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Vatican 'House of Cardinals' - Season 1 recap

St. Peter’s Basilica. Credit: Livioandronico2013/wikimedia. CC BY SA 4.0. Adapted by The Pillar.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu will make his second appearance next week before judges in a Vatican City courtroom, to answer questions about his role in a sprawling financial scandal at the Secretariat of State’s financial scandal.

It is, for Vatican-watchers, a must-see event.

Pope Francis has now dispensed Becciu from the pontifical secret, effectively telling his disgraced former chief of staff that he’s on his own. Becciu won’t be able to hide behind claims of official state secrecy when he’s asked about dealings with the self-described private intelligence operative, Cecilia Marogna.

After years of investigations and reporting, the trial is now in its ninth month. There is a lot to keep straight: allegations of hacking, private spies, international financial crime, blackmail, burner phones and much more.

In fact, for a lot of people, the Vatican financial scandal has come to resemble a certain political thriller series — one with its own scandals, cliffhangers, and surprise endings.

So whether you want to catch up on what you’ve missed, or binge-watch an entire season, The Pillar brings you a season one recap of “House of Cards,” Vatican-style.

It’s “House of Cardinals.” Stay tuned:

Cast

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Gianluigi Torzi, Cecilia Marogna, Raffaele Mincione, Fabrizzio Tirabassi, Msgr. Mauro Carlino, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, René Brülhart, Enrico Crasso, Luciano Capaldo.

Also starring Pope Francis.

Chapter I: The End of the Beginning

The once-powerful Cardinal Angelo Becciu is indicted for abuse of office, embezzlement, and witness tampering. Vatican prosecutors file charges against him, and nine other officials and advisors at the Secretariat of State, the pope’s chief governing office.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

As the defendants scramble to respond to the allegations, and insist on their innocence, focus falls on an address in London, and a real estate deal years in the making, which ties everyone together.

Chapter II: Here Come the Lawyers

The first day of the trial arrives and lawyers for the defense file a flurry of objections: The investigation was flawed, the process is tainted, the evidence hasn’t appeared.

Cardinal Becciu announces he is going to sue the prosecution’s star witness, his former collaborator at the Secretariat of State, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca.

Other defendants are already in court in London or facing charges in Italy — and the scene is set for a legal battle spread across four courtrooms in three different countries.

Chapter III: Inside Men

Pressure mounts on the businessmen who invested hundreds of millions in Vatican funds in mob-linked financial products, highway developments that never existed, and Hollywood films.

Rene Bruelhart, former president of the Financial Information Authority (AIF) of Vatican City. Credit: Riccardo De Luca UPDATE/Pacific Press/Alamy Live News

Meanwhile, it emerges that, behind the scenes, the full-time officials at the Vatican meant to be overseeing the investments and making sure everything is legal had sweetheart side deals with Swiss banks and the departments they were meant to be policing.

Chapter IV: Roll Tape

The court meets for its second session, and the defense team demands to see everything the prosecution gathered during its two-year investigation.

Prosecutors insist that they cannot hand over hours of video taped interviews with Perlasca because it includes off-topic conversations touching live police investigations and the defense lawyers will leak them to the press.

Chapter V: Cherchez la Femme

Judges tell the prosecution to turn over everything or risk the charges being thrown out.

Meanwhile, the release of a kidnapped nun in South America shifts the focus to Cardinal Becciu’s “private spy” Cecilia Marogna.

Cecilia Marogna. Pillar File Photo.

Prosecutors say she and the cardinal conspired to embezzle hundreds of thousands of euros. She says she was working for the Vatican, with Italian spies, to free hostages — and spying on curial top brass for Becciu.

Chapter VI: Goodfellas

An Italian appeals court reopens an indictment against Gianluigi Torzi, who is in London waiting to find out if he’ll be extradited back to Rome to face charges.

Of course, the Vatican are hoping for a word if he does make it back to Italy, he’s still on the lam since he skipped bail there in 2020.

While he’s been pressing his cases in London, Torzi tells a judge about working life in the Vatican where, he says, Fabrizio Tirabassi and Enrico Crasso offered him prostitutes and threatened his family for control of the London building.

Chapter VII: ‘It never leaks but it pours’

Prosecutors finally hand over all the tapes from their investigation. Not only have they been talking to Perlasca, but they have also been having conversations with Luciano Capaldo — a property developer close to Torzi who was orbiting the London deal.

The tapes leak to the press, just like the prosecution warned.

Meanwhile, the Vatican finally manages to sell the building — posting a more than 100 million euro loss on the deal.

Chapter VIII: Papa’s Bagman

All eyes are on Pope Francis as the defense team say he’s been secretly meeting with investigators and coaching the prosecution.

Things aren’t that simple, though, as it emerges that Perlasca says he wanted to go to the cops about Torzi, but was blocked by the Vatican top brass — who talked Francis into paying the businessman off.

GIanluigi Torzi

The defense team throws their Hail Mary, moving for the trial to be dismissed over claims he bent the rules to help the prosecution. But did he?

Chapter IX: Undignified

Cardinal Becciu loses his bid to sue Perlasca into silence as the Vatican case rumbles on.

Meanwhile, his old sparring partner, Cardinal George Pell asks him a pointed question which he doesn’t want to answer. The cardinal says he’ll explain everything when he appears in court — but then he no-shows as prosecutors double-down on their charges against him and his lawyers pin their hopes on a last ditch effort to get the case thrown out.

Chapter X: Lies, Spies, and Chaos

Becciu’s successor at the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Peña Parra, tells prosecutors that his own department kept him from getting up to speed on their financial deals, which seemed designed to lose money.

Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Vatican City, May, 2021. CRedit: Alamy Stock Photo.

But prosecution informants paint a different picture, with Peña Parra accused of contracting out to Italian intelligence agencies and private individuals to spy on Vatican bankers and businessmen.

Chapter XI: It’s a Secret

With all motions to dismiss thrown out, Cardinal Becciu arrives in court to answer questions.

Ripping into his accusers, the cardinal says he’s the victim of a plot and smear campaign. But before he can be asked about Marogna, or his dealings with a strangely well-connected tech security firm in Australia, Becciu clams up and says he can’t reveal state secrets.

Coming next season

After Pope Francis waived papal secrecy on Becciu’s curial work, the cardinal heads back to court.

We know what the questions are — but will he finally answer them? Tune in to The Pillar to find out, on House of Cards: Vatican Edition.

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