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Cardinal Becciu’s actions key question in ex-auditor’s wrongful termination appeal

Cardinal Becciu’s actions key question in ex-auditor’s wrongful termination appeal

Libero Milone. / Credit: Edward Pentin/EWTN/YouTube screen shot

Rome Newsroom, Jul 1, 2024 / 11:15 am (CNA).

At a July 3 appeal hearing, lawyers for former Vatican auditor Libero Milone and his recently deceased former deputy Ferruccio Panicco will argue that Cardinal Angelo Becciu acted as an official of the Vatican, not as a private individual, when he put pressure on the two men to resign their posts in 2017 under threat of prosecution.

“For me, Ferruccio’s family, and my family this is tremendously important,” Milone told journalists at a June 19 briefing about his appeal, claiming he and Panicco were “threatened and expelled for doing our jobs” and he is now essentially un-hireable due to the damage to his reputation.

Milone is preparing to go before the Vatican’s appeals court after his lawsuit was rejected earlier this year by a lower court for a “misplaced claim” against the Secretariat of State. Judges said the Secretariat of State was not liable for his ousting because he was employed by the pope and Becciu was acting alone when he forced the auditor from his job and accused him of “spying” on his personal finances.

Milone, who argues he uncovered illegal accounting practices and conflicts of interest while merely carrying out his remit to audit Vatican finances, told CNA he is the victim of “false and malicious accusations” and asked why he was never arrested if, as the Vatican said at the time of his ousting, they had ample evidence he was guilty of espionage.

In 2022, the ex-Vatican auditor and his deputy sought 9.3 million euros (about $10 million) in compensation from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and office of auditor general, now led by the other of Milone’s two former deputies, for loss of reputation and the inability to find new work due to the slanderous nature of their removal.

The lawsuit also included a demand of 3.5 million euros (about $3.8 million) for the loss of Panicco’s personal medical records, which Milone maintains led to the auditor’s premature death from cancer in June 2023 after having to repeat exams, thus delaying treatment.

The Vatican’s court of first instance ordered Milone to pay almost 50,000 euros (about $54,000) and Panicco’s estate 64,000 euros (about $69,000) and said in its Jan. 24 rejection of the lawsuit that the Secretariat of State cannot be held liable for Milone’s dismissal because it was Pope Francis who was responsible for his employment, and the court cannot judge papal decisions, while Becciu acted in a personal capacity.

Milone and his lawyers, however, called this argument a “smoke screen” during a meeting with journalists in June and said they have documents they claim prove the Secretariat of State’s integral role in his hiring and, ultimately, in his forced resignation, which Becciu, then sostituto of the Secretariat of State, has taken credit for.

They added that they hope in their appeal to enter into the facts of the case and expressed disappointment at the lawsuit having been originally blocked for a prejudicial reason.

Becciu himself is currently in appeal proceedings after he was sentenced to more than five years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of over $8,000 after he was convicted on counts of embezzlement and abuse of office in December 2023.

Milone’s preliminary appeal hearing July 3 will be before a court of three judges: Spanish Archbishop Alejandro Arellano Cedillo, president of the Court of Appeal; Father Pietro Milite; and Italian civil judge Riccardo Turrini Vita.

CNA has seen a copy of the document explicitly hiring Milone as auditor general of the Vatican, which is signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

According to the ex-auditor general, it is ludicrous that the Vatican court argued Becciu acted as a private individual, not as an official of the Secretariat of State, when on the morning of June 19, 2017, when he was told by Becciu he had lost the faith of the pope, he was meeting the second-in-command of the Secretariat of State in the Apostolic Palace on a matter of business, namely, to discuss work contracts for employees in his office.

After the preliminary hearing on July 3, it is unknown how many hearings the appeal court will hold and how long the judges will take to give a verdict.

Under Vatican law, both the prosecution and the defense can appeal verdicts, and second appeals are also possible.

Milone and his lawyers, Romano Vaccarella and Gianni Merla, said they will appeal their case to the Vatican’s supreme court and even bring it before the International Court of Justice in the Hague if necessary.

“I’m never giving up for myself and for Ferruccio,” Milone told CNA and other journalists in June.

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