Vatican police seize files and computers from department that looks after St Peter's Basilica

Nick Squires
·2-min read
A nun walks across St. Peter's Square past St. Peter's Basilica - AFP
A nun walks across St. Peter's Square past St. Peter's Basilica - AFP

Vatican police seized computers and files from a 500-year-old department that looks after the bricks and mortar maintenance of St Peter’s Basilica, amid the latest claims of financial skulduggery within the Holy See.

Pope Francis vowed to clean up the Vatican’s opaque and frequently corrupt finances when he was elected in 2013 after the unprecedented resignation of Benedict XVI.

But in a new front against graft, officers from the tiny city state’s police force raided the offices of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, which was founded in 1523 by Pope Clement VII, before the building of the current basilica began.

The imposing basilica was built in the 17th century over the supposed tomb of St Peter and was worked on by the greatest Italian architects of the day, including Bernini and Bramante.

Police seized “documents and computers from the technical and administrative offices of the Fabbrica di San Pietro”, the Vatican said in a statement.

There were no details of what crimes may have been committed or who might be behind them, but prosecutors acted on information provided by the office of the general auditor.

The Vatican said Pope Francis had appointed a new commissioner of the department, who will be expected to implement new anti-corruption rules which the Pope announced earlier this month about the awarding of contracts.

The fact that the Vatican mentioned the rules introduced on June 1 suggested that Tuesday’s raid could have something to do with suspected contract-rigging or procurement.

The man appointed as the new commissioner, Bishop Mario Giordana, was involved in the investigation of suspected financial irregularities within the Sistine Chapel Choir.

That investigation resulted in the early retirement of the choirmaster last year. He was not convicted of any crime.

Pope Francis vowed to clean up financial corruption in the Vatican - Getty
Pope Francis vowed to clean up financial corruption in the Vatican - Getty

The Vatican is also mired in an investigation into its purchase two years ago of a luxury property in Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, amid allegations that it was fleeced out of millions of euros by middlemen.

Gianluigi Torzi, a broker and businessman, was arrested by Vatican police earlier this month, accused of extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering in relation to the £160m London deal. It is alleged that the price was hugely inflated. He has denied the allegations but faces up to 12 years in prison if found guilty.

The Pope’s campaign against corruption has faced several obstacles, not least the scandal that engulfed Cardinal George Pell.

The Pope appointed the Australian his treasurer or economy minister, only to see him spectacularly fall from grace after being convicted in 2018 of abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne in the 1990s.

In April, Australia’s highest court overturned his conviction, bringing an end to his six-year prison sentence.