Libero Milone, who was hired by the pope in 2015 to oversee Vatican finances, has sued the church to restore his reputation. He believes, he said, that ‘Pope Francis’ silence on the matter is deafening.’Vatican denies legal claims of former Vatican auditors and investigates them instead
Libero Milone, the former Vatican first auditor general, speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Press Club in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022. Milone and his deputy, Ferruccio Panicco, have sued the Holy See for 9.3 million euros ($9.5 million) for wrongful dismissal, as a new litigious chapter opens in Pope Francis’ troubled financial reform effort. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
November 17, 2022 By Claire Giangravé
VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Vatican prosecutors shot down a legal suit filed by ex-Vatican auditor Libero Milone and his deputy, Ferruccio Panicco, on Wednesday (Nov. 16) and reopened criminal investigations into the two men who once oversaw the balance sheets of Vatican departments.
“This is unacceptable!” said a visibly irate Milone at a news conference in Rome on Thursday. Milone, who was hired by Pope Francis in 2015 to aid him in making financial reforms at the Vatican, added that “Pope Francis’ silence on the matter is deafening.”
“What are we, in the 18th century?” Milone asked at one point, questioning the rule of law in the small Catholic city state. He later called the Vatican’s financial and judicial system “Orwellian.”
The former Vatican auditors filed their lawsuit against the Vatican’s Secretariat of State earlier this month, asking the Catholic Church to pay them more than 9 million euros for damages to their reputation after their unceremonious ousting in 2017.
Panicco also blames the Vatican for depriving documents about his medical history after they were taken during the investigation. Without them, he maintains, his chance of surviving prostate cancer was harmed.
Milone and Panicco were interrogated for hours Monday by Vatican prosecutors, who accused them of submitting fake invoices during their tenure as auditors. The prosecutors have reopened criminal investigations against them, and Vatican judges will decide whether to bring the case to trial.
Speaking to a small group of Vatican journalists last week, Milone threatened to reveal the financial irregularities and corruption he witnessed while he was auditor if the Vatican did not heed his requests to restore his reputation.
Libero Milone, center, the former Vatican first auditor general, speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Press Club in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022. RNS photo by Claire Giangravé
Earlier this year, Milone and Panicco said, Vatican officials presented them with a copy of a nondisclosure agreement signed by both men. Milone claims that his signature was photocopied onto the document, which he said was dated two months prior to his appointment as auditor general of the Catholic Church’s finances.
Milone and Panicco claim that in 2017, they were forced to resign by former Vatican police commander Domenico Giani, who said a seven-month investigation had found evidence that they had committed espionage and misused funds. It not clear who they purportedly spied for, or why.
Milone believes he was framed as part of a plan orchestrated by Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who until 2018 held the second highest role in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State but has since been accused of embezzlement, among other crimes. Becciu is on trial along with nine others on charges relating to controversial investments of church funds.
“I believe he (Becciu) gave the Holy Father false information, but the Holy Father eventually found out,” Milone said.
Becciu, who was stripped of his rights as a cardinal, retaining only the title, has said he is innocent of all accusations against him, including Milone’s.
At the news conference, Milone referred to Becciu as monsignor, a honorific title given to priests, because, Milone said, “he never behaved like a cardinal in my eyes, or even as a priest for that matter.” Milone and his deputy claim Becciu and other employees at the Secretariat of State did everything in their power to deprive the two auditors of necessary data about the department’s finances.
“Do you understand why they sent me away?” Milone said. “For having done my work well.”
Milone said he is weighing his next steps and acknowledged the challenges of bringing the Vatican to court in other jurisdictions or at the international level. “Priests have a habit of thinking they are always right, but they are human beings they can make mistakes too,” he said. “It’s time for them to recognize that.”