While it receives funding from the Italian government, it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Italian government’s health authorities.