By NICOLE WINFIELD
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Vatican prosecutors have indicted the former president and the ex-treasurer of the Vatican’s children’s hospital for allegedly diverting money from the hospital’s fundraising foundation to pay for an extensive renovation to a top cardinal’s apartment.
The indictment released Thursday orders Giuseppe Profiti and Massimo Spina to stand trial in the Vatican tribunal starting Tuesday.
The indictment accuses the two of using 422,000 euros ($481,000) from the Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital’s fundraising foundation to pay for renovations on Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s penthouse apartment starting in 2013, when he retired as Vatican secretary of state.
Profiti, whose administration was the subject of a recent Associated Press investigation into quality of care problems at the “pope’s hospital,” has admitted to the payment. He said, however, it was an investment so the foundation could use the apartment for fundraising events.
Bertone, who had appointed Profiti as president of the hospital in 2008, denied knowledge of the payment and said he had paid for the renovations out of his own pocket. That suggests the construction company was either paid twice for the same work or that Bertone paid for only part of the overall cost.
The apartment is owned by the Vatican, but was assigned to Bertone for his personal use after he retired. Located in the Vatican gardens right next to the Vatican hotel where Pope Francis lives, the third-floor apartment has been the source of endless speculation ever since the Bambino Gesu payment was revealed in 2015.
Bertone, who was the Vatican’s No. 2 official under Pope Benedict XVI, has defended its relatively large size — some 300 square meters (3,230 square feet) — by saying other cardinals have even bigger apartments and that he lives there with a secretary and three nuns who help care for him.
Bertone was not charged. Nor was the construction company, Castelli Re, or its owner, longtime Bertone associate Gianantonio Bandera. Bandera was mentioned in the indictment of having received the payment, but was not named as a defendant.
Profiti resigned as president of Bambino Gesu in January 2015, nine months into a new three-year term. According to the AP investigation, a secret Vatican-authorized task force had reported in 2014 that under his administration, the mission of the pope’s hospital had been “lost” and was “today more aimed at profit than on caring for children.”
The AP investigation found that children sometimes paid the price as the hospital expanded its services, increased volume and tried to cut costs, with overcrowding and poor hygiene contributing to deadly infections. One 21-month superbug outbreak killed eight children in the hospital’s cancer ward.
The hospital has called the AP report a “hoax” and denied problems. The current Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has said some issues were “unfounded” but has acknowledged there were past problems at the hospital that the current administration is working to fix.
Profiti, who now heads a small medical clinic in southern Campania, told the AP in a May 29 telephone interview that he had told Vatican prosecutors that none of the money used from the foundation for the renovations had been intended for the health care of children. He laughed when told of the results of the 2014 Vatican-authorized task force investigation and called it “rumor.”
Profiti was not in the office Thursday, a secretary said, and he didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
After the task force turned in its report in April 2014 after a three-month investigation, the Vatican ordered up a second in-house clinical assessment into childcare at the hospital. After a three-day visit in early 2015, that investigation found the hospital in many ways was “best in class.”
At the same time the task force was investigating, a Vatican-ordered external audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers confirmed that the hospital’s mission had been “modified in the last few years” to focus on expansion and commercial activities without sufficient governance controls.
The audit flagged particular problems with the fundraising foundation, which Profiti headed. PwC found that five years after it was created, the foundation still didn’t have an executive committee, audit board or organizational model as called for by its statutes. It said its operating costs in 2012 included 145,000 euros compensation to its board, of which 109,000 euros was paid in cash to its general secretariat.
The audit found that the foundation paid 24,000 euros to rent a helicopter to ferry Bertone to a hospital-related opening in southern Italy, and recommended that the hospital define policies about how much cash to keep on hand and what types of expenses could be allowed.
Flagging the problems as requiring immediate action, PwC suggested the hospital revamp the board and appoint an executive committee “considering the non-for-profit mission of the Bambino Gesu foundation and the reputational risk associated to its activities for the OPBG and the Holy See.”
The audit, and details of the payment for the Bertone apartment renovation, were first revealed in the 2015 book “Avarice” by Italian investigative journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi.
Fittipaldi and another Italian journalist were subsequently put on trial in the Vatican for having obtained leaked documents. The court ultimately ruled it had no jurisdiction to prosecute them.
The president of the Vatican tribunal, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, would normally have presided over the upcoming Profiti-Spina trial. But Dalla Torre recused himself, given that he is a board member of the hospital, said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke.
After revelations of the Bambino Gesu payment were made in 2015, Bertone made a 150,000-euro “donation” to the hospital. The hospital’s current president, Mariella Enoc, said it was intended to offset the reputational damage that had been incurred by revelations the foundation had paid for his renovation.