VATICAN CITY—Cardinal Giovanni Becciu, once one of the most powerful men in the Vatican, went on trial Tuesday for embezzlement and other alleged crimes, as a scandal that has posed one of the biggest tests of Pope Francis’s pontificate spilled out into the open.
It is the first time that a cardinal has gone on trial in Vatican City’s criminal court.
The focus of the prosecutors’ case is the Vatican’s investment in a costly piece of London real estate that they say was a culpably reckless use of church funds earmarked for charity. They say that the Vatican lost tens of millions of dollars on the investment.
The trial of Cardinal Becciu and nine others will serve for many as a test of the pope’s overhauls aimed at bringing more transparency to the Vatican’s finances and of the Vatican justice system’s ability to enforce accountability in its highest ranks.
Pope Francis, who personally approved the indictment, has pointed to the probe as evidence that his reforms have been effective. But defendants are expected to argue that transactions were made with the approval of high Vatican officials who haven’t been indicted and who remain in office today, raising the possibility that the trial will be a showcase of corruption and incompetence rather than reform.