VATICAN CITY (AP) — Vatican prosecutors have indicted the former president and the ex-treasurer of the Vatican's children's hospital on charges they allegedly diverted nearly a half-million euros (dollars) in donations to the hospital to renovate the penthouse of a top Vatican cardinal. The former president, Giuseppe Profiti, has acknowledged the payment but said it was an investment so the hospital's foundation could use the space for fundraising purposes.
While unrelated to the apartment scandal, Profiti's past administration was the focus of a recent Associated Press investigation into Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital, popularly known as "the pope's hospital," which found that a quest for profits sometimes put children at risk.
Among the findings of the AP investigation:
— A Vatican-authorized task force of hospital doctors, nurses and administrators reported a series of problems affecting patient care and staff in April 2014, concluding after a three-month investigation that the hospital's mission had been "lost" and was "today more aimed at profit than on caring for children."
— An AP investigation corroborated many of the 2014 complaints, including overcrowding and lax hygiene standards that contributed to deadly infection. An extremely drug-resistant superbug wore on for nearly two years and killed eight children.
— Doctors were so pressured to maximize operating-room turnover that patients were sometimes brought out of anesthesia too quickly. A 14-year-old girl undergoing an appendectomy was woken up too soon, "against all ethics and morals of our hospital," a 2014 internal hospital report said.
— An epidemiologist who reviewed the charts of 11 deceased cancer patients said he was struck by the "extreme number of medical interventions," including kidney dialysis, performed on children who were nearly dead.
— In its November 2014 monthly magazine, the hospital union noted that the neonatal surgery ward had "sadly become famous" for its rates of infection and death. The route staff walked from their changing room to the children's ward was "equivalent to an open sewer."
— In 2015, the Vatican sent an American team of health care experts to investigate the task force's allegations. After the team spent three days at the hospital, it found the employees' key concerns were "disproved" and that the hospital was in many ways "best in class."
By that time, Profiti had resigned nine months into a new three-year term as the hospital's president. Profiti told the AP he left to pursue new challenges. He said he had heard about the 2014 task force, though he didn't know the results of its investigation. He laughed when told of its conclusions and said they were based on "rumors."
The hospital denied the AP's findings, calling the AP report a "hoax" and threatening legal action. It said the AP report "contained false, dated and gravely defamatory accusations and conjectures that had been denied by an independent report of the Holy See."
The Vatican, for its part, denied there were any "serious threats" to children at the hospital, though it said it welcomed efforts to improve care, "including reports of practices that might be below standard."
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke acknowledged the Vatican had investigated staff complaints at the hospital but also pointed to the American team's three-day visit that determined they were "unfounded."
"No hospital is perfect, but it is false and unjust to suggest that there are serious threats to the health of children at Bambino Gesu," Burke said.
The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, subsequently said that while some of the issues flagged by staff were "truly unfounded," there had been past problems at the hospital and that the current administration was making a "serious effort to resolve them."
Hospital President Mariella Enoc said she found it impossible to believe such problems occurred, though she conceded she wasn't associated with the hospital at the time. She said the AP did its job and that she respected its work, and blamed disgruntled employees for what she called "untrue" reports.