Cardinals and bishops to face Vatican criminal tribunal

Vatican criminal tribunal

Cardinals and bishops can now face criminal trials in the Vatican tribunal and be judged by lay magistrates after Pope Francis issued a new decree.

This is a further message from the pope to Vatican-based cardinals and bishops about his intent to hold them accountable for criminal misconduct.

It is a message he has been sending for eight years.

Pope Francis has removed the procedural obstacles that had spared them from being prosecuted by the Vatican’s criminal tribunal.

The new law makes it clear that Vatican city-state prosecutors have jurisdiction over Holy See cardinals and bishops. Prosecutors now need only the pope’s consent to proceed with investigations against them.

The Vatican court system consists of the Tribunal, the Court of Appeals and the Cassation Court, the equivalent of the Supreme Court, which comprises two cardinals and a “promoter of justice.”

The Tribunal, created in 1929, is composed of three magistrates nominated by the pontiff and currently headed by the prominent anti-mafia prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone, appointed by Francis in October 2019.

Previously, cardinals and bishops could only be judged by a jury of their peers in the Court of Cassation.

Its president, French Cardinal Dominique Lamberti, is also the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature. This is the highest court concerning spiritual and religious matters and overseeing justice in the Vatican.

The reform is the latest sign that Francis is taking concrete steps to make it easier to hold his own cardinals and bishops accountable. It also emboldens Vatican prosecutors to go after them.

On April 29, Francis passed another law forcing Vatican superiors to declare their finances are clean. It also set a 40-euro (NZ$67) cap on work-related personal gifts received by any Vatican employee.

The gift cap was seen as a way to cut down on the rampant practice of financial gift-giving to Holy See clerics and the chance that such money could grease favours.

In an introduction to the law, Francis said it was necessary to hold everyone equal under the law.

“The understanding of such values and principles, which have progressively matured in the ecclesial community, today require the Vatican code to more adequately conform” to international standards, he wrote.

Pope Francis has also signed a new anti-corruption law for the Vatican, which prohibits employees from using tax havens investing in companies that go against Church teaching.

“Faithfulness in things of little account is related, according to Scripture, to faithfulness in the important ones,” begins the motu proprio on anti-corruption for members of Vatican management signed by Francis April 26.

“Just as being dishonest in things of little importance is related to being dishonest in important matters.”

Libero Milone, who served as the first auditor general of the Vatican Curia from 2015-2017, said that APSA had made investments that did not correspond to the social doctrine of the church. This included a pharmaceutical company that produced the morning-after pill.

According to Milone, the Vatican held these shares for almost 20 years until he flagged the investment to his ecclesiastical superiors, who quickly sold them.


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