By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A Vatican judge gave prosecutors more time to build their case against several defendants accused of financial malfeasance and corruption.

At the fifth session of the Vatican trial Dec. 14, Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican City State criminal court, said the complicated case was “a construction site” and expressed his hope that by mid-February, the trial would begin to focus on the key accusations.

Another hearing devoted to procedural matters will take place Jan. 25, he said.

The Vatican court originally had brought to trial 10 individuals, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, former prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, and four companies on charges involving financial malfeasance and corruption in relation to a multimillion-dollar property deal in London.

But in October, the court ordered the prosecution to redo its investigations of four of the defendants and the four companies.

Cardinal Becciu, who has attended every court session, was the only defendant present Dec. 14, while the remaining five were represented by their lawyers.

In a statement released by the Vatican press office, the prosecution said its office is complying with the court’s order to reinvestigate the charges against the four defendants and will complete its work “by mid-January 2022.”

However, “it should be noted that, to date, only one of the suspects invited to appear has responded to the summons and was available for questioning,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Cardinal Becciu’s lawyers have questioned the fairness of the accusations against him, saying that he was not given the opportunity to give a statement to prosecutors during their investigation, while Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, the former head of the Vatican Secretariat of State’s administrative office, went from suspect to star witness.

At his first hearing in July, Cardinal Becciu, who has filed lawsuits against several news agencies for libel and/or defamation, told journalists that he instructed his lawyers to file a similar lawsuit against Msgr. Perlasca.

However, according to Dec. 13 report by Italian news agency Adnkronos, a court in the northern Italian town of Como dismissed the lawsuit, which sought 500,000 euros ($565,862) in damages.

Cardinal Becciu’s lawyers accused Msgr. Perlasca and Genoveffa Ciferri, a friend of the monsignor, of engaging in “persecutory conduct,” including “false accusations” and “threats” against the cardinal and his family.

But Judge Lorenzo Azzi ruled that there was “no evidence, in the plaintiff’s narrative, of any concrete damaging conduct” by Msgr. Perlasca or Ciferri and that the cardinal’s claims were based mainly on “press articles of dubious relevance and probatory value.”