Cardinal Angelo Becciu. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 17, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

After almost two and a half years, the Vatican’s “trial of the century,” in which the disgraced Cardinal Angelo Becciu is a defendant, is winding down.

The Vatican court’s president, Giuseppe Pignatone, has asked defense lawyers to keep their statements to a tight schedule over the next few weeks so that he and the other judges can return a verdict by or around Dec. 16.

If found guilty of any or all of the charges, the 10 defendants will likely lodge appeals, so it may not be the final word in a trial that has seen a cardinal tried by lay judges for the first time.

But the decision, which comes after numerous complaints from defense lawyers about how the yearslong investigation and trial were conducted, could be a key indication of the future direction — and efficacy — of the Vatican’s justice system.

Where are we now?

The historic trial has centered on what happened in and around the Secretariat of State’s 350 million-euro purchase of an investment property in London between 2014 and 2018.

The Vatican maintains that the deal was problematic and designed to defraud the Secretariat of State, the powerful curial department at the center of the investigation of financial malfeasance, of millions of euros.

The defendants in the trial have been adamant their actions were above board and that Vatican authorities were in the know.

Becciu, who used to work as the second-ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, has been charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, conspiracy, and witness tampering. Prosecutors have asked for a prison sentence of seven years and three months, a fine of 10,329 euros ($11,236), and a ban from holding public office.

The cardinal has always denied all wrongdoing and claims the financial deal was managed by his successor at the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra.

Others involved also claim there was no criminal liability in what took place — or they point the blame at parties whose names came up in investigations but who were never charged.

Defense lawyers this month criticized the Vatican’s investigation and trial as chaotic and lacking in respect for human rights and due process. One lawyer has also called for a mistrial.

What’s next?

The hearings, which have now reached nearly 80 in number, continue next week and the first week of December. A statement from Becciu’s lawyer is scheduled for Nov. 22.

Closing statements by the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, and defense lawyers are scheduled for Dec. 11 and 12.

“We hope to give a sentence” by Dec. 16, Pignatone, part of the three-judge panel, said at a hearing earlier this month. “We are really at the end.”