VATICAN CITY | One of the Vatican's most influential cardinals, the Italian Angelo Becciu, dismissed by the Pope on suspicion of “embezzlement” in favor of his family, publicly proclaimed his innocence on Friday.
The 72-year-old prelate fell suddenly out of favor Thursday evening after a twenty-minute tête-à-tête with Pope Francis, who demanded his resignation. He organized a meeting with the press on Friday to respond to allegations deemed “surreal” unveiled the same day in the Italian press.
“The Pope says he no longer trusts me because the magistrates told him that I would commit acts of embezzlement,” Cardinal Becciu reported, adding that Francis seemed sorry.
The prelate is particularly suspected of having promoted the activities of his three brothers during his career, in particular of having directed charitable funds from the Church to a cooperative in Sardinia chaired by a brother who deals with social reintegration under the aegis of the Sardinian diocese of the cardinal.
He explained that he had allocated to the “Caritas” of the diocese (charitable organization) a sum of 100,000 euros from donations to the Pope, the famous “Denarius of Saint Peter”, a sum still unspent and not paid to the Pope. business of his brother.
“This money is still there, I do not know why I am accused of embezzlement”, he commented. “I know that in my diocese there is an emergency situation, especially in terms of employment”, explained the cardinal.
“I do not consider myself corrupt,” continued the cardinal, who has not yet been summoned by Vatican justice. “I do not challenge the Pope, but everyone has the right to their own innocence,” he added, judging that the Pope could have been “badly informed” and possibly “manipulated”.
After a career as a nuncio (ambassador), the Italian prelate had served for seven years as substitute for the Secretariat of State, the equivalent of a Minister of the Interior, a key position in constant contact with Pope Benedict XVI then Pope Francis.
Just created a cardinal in the summer of 2018 by Pope Francis, he was head of the administration of the Holy See responsible for investigating and deciding on beatifications and canonizations, a function much less close to power.
The cardinal's name has been mentioned many times in the context of an explosive investigation, launched a year ago, into opaque financial arrangements to buy a building in the chic Chelsea district of London.
The procurement process began in 2014 when Bishop Becciu was still at the Secretariat of State, the central administration of the Holy See deciding for this investment.
On this file, the cardinal, who has always defended the advisability of this purchase, repeated Friday in front of the press that it had not been financed by the Denarius of Saint-Pierre. “The Secretariat of State had a fund that was to grow,” he noted, adding that Pope Francis had not, however, raised this ongoing investigation with him.
As part of this investigation, five employees of the Secretariat of State are in particular in the crosshairs of the Vatican justice and were dismissed.
“The Holy Father has accepted the renunciation of his office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and of his rights related to the cardinalate presented by His Eminence Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu”, the Holy See announced Thursday evening in a press release laconic, without providing explanations.
The short Vatican press release specifies that if Angelo Becciu retains his title of cardinal, he loses all the rights attached to this function, in particular the possibility of electing a new pope during a conclave. The cardinal will nevertheless continue to enjoy his official apartment, he himself specified.
Such a measure is rare. In 2015, Pope Francis had accepted the waiver of cardinal prerogatives from Bishop Keith O'Brien, a former Archbishop of Edinburgh who had resigned two years earlier after being the subject of complaints from young priests for “inappropriate acts” in the 1980s. The prelate nevertheless retained his title of cardinal until his death in March 2018.