A Vatican criminal court on Saturday sentenced Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, once one of the church’s most powerful Vatican officials, to five and a half years in prison for financial crimes, a high-profile case that raised questions about the prevalence of financial malfeasance and incompetence at the highest levels of the church.
The conviction was a steep fall from grace for an official who had served years ago as Pope Francis’ chief of staff. For some, it cast a shadow over Francis’ pontificate, while for others, it showed his commitment to getting the church’s financial house in order.
But for many, the trial — which lasted years and brushed up against many of the church’s top officials and players, including Francis himself — raised as many questions about the Vatican’s judicial system, the competence of its officials and the pope’s style of governance as it did about what crime Cardinal Becciu actually committed.
Francis changed Vatican law to allow Cardinal Becciu to stand trial in a Vatican criminal court — the first cardinal ever to do so — rather than allowing him to be tried by a court of his cardinal peers. Scholars scrambled to find historical precedents, but the most recent, by some accounts, was in the 16th century.
Prosecutors formally indicted him months later.
The various charges in the case, which also involved nine other defendants, included fraud, embezzlement, abuse of office, money laundering and extortion, and mostly centered on a London real estate deal in which the Vatican lost millions of euros.
Cardinal Becciu was convicted of embezzlement and fraud, and was acquitted of several other charges. In addition to the prison sentence, he was also banned from holding public office.
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