2 ex-Vatican hospital officials charged, ordered to stand trial
The scandal was remarkable even by Vatican standards: The president of the “pope’s hospital” for sick children had taken nearly a half-million dollars in hospital donations and used them to spruce up the penthouse apartment of the Vatican cardinal who had appointed him.
On Thursday, the Vatican tribunal indicted Giuseppe Profiti and the hospital’s former treasurer on charges they illegally diverted the money and ordered them to stand trial. The case answers a key question raised by a recent Associated Press investigation that found that the hospital’s mission under Profiti’s leadership had been lost and was “more aimed at profit than caring for children.”
So where did the money go?
According to the indictment, at least some $481,000 in donations to the fundraising foundation of the Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital – popularly known as the “pope’s hospital” – went instead to renovate the penthouse of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who retired in 2013 as the second most powerful man in the Catholic Church.
Profiti acknowledged the payment, but said it was an investment so the hospital could use Bertone’s apartment, with its enormous rooftop terrace overlooking St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican gardens below, for fundraising events to benefit sick children.
Bertone, who had appointed Profiti as president of the hospital in 2008, denied knowledge of the payment and said he had paid some 300,000 euros for the renovations out of his own pocket. That suggested the construction company was either paid twice for the work or that Bertone paid for some of it, and the hospital foundation the rest.
Regardless, the total payout came to nearly three-quarters of a million euros to renovate a retired cardinal’s apartment and the leaky rooftop terrace above it, all in the shadow of the two-room hotel suite where Pope Francis lives and preaches his “church of the poor and for the poor” gospel.
Significantly, Bertone wasn’t charged or even placed under investigation, even though he personally benefited from the diverted money. Nor were the Castelli Re construction company or its owner, Gianantonio Bandera, though Bandera was referenced as having received the “illegally” diverted funds. The trial of Profiti and Massimo Spina, the former hospital treasurer, is scheduled to open Tuesday.
The apartment is owned by the Vatican, but was assigned to Bertone for his personal use after he retired as the Vatican’s secretary of state under Pope Benedict XVI. Located on the edge of the Vatican gardens next to the Domus Santa Marta hotel where Pope Francis lives, the third-floor apartment has been the source of endless speculation ever since the diverted hospital funds were revealed in 2015.
Bertone has defended its relatively large size – some 3,230 square feet – by saying other cardinals have even bigger apartments, that he lives there with a secretary and three nuns who help care for him, and that he needed the space for his archive and library.
While denying any wrongdoing, Bertone nevertheless made a 150,000-euro “donation” to the hospital, whose name in English means Baby Jesus, to make up for the reputational damage it incurred as a result of the scandal.
Profiti resigned suddenly as president of the hospital in January 2015, nine months into a new three-year term. According to the AP investigation, a secret Vatican-authorized task force had concluded in 2014 that under his administration, the hospital’s mission had been “lost” and was “substituted by an attitude aimed almost exclusively at profit.”
The AP inquiry found that children sometimes paid the price as the medical center expanded its specialized services, increased volume and tried to cut costs, with overcrowding and poor hygiene contributing to deadly infections. One extremely drug-resistant superbug outbreak that wore on for nearly two years killed eight children in the hospital’s cancer ward.