Ex-Vatican Employee Arrested for Fraud in Sting Operation

By Jose Resurreccion

Jun 07, 2024 08:28 AM EDT

Ex-Vatican Employee Arrested for Fraud in Sting Operation
A general view show people gathering as Pope Francis presides a mass on World Children's Day at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on May 26, 2024.
(Photo : FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Vatican employee Alfio Maria Daniele Pergolizzi was arrested in a sting operation for attempting to sell back a manuscript he allegedly pilfered from the archives of St. Peter's Basilica. 

The Holy See confirmed the report Thursday (June 6) but did not mention Pergolizzi by name. However, Catholic news website Crux quoted Italian newspaper Domani when it identified him as the suspect. 

According to details provided by Domani and other Italian news outlets, Pergolizzi was formerly an art historian who ran the communication office for St. Peter's from 1995 to 2011, during the reigns of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Planned to Trap Pergolizzi, Reports Say

It was alleged that he and an unidentified man met Cardinal Mauro Gambetti on May 27 to sell him a manuscript prepared by the school of Baroque-era artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The alleged document contained details about the gold necessary to decorate the famed Baldacchino or tabernacle built to tower over the basilica's main altar. 

It is understood that Gambetti would give the suspect a check valuing roughly $130,000 in exchange for the manuscript. However, the transaction was actually a trap.

Prior to the meeting, Cardinal Gambetti, currently the chief administrator of St. Peter's, reported the matter to the Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, who acts as the city-state's chief prosecutor, saying that the manuscript originally had been part of its archives but disappeared, only to resurface as a photocopy in a book published in 2021 and edited by Pergolizzi.

Pergolizzi and the unnamed companion were arrested and detained at a facility in front of the Domus Santa Marta, Pope Francis's personal quarters, and were interrogated by officers of the Vatican Gendarmes. 

The anonymous individual was eventually released, but Pergolizzi was remanded in custody at a jail cell within the Vatican awaiting formal extortion and fraud charges. 

Italian news site Faro di Roma accused the Vatican of using deception to entrap and arrest Pergolizzi, saying in a May 6 piece that such acts were "stupefying."

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Scholar Questions Alleged Bernini Atelier Document

In the follow-up investigations, it was alleged that Italian authorities have seized some items Pergolizzi stored in a warehouse, presumably to search for other items he might have removed from the Vatican while he was employed there. 

Local media reported that Pergolizzi allegedly received the manuscript from a former canon of St. Peter's Basilica named Msgr. Vittorino Canciani, who died in 2014. The suspect further claimed that the manuscript was allegedly part of a private collection that came into the priest's possession instead of it being stolen from the basilica's archives. 

Diddi's office is yet to examine such claims.

On the other hand, a scholar who wrote the book in question edited by Pergolizzi said that the alleged document written by Bernini's school may not exist at all. 

US Catholic broadcaster EWTN quoted Tor Vergata University architecture professor Maria Grazia D'Amelio when she told Italian media outlet Dagospia that she was the author of the 2021 volume edited by Pergolizzi entitled Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini and the Gold for the Baldacchino of St. Peter (1624-1633).

She stressed that she never saw any trace or reference to the alleged manuscript during the multiple times she used the St. Peter's Basilica archives in her research.

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