Frescoes and Escapades: A Prelate in Difficulty

December 26, 2022
Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia

The very controversial president of the Academy for Life has just been implicated for alleged embezzlement of charitable funds for personal purposes. The prelate, close to Pope Francis, has decided to sue his accusers for defamation, but this case – far from being the first of its kind – could contribute to further weakening his position within the Curia.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia likes to take center stage in the media. A few months ago we remember the resounding declarations of the current president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, considering that the Italian law on abortion constituted “a pillar of social life” in the Peninsula. He also made ambiguous and contradictory remarks on the theme of “homophobia,” dear to the LGBT movement.

We also remember, several years ago, that the same prelate, then bishop of Terni, hit the headlines by having a “homo-erotic” fresco painted in his cathedral in which he had himself represented hugging a half-naked man in an “erotic net.”

But it's a safe bet that Msgr. Paglia would have done well if he had not made the front page of several Catholic news sites after the publication of an accusatory article appeared in The Pillar on December 14, 2022.

The conservative American Catholic publication pinned the prelate there when he was president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, on the pretext that he allegedly embezzled during the time – between 2012 and 2016 – several hundred thousand euros allocated to charitable works, notably those helping children, in order to finance real estate projects, including the renovation of his own apartment.

The Pillar, relying on “multiple independent sources with knowledge of the events,” affirms that the prelate, in a 2015 memo, confirmed to Vatican financial investigators that hundreds of thousands of euros had indeed been paid to an Italian construction contractor, “instead of going to missionary and charitable projects to support poor families and orphans.”

At the same time, Msgr. Paglia allegedly claimed to have repaid some of the money diverted from the charitable funds. A restitution which, according to Pillar sources, had come from “other donations to the pontifical council.”

The current president of the Academy founded by John Paul II was quick to counterattack. On December 16, the Zenit agency announced that Msgr. Paglia had decided to sue The Pillar in the United States for defamation. His American lawyer has also declared that it was “seriously prejudicial to assert that (his client) would have used Vatican funds for the expenses of his own private apartment, for which renovation he personally paid.”

This is not the first time that the prelate has been accused of this type of deed. In an article dating from 2015, Dici (no. 317 of 06/26/15) recalled his indictment for criminal association, fraud, and embezzlement when he was bishop of Terni-Narni-Amelia, in central Italy, between 2000 and 2012.

Msgr. Paglia was then suspected of having authorized the diocesan institute for aid to the clergy’s purchase of a former Franciscan convent, the castle of San Girolamo, at a price much lower than its real market value.

At the end of the preliminary investigation, the Italian justice dismissed the case in September 2015. “I have always had confidence in the work of the judiciary,” said Msgr. Paglia at the time. Despite everything, after his departure in 2012, the diocese of Terni had inherited a account of several million euros.