Vatican Blasted in New Report for Ignoring That Some Employees May Use Offices for Personal Gain

A report published Wednesday on the Vatican's ability to investigate and prosecute financial crimes said the Holy See ignored the possibility that staffers could be abusing their positions in their offices for personal gain, the Associated Press reported.

The report from the Council of Europe's Moneyval monitoring body also said the Vatican has prosecuted only a handful of money laundering cases in the past decade. The report said that the judicial system had only "modest" functioning and that the sentences on prosecuted cases were so "minimal" they provided no deterrent value.

The report said the problems in these cases were likely caused by understaffing and a lack of experience.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Pope Francis in Vatican City June 2021
Pope Francis leads the Holy Mass on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Domini, at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City on June 6. Vatican Pool - Corbis/Getty Images

Overall, the evaluators gave the Holy See good grades, finding that it was complying with most standards, had taken steps to improve its laws and had achieved effective levels of international cooperation.

The Holy See said it welcomed the report, "renews its commitment to continue working towards full compliance" and would carefully consider Moneyval's recommendations.

The head of the Vatican's financial intelligence authority, Carmelo Barbagallo, noted that few other countries receive such positive marks and said he considered the absence of any "low effectiveness" marks a success.

The report was issued amid a two-year criminal investigation into the Vatican secretariat of state's 350 million euro ($425 million) investment in a London real estate deal that has implicated a half-dozen Vatican employees and a handful of outside Italian brokers who are accused of fleecing the Holy See of tens of millions of euros in fees.

No indictments have been handed down, though the report said a trial was expected to begin this summer. The investigation has revealed that high-ranking officials in the secretariat of state—as well as Pope Francis—were aware of the deal and approved it, but to date aren't known to be under investigation.

The Moneyval evaluation ended before Francis took measures to address one of the major loopholes flagged by the report: that cardinals and bishops have enjoyed near-immunity from prosecution by the Vatican tribunal.

On April 30, Francis removed the procedural obstacles and made it clear that prosecutors needed only his consent to proceed with investigations against cardinals and bishops.

The Vatican submitted to the Moneyval evaluation process after it signed onto the 2009 EU Monetary Convention and in a bid to shed its image as a financially shady tax haven whose bank has long been embroiled in scandal.

After its first 2012 on-site evaluation, the Vatican received passing grades but subsequent progress reports have repeatedly faulted Vatican prosecutors for failing to bring charges in many cases of suspicious transactions.

Wednesday's Moneyval report repeated that complaint, saying both the prosecutor's office and the office of the Vatican's financial intelligence unit were too short-staffed to handle the workload. It also said the personnel the Vatican did have were inexperienced in investigating and prosecuting complicated financial transactions and crimes.

While some delays were due to slow responses from other countries, Moneyval faulted prosecutors for sitting on cases and waiting for convictions of suspects elsewhere, and it said they must set targets to bring cases to trial.

The evaluators also faulted the Vatican's reliance on part-time prosecutors who also practice law in Italy, warning that they might have conflicts of interest and recommending that they be dedicated full-time to Vatican cases.

The evaluators also took strong issue with the October 1, 2019, raid into the Vatican's financial intelligence unit, which was authorized by the pope and marked the first public disclosure about the investigation into the London real estate deal. Vatican gendarmes seized computers and files, including confidential documentation provided by other countries to the Holy See to help the global fight against financial crimes.

As a result of the unprecedented raid, the Egmont Group of national financial intelligence units suspended the Vatican from its confidential information-sharing network for two months, until Vatican prosecutors agreed to never conduct such an unannounced seizure again.

According to details of the agreement in the report, if Vatican prosecutors need such information in the future, an official from the Vatican intelligence unit will ask the foreign unit for prior authorization to share the data. If the foreign unit refuses, Vatican prosecutors will have to resort to a formal request for cooperation.

The Moneyval report criticized the conduct of Vatican authorities in staging the raid, saying there was no evidence they had carried out any risk assessment about the international consequences.

The raid resulted in the departure of the office's top managers and the hiring of replacements whom Moneyval said had "very limited" experience in law enforcement or financial intelligence. The report lamented the "institutional memory loss" that entailed and urged measures to reduce the high turnover in the office.

Pope Francis Blesses Attendee
Pope Francis blesses an attendee as he arrives for his weekly general audience at the Vatican on June 9. Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press