Two blows for the Vatican from the Italian legal system

New York

Church/state relations are complicated everywhere, but perhaps nowhere more so than Italy, where the Catholic Church’s vast institutional structures afford it a high profile but also continually invite public scrutiny.

Two bits of bad news for the Vatican out of the Italian legal system in recent days make the point.

Last week, Italy’s top criminal court set aside the 2007 acquittals of two former officials of Vatican Radio, charged with endangering public health through excessive levels of electro-magnetic emissions. The two now face the prospect of another trial, which would be the third in the case.

Today, the Vatican expressed “complete solidarity” with the president of a renowned church-owned hospital in Rome, who faces a corruption investigation related to his previous role as a public official in Italy’s Liguria region.

Taken together, the cases illustrate that even the recent election of a center-right government under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, perceived as basically “church-friendly,” has not untied all the legal knots facing the Vatican on its home turf.

In its statement regarding the hospital official, the Vatican also expressed “complete trust and collaboration” with the Italian public authorities carrying out the criminal probe.

The official, Giuseppe Profiti, is president of the Bambino Gesu Hospital, an pediatric facility founded in 1869 and owned by the Vatican. Profiti, 46, is one of several figures targeted in a corruption inquiry related to the awarding of contracts for meal services by public entities in Liguria.

Prior to taking over at Bambino Gesu in January 2007, Profiti served as the director general of the Region of Liguria.

According to Italian news reports, authorities believe that an Italian businessman named Roberto Alessio paid off several officials in Liguria, in some cases in cash and in others through payments for fictitious “consulting services,” in order to obtain insider information about contracts for meal services in public schools and hospitals. In 2006, Alessio reportedly obtained a contract from Liguria worth $24 million.

To date, Profiti has not been charged with any wrong-doing. The Italian magistrate handling the case has not said when, or if, charges might be filed against any of the targets of the probe.

“Manifesting total trust and collaboration towards the investigating Italian authorities, the owners of the Pediatric Hospital Bambino Gesu express full solidarity with its current president, Professor Giuseppe Profiti, who is the object of an inquiry relative to the Ligurian territory and his previous public responsibilities,” the Vatican statement said.

“Bambino Gesu is a point of reference at the international level in the area of research and cure in the pediatric field. Professor Giuseppe Profiti, who assumed the responsibility of directing the hospital last January, has demonstrated on a daily basis his dedication and great professionalism, earning the the support of the staff, who are committed to their joint effort of offering the best possible response to the health care needs on the part of their young patients, from Italy and abroad, who entrust themselves each day to the pediatric hospital owned by the Holy See.”

“This solidarity, which is both personal and institutional, expresses itself in the hospital’s daily commitment in favor of those who suffer, following the organizational and methodological indications of Professor Profiti, in the hope that the action of the Magistrate will quickly clarify the position of the professor, thus allowing him to concentrate on his work.”

The Bambino Gesu Hospital is located on Rome’s Janiculum Hill just minutes from the Vatican. It is immediately adjacent to the Pontifical North American College, the American seminary in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI visited Bambino Gesu in September 2005, calling the hospital “an immediate and concrete work of the Holy See to help children who are ill” as well as “an outpost of the evangelizing activity of the Christian community in this city of ours.” Previously, John Paul II had visited Bambino Gesu in 1979 and again in 1982.

The Profiti investigation is not the only bad news for the Vatican from the Italian legal system in recent days.

Last week, Italy’s top criminal court threw out the acquittal of two former top officials of Vatican Radio, who had been charged with threatening public health through excessive levels of “electro-smog” generated by powerful emissions from Vatican Radio transmitters located outside Rome.

Cardinal Robert Tucci, former head of the management committee for Vatican Radio, and Jesuit Fr. Pasquale Borgomeo, former director general, had been convicted by a lower court in 2005 and sentenced to 10 days in jail, but those sentences were suspended awaiting appeal. In 2007, the two men were acquitted by an appeals court.

Italy’s Court of Cassation has now set aside that acquittal and ordered a new trial.

In 2001, the Italian government and the Vatican created a commission to study the emissions levels, and the Vatican says that subsequent measurements show it is respecting the limits established under that agreement.

Vatican Radio is run by the Jesuit order. In a monthly news digest released this week, the Jesuits said that “Vatican Radio has declared that it is always attentive to international and Italian recommendations on the subject of emissions.”t

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