VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A former Vatican official facing charges of extortion and abuse of office related to a controversial London property deal said he was acting under obedience in his role and made no decisions without approval from his direct superior, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra.
Msgr. Mauro Carlino, who served as secretary to then-Archbishop Angelo Becciu, when he served as the Vatican substitute secretary for general affairs -- the No. 3 position in the Vatican Secretariat of State -- and Archbishop Peña Parra, the current substitute, took the stand at a Vatican trial March 30.
Since his indictment last year, Msgr. Carlino told the court: "I have turned my gaze to the cross. I asked myself several times: What wrong have I done? I have obeyed. And in obedience I think I have done the Lord's will."
"Obedience to superiors has characterized my existence," he said.
Msgr. Carlino is among the 10 defendants, including Cardinal Becciu, facing charges stemming from a Vatican investigation into how the Secretariat of State used $200 million to finance a property development project in London's posh Chelsea district.
Archbishop Peña Parra is not one of the defendants.
The Vatican's initial investment in the property was made while then-Archbishop Becciu worked in the Secretariat of State; later, under Archbishop Peña Parra, the Vatican moved to purchase a majority stake in the property. In the end, the deal cost the Vatican millions of dollars.
In his testimony, Msgr. Carlino said that throughout his priesthood and work at the Vatican, he had "tried to be faithful to the word (of God) and the Gospel."
"I tried to see in every person, every paper, every request, every instance, the presence of the Lord and tried to transmit that Gospel that needs to run through the streets of the world," he said.
The former Vatican official said he did not know about the London property development project until January 2019, when Archbishop Peña Parra tasked him with "interacting, dialoguing and maintaining relations with" Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian broker who served as the middleman in the Vatican's majority stake purchase of the property.
Torzi also faces several charges, including the extortion of $17 million from the Vatican as payment for the majority stake and for his role in brokering the deal.
Msgr. Carlino told the court Archbishop Peña Parra had "asked me for three things: fidelity, obedience and discretion. He gave me these three indications for a clear reason: because I was unable to do anything else."
"I am not an expert in administration, I have never dealt with real estate, my curriculum vitae testifies to that. I am a priest," he explained.
Msgr. Carlino said he was instructed to maintain contact with Torzi "in a gentle manner" and serve as a line of communication between the broker, Archbishop Peña Parra and several consultants.
"That was my job and it didn't go beyond that," he said.
Msgr. Carlino said Archbishop Peña Parra was in constant communication with Pope Francis about the negotiations with Torzi and that both were satisfied with the conclusion of the deal.
The archbishop, he said, invited Msgr. Carlino and Fabrizio Tirabassi -- a former official at the Secretariat of State who also faces charges of corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office -- to dinner at a restaurant in Rome.
"When Tirabassi stood up to pay, (Archbishop Peña Parra) said, 'No, I'll pay for it because it was offered by the Holy Father.'"
Before Msgr. Carlino spoke to the court, Giuseppe Pignatone, the court president, read a statement from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, announcing that Cardinal Becciu was granted a dispensation from maintaining the pontifical secret.
At the trial session March 17, Cardinal Becciu said he would be willing to testify, particularly with regard to the role of fellow defendant, Cecilia Marogna, if the Vatican Secretariat of State released him from his obligation to maintain confidentiality.
Cardinal Becciu is expected to continue to answer questions from the court April 6.
Lawyers will continue to cross-examine Msgr. Carlino April 5. René Brülhart and Tommaso di Ruzza, respectively the former president and former director of the Vatican's financial watchdog agency, also are scheduled to testify in court that day.
Brülhart faces charges of abuse of office, while di Ruzza was accused of embezzlement, abuse of office and violation of the secret of the office.