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Gerard O’ConnellJuly 01, 2024
Pope Francis greets Libero Milone, then the Vatican's auditor general, at the Vatican April 1, 2016. Milone and his deputy are seeking damages from the Vatican, claiming they were forced to resign after discovering irregularities and corruption. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

A Vatican tribunal will hear an appeal from the Holy See’s first-ever auditor general, Libero Milone, this Wednesday, July 3. He claims his resignation from the role of auditor general was extorted under threat of arrest on June 19, 2017, as was a similarly forced resignation of one of his two deputies, Ferruccio Panicco, on the following day. Mr. Panicco died from cancer last year.

Mr. Milone believes he was framed and forced to resign to avoid being arrested and sent to jail in the Vatican seven years ago. He believes that those who wanted to remove him as auditor general deceived Pope Francis regarding his activities to get the pope to agree to his removal.

Mr. Milone, 75, and his lawyers told this to a small group of journalists, including America’s Vatican correspondent, at a press briefing in his lawyers’ office in Rome on June 19.

He said that he and Mr. Panicco first submitted their case to the Vatican judicial authorities on June 12, 2020. They decided to go to the tribunal, he said, after several failed attempts since September 2017 to find an out-of-court settlement to restore their good names and professional reputations and to receive appropriate compensation for their forced resignations and subsequent loss of employment. He said they first sought a resolution to their case in many encounters with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, and with others designated by the Secretariat of State but to no avail.

To avoid losing the possibility of making a claim because of the Vatican’s statute of limitations in civil cases, Mr. Milone said they submitted their case on June 12, 2020, and were given the opportunity to present it before the tribunal of first instance in November 2022. They have asked for 9.3 million euros ($9.8 million) in compensation for the damage done to both of them.

The tribunal of first instance rejected their claim in November 2022. The reason given for this—as their lawyers discovered when they retrieved the sentence on Jan. 23, 2024—was based mainly on the charge that they had submitted their claim to the wrong internal Vatican State counterpart, namely the Secretariat of State. The tribunal determined that the Secretariat of State was not responsible since, it argued, “there was no working relationship” between the plaintiffs and the Secretariat of State.

Mr. Milone’s lawyers denounced this verdict on several counts. First, Cardinal Parolin signed the decree appointing Mr. Milone as auditor general. Second, the responsibility for their forced resignation was attributed mainly to two Vatican officials: Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the second-ranking official in the Secretariat of State after Cardinal Parolin, and the head of the Vatican’s gendarmerie, Commander Domenico Giani. The court ruled that the actions of the cardinal and the commander in their case were those of “private citizens,” not of Vatican officials.

The lawyers found the tribunal’s verdict even more incredible given that Archbishop Becciu told various media including Reuters in September 2017 that “Milone went against all rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, myself included. If he hadn’t resigned, we would have pursued him from a penal standpoint.” Mr. Milone denies that he had ever spied on a Vatican official and claims the cardinal and others involved in his resignation confused the work of an auditor general with that of spying.

Years later, during “the trial of the century” over the London Sloane Avenue property, Cardinal Becciu stated that Pope Francis had asked him to undertake “the thankless task” of getting rid of the auditor general. In both instances, the cardinal appeared to assert that he was acting in his official role as chief of staff, not as a private citizen, in getting rid of the auditor general.

Mr. Milone recalled that when he visited then-Archbishop Becciu on June 19, 2017, the archbishop accused him of spying on members of the curia, including himself, and of embezzlement, and told him that Pope Francis had lost trust in his activities. Mr. Milone strongly denied these accusations. The archbishop then told him to meet Commander Giani to receive details of the accusations.

Mr. Milone said the gendarmerie “ransacked” his office, confiscated his phone, iPad and computer, and removed many documents. He said that Commander Giani told him the gendarmerie had carried out a seven-month investigation into Mr. Milone and found “irrefutable evidence” against him, which they delivered to the Vatican prosecutor.

But to this day, Mr. Milone said, neither he nor his lawyers have been granted their legal right to examine this evidence, despite their repeated requests to see it. His lawyers have begun to doubt that such evidence exists.

After accusing him, he said, the gendarmerie “applied violent methods during the interrogation” and Commander Giani threatened him and Mr. Panicco with imprisonment if they did not sign the letters of resignation. After 10 very unpleasant hours with the gendarmerie, Mr. Milone said, he signed the letter to avoid arrest and immediate imprisonment. He remarked that he found it strange that the head of the gendarmerie “should have in his hand prepared letters of resignation pending signature” and commented that “clearly he was acting under instructions.”

Mr. Milone said it is beyond belief that the tribunal of first instance, and the same judges who in December 2023 convicted Cardinal Becciu and others over the London property case, “have strangely failed to recognize that those who first detected that those crimes were being perpetrated in the Vatican, were Milone and Panicco” and that the latter have seen their careers terminated unjustly without compensation. “To add insult to injury,” he said, the tribunal ordered Mr. Milone and Mr. Panicco “to pay court costs of more than 100,000 euros.”

Mr. Milone and his lawyers, also acting on behalf of the late Mr. Panicco, are now appealing that verdict and say they are seeking to obtain justice in the Vatican tribunal.

Pope Francis appointed Mr. Milone to the post of auditor general on June 5, 2015, after a headhunting firm identified him as the most suitable person for this unprecedented role in the Vatican city-state. His résumé was impressive. Born in The Hague, the Netherlands, he qualified as a chartered accountant in London and worked for 32 years with Deloitte, one of the four largest accounting firms in the world, and eventually became managing director of its worldwide human resources division. He also worked for Fiat and Telecom before accepting the post of auditor general established by Pope Francis, after the pontiff had set up the Secretariat of the Economy in February 2014 in his effort to reform and clean up the Holy See’s finances.

As auditor general, Mr. Milone reported directly to Pope Francis. He was given the power to audit the balance sheets and accounts of the 136 entities in the Vatican City State, including those of the Secretariat of State. Soon after taking office, however, he said he began to encounter problems and resistance. His computer was broken into in September 2015, and he had to hire an outside investigative agency to carry out security checks. He later used the same agency to conduct investigations in Italy (not in the Vatican) regarding some real estate of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and of some Vatican officials, and while this was within his mandate as auditor general, it seems those who opposed his activity as auditor choose to classify the use of this agency as espionage.

As he conducted his work as auditor general, in collaboration with Cardinal George Pell in so far as required, he—like the cardinal—said he encountered enormous resistance from the Secretariat of State, and especially Archbishop Becciu, who was then the dominant force in that office. He also said he encountered resistance from APSA, then under the control of Italian Cardinal Domenico Calcagno (known as “Cardinal Rambo” because of his collection of firearms), a very close friend of the former secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. He experienced resistance in some other Vatican offices, too, he said, but he acknowledges that some heads of office willingly cooperated.

During his first nine months as auditor, Mr. Milone said he was able to meet and report to Pope Francis every month, or more often if necessary, but “mysteriously” from April 1, 2016, he was prevented from having any further direct access to the pope. He attributes this block to the fact that at that same time his auditing work and investigations into various accounts had begun to trouble some important persons in the Vatican.

As he began to dig deeper, he discovered illicit or questionable use of the Holy See’s finances in various departments, and he was always blocked from auditing the secretariat of state’s financial activities, including for the purchase of the London property at Sloane Avenue.

In the press briefing, Mr. Milone mentioned how he discovered the misuse of funds of the Bambino Gesú children’s hospital and of APSA. He examined “the disappearance” of some 2.5 million euros donated for the construction of a new pavilion at the hospital that never happened. He also uncovered “the illicit use” of the gendarmerie funds to cover some of the costs of restructuring the apartment of the head of the Vatican gendarmerie. He also found that a cardinal had used his role in charge of two different Vatican funds, thereby breaching the city-state’s money laundering law, for the purchase of a prestigious apartment in London for the Vatican. He discovered anomalous contracts for Vatican apartments in Rome, as well as “conflicts of interest” by some Vatican officials. During his work as auditor, he said, he was surprised to discover that more than 2.5 million euros were paid to an American lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, for his services to the Holy See between 2012-16.

Mr. Milone and his lawyers believe that by this time his work had become a cause of concern to some Vatican officials, including then-Archbishop Becciu and Commander Giani, and so, he claims, he was framed and forced to resign, as was one of his two assistant auditors. His second assistant auditor—Alessandro Cassinis Righini—was later promoted to replace him as ad-interim auditor general. He and his lawyers think the archbishop and the commander were among those who “deceived the pope,” alleging, among other things, that Mr. Milone was spying on Vatican officials and engaged in embezzlement, and so they succeeded in getting him removed from the Vatican.

He said he has sent seven letters to the pope but since he has received no reply, he doubts if they ever reached him.

At the conclusion of the press briefing, Mr. Milone also showed a brief video recorded by Mr. Panicco, his assistant auditor, on June 8, 2023, five days before he died at the age of 63. In the video, referring to his experience at the office of the gendarmerie, Mr. Panicco stated, “On June 20, 2017, I was forced by threats, insults and even violence to leave my position as assistant auditor at the Vatican city-state and the Holy See.”

He added, that “During the search [of his office] on June 20, 2017, a whole series of papers and medical documentation that concerned me were also lost, seized, went missing—I don’t know—papers concerning my illness, stage four prostate cancer, which have never been returned despite our repeated requests. This failure has certainly slowed down the treatment I have undergone, and this certainly prevented the possibility of a recovery.”

He said, “All the brutality that I have suffered has never found a form of repair despite the repeated requests made through all possible and imaginable channels.” He concluded by calling on “those responsible for all this to at least intervene to obtain compensation for the damage caused and which is clearly evident.” He appealed to Cardinal Parolin and to Pope Francis “to put an end to this injustice, toward me, towards [Mr.] Milone and toward our families.”

Mr. Milone is seeking justice for himself and for Mr. Panicco. “Seven years have gone by without any tangible results,“ he said, “and when we presented our legal claim we found that we were up against a rubber wall.” Moreover, he said, “In these seven years, my life has changed. I cannot find work because my reputation has been seriously damaged for something I did not do.”

As he awaits the presentation of their case to the court of appeal on July 3, he said he wonders if he will get justice in the Vatican. If not, he said, he and his lawyers will take their case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

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