monastery of Montecassino Pietro Vittorelli
The Benedictine monastery of Montecassino was visited by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009STR/AFP/Getty Images

Italian authorities have seized assets of €500,000 (£353,000, $536,300) from a former abbot accused of stealing taxpayers' donations to his church to fund his lavish and somewhat unorthodox lifestyle. Pietro Vittorelli is facing charges of embezzlement related to his tenure at the helm of the historic Benedictine monastery of Montecassino, south of Rome.

The 53-year-old abused his position to transfer hundreds of thousands of euros from the monastery's account to his private one, police allege. Investigators claim he used the money to buy not only properties (he reportedly owns four houses in the Rome area) but also drugs and intercontinental trips.

The probe revealed that Vittorelli was an advocate of la dolce vita. During his frequent trips abroad, including several to Brazil, he stayed at luxury hotels and dined at upscale restaurants, according to Il Corriere della Sera.

He once ran up a €7,000 bill at a London hotel and during his spending sprees was able to blow more than €34,000 a month. In 2010 he was reported to police for abusing ecstasy and cocaine, according to Italian media.

Detectives allege his brother, financial consultant Massimo Vittorelli, helped him to launder the misappropriated funds via a series of money transfers. The embezzled amounts came from the sixth-century monastery's cashiers, which are partially funded by money devolved by Italian taxpayers who, under a 1985 law, can decide to donate 8‰ of their taxes to a Catholic entity.

Vittorelli was abbot at Montecassino from 2008 to 2013, when he stepped down citing health issues. The case comes at an awkward time for the Vatican, which is already embroiled in a separate scandal on its murky finances.

Holy See authorities are investigating leaks of confidential documents that resulted in the publication of two books revealing damaging details of the expensive lifestyle of some Vatican officials.

Earlier this week, Vatican police placed under investigation the two Italian journalists who penned the volumes, while at the beginning of the month they arrested the alleged whistleblowers, a high-ranking monsignor and a PR that worked at a commission set up by Pope Francis to enhance the transparency of the Holy See's financial dealings.