By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Francesca Chaouqui, convicted by a Vatican court in 2016 of leaking confidential Vatican documents, was back on the stand before Vatican magistrates Jan. 13, testifying in a long-running trial on financial misconduct.
Chaouqui, once a member of the now-defunct Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, testified that she helped the Vatican’s star witness draft his statement because she wanted to help Pope Francis.
But her version of how that came about differed from the version offered to the court the same day by Genoveffa Ciferri, who worked with Chaouqui to assist Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, the former head of the Vatican Secretariat of State’s administrative office, when he turned from suspect to key witness.
Ten people, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, are on trial in the Vatican, facing multiple charges related to financial malfeasance, particularly regarding the Vatican Secretariat of State’s investment in a property on Sloane Avenue in London. The Vatican lost more than $200 million on the deal.
Msgr. Perlasca’s cooperation with investigators helped seal the indictment against Cardinal Becciu.
Ciferri told the court she was worried in the summer of 2019 that Cardinal Becciu was trying to poison Msgr. Perlasca, who “for days was like a zombie.” In the end, she said, it was the result of valium he was prescribed by doctors because of a “hysterical crisis” brought on by the investigation.
Ciferri, a longtime friend of Msgr. Perlasca, contacted a journalist for help. The journalist put her in touch with Chaouqui, who did not reveal her real identity, but used a pseudonym and said she was a retired Italian magistrate.
Chaouqui told the court she helped Msgr. Perlasca because she wanted to unmask Cardinal Becciu, who, she said, ordered her arrest in the VatiLeaks case in 2015.
Just before entering the Vatican to testify Jan. 13, Chaouqui tweeted: “It is not for revenge; it is not for ransom. It is for love of Pope Francis, the church and the truth. See you soon Don Angelino,” using a diminutive to refer to the cardinal.
Ciferri told the court that Chaouqui implied she was in regular contact with Vatican investigators and Pope Francis himself about the Sloane Avenue debacle.
But at the end of the day’s court session, Cardinal Becciu stood up and read correspondence between himself and Pope Francis Aug. 19, 2022, just after the pope had personally greeted Chaouqui and her children at the end of his weekly general audience.
The cardinal’s email to the pope expressed his “deep dismay” at seeing photos of the pope greeting Chaouqui since she has had “a vendetta” against the cardinal ever since he told her in 2017 that the pope would not pardon her and did not want her to enter Vatican property ever again. She did not believe it was the pope’s decision.
“With yesterday’s ‘baciamano’ (handshake) I have been publicly contradicted, and the lady will gain more strength to continue demolishing me by all the satanic means of which she is capable,” the cardinal wrote to the pope.
The pope’s response, also read to the court by the cardinal, said, “I am sorry that this gesture of greeting (her) may cause harm.”
Pope Francis wrote that he had “almost forgotten the ‘escapade’ of this lady” and had no idea that she was involved in the trial.
“I apologize and ask your forgiveness if this has offended and hurt you,” the pope wrote. “It is all my fault, also the habit of forgetting bad things.”