A Vatican criminal process against two men charged with redirecting funds earmarked for a children’s hospital to refurbish a cardinal’s apartment began Tuesday with a two-hour pretrial hearing.
Giuseppe Profiti and Massimo Spina are former directors of a foundation overseeing the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital and have been charged with embezzling foundation funds to help finance the remodeling of the apartment of Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former Vatican Secretary of State.
Bertone himself, however, is not being investigated and faces no charges.
According to a statement read by a court clerk, Profiti and Spina are accused of an illicit appropriation and use of funds belonging to the Bambino Gesù Foundation to pay Gianantonio Bandera, an Italian contractor, to refurbish an apartment belonging to Vatican City State and used as the residence of Cardinal Bertone.
The indictment alleges collusion between the two foundation directors and the construction company. Profiti and Spina reportedly withdrew more than half a million dollars for “completely non-institutional purposes” and instead used the money to refurbish Vatican property in order “to benefit Gianantonio Bandera’s company.”
The alleged crime was committed in Vatican City State between November 2013 and May 28, 2014 — during which the time the contractor’s seven invoices were dated and paid for, according to news reports.
Profiti was appointed hospital president by Cardinal Bertone in 2008, and has admitted that the foundation spent the funds on Bertone’s apartment. In his defense, Profiti said that he had used foundation funds as an “investment,” since he intended to use Bertone’s apartment to host fundraising events for the hospital.
“The presence of Your Illustrious Eminence as a guest at these events would be a guarantee of a certain success in terms of participation and relative economic and institutional return,” Profiti wrote to Bertone in 2013 in a letter pitching the idea. He also reportedly proposed using the foundation money in exchange for “access” to the top floor of Bertone’s apartment.
Bertone’s successor as Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said last week that the trial manifests the transparency Francis is trying to bring to the Church’s finances.
“And it’s only right that everyone accounts for his or her own behavior,” Parolin said when the indictments were announced.
This is the Vatican’s first public indictment under new measures adopted to fight money-laundering and financial crime, which began under Benedict XVI and have been bolstered under Francis.
If convicted, Profiti and Spina could face prison sentences of three to five years, under Vatican laws on conspiracy to commit a crime and misappropriation of funds.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome