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Analysis: The Becciu resignation, a beginning not an end

By Ed Condon for CNA

Cardinal Angelo Becciu. Credit: (Credit: Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons)

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- At around 6pm on Thursday, Pope Francis summoned Cardinal Angelo Becciu to a meeting, multiple sources tell CNA. In the hour before, the pope reportedly had been given an advance copy of a forthcoming news report on Becciu, his stewardship of Vatican finances, and new allegations that he used his position, and Church funds, to enrich his family.

Within an hour, the Holy See press office released a statement saying that the pope had “accepted Becciu’s resignation” from his role as head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saint and his rights as a cardinal. Becciu, by all accounts, had not even made it back to his nearby, recently renovated extensively, apartment in the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio before the news was released.

Sudden “resignations” of this kind are not unknown at the Vatican – and Becciu himself has often been on the other side of the table, allegedly forcing, for example, the “resignation” of the Vatican’s first Auditor General, Libero Milone who was accused of “spying” on Becciu’s personal finances.

Like Milone, Becciu has since insisted that he did nothing wrong. Unlike Milone, who said Becciu threatened him with criminal prosecution if he did not leave his office quietly, the cardinal’s resignation marks a new beginning, rather than an end to his story.

After the news broke Thursday evening, multiple Vatican sources told CNA that both Vatican prosecutors and the Italian Guardia di Finanza are expected to lay criminal charges against Becciu. “I am innocent and I will prove it,” Becciu told an Italian newspaper Friday morning. The odds seem good that he will be given his day in court to make the attempt.

Becciu’s fall comes after nearly two years of reporting placing him at the center of several different, overlapping Vatican financial scandals.

Before his role at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Becciu served as the sostituto at the Secretariat of State, operating as a kind of papal chief-of-staff and de facto manager of the daily operations of the curia’s most powerful department.

Under his stewardship, the secretariat engaged in a number of highly speculative financial ventures, including dealings with Swiss banks known for their lax approach to money laundering, and Becciu was alleged to be personally responsible for stymieing a number of attempts at financial transparency and reform.

The former head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell, frequently found his efforts thwarted by Becciu.  A source told CNA that one occasion Becciu gave Pell – his superior – a formal “reprimand” for his attempts to bring transparency to the Secretariat of State. On another occasion, Becciu countermanded an audit of all Vatican finances ordered by Pell.

Since his vindication on sex abuse charges by the Australian High Court, Cardinal Pell had not commented on his former role, or the various financial scandals which have led to from and through Becciu’s office.

But after Thursday’s announcement that Becciu had “resigned” Pell issued a rare public statement, congratulating Pope Francis on what was in fact a summary sacking.

“The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances,” Pell said. “He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments.”

At the time of his election, Pope Francis was, indeed, widely hailed as a new broom that would sweep clean curial corruption. Since then, many have grown frustrated at the apparent lack of progress and the appointment, disappointment, and departure of reformers like Milone and Pell.

But while the Holy See has not officially acknowledged the reasons for Becciu’s departure, he has now become the first curial cardinal, at least in the modern era, to be dismissed for financial misconduct – something few would have predicted, when Francis was elected in 2013.

While Becciu’s dismissal has taken many in the media by surprise, the drumbeat of reports in recent years has indicated that Vatican prosecutors were – at last – being given a free hand to pursue their work wherever it led.

In October 2019, several of Becciu’s former employees and closest collaborators at the Secretariat of State were the subject of a raid by investigators. By February, Becciu’s former deputy and effective right hand man, who had moved on to a position at the Vatican’s supreme court, was raided and suspended.

The arrest of Gianluigi Torzi, a key player in the London property deal that triggered the initial investigation into Becciu’s old department, was a major sign  prosecutors were intent on bringing charges, not just filing reports.

Perhaps the most significant development came in July, when a search and seizure warrant was served on Italian businessman Rafaelle Mincione in a Roman hotel. That warrant was sought by Vatican prosecutors, but it was issued by an Italian magistrate and served by Italian state police, indicating that the investigation was sufficiently developed to convince Italian authorities to intervene.

But after generational attempts to bring order to Vatican finances, what makes this attempt different?

In addition to the spotlight which has fallen on Becciu and his collaborators over the last year, Vatican prosecutors have also had the unfortunate benefit of an acute cash crunch developing for the Holy See, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Bluntly put: When there is less money around, it is harder to hide what is missing.

At the same time, Moneyval, the EU Commission’s anti-money laundering watchdog, has made repeated inspections of the Vatican’s financial institutions – with another progress report due out in the next few months. While they have expressed satisfaction with some of the financial structural reforms brought in under Pope Francis, they have repeatedly noted the Vatican’s poor record of prosecuting criminal financial behavior, increasing the pressure on investigators to bring charges.

This pressure will have increased exponentially if Italian prosecutors plan to bring charges of their own: the Vatican simply cannot risk appearing to have shied away from bringing a case if the Italian courts get involved.

Becciu has insisted on his innocence, and demanded he be given the opportunity to prove it. Lucky for him, in this case, his desire may well align perfectly with those of the Vatican prosecutors and financial inspectors. A public trial of curial officials, headlined by a cardinal, may be the last thing many in the Vatican wanted or expected to see. But it may now become the next stage of a story that still has a long way to go.

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  1. You’ve got to be kidding me with this patting on the back of Pope Francis for cleaning up corruption in the Vatican. Why did Francis make this guy a cardinal 5 years into his pontificate if he’s such a tough reformer? Why did Francis put him in charge of a dicastery if he’s such a tough reformer? Maybe I’m missing something but I’m pretty sure ex Cardinal Becciu didn’t turn to a life of crime at the ripe old age of 70. He’s had a long track record of malfeasance and Francis did nothing but promote and elevate him until yesterday for the last 7 years. It’s pretty shocking I am on the other side of the world and speak a different language and knew Cardinal Becciu was corrupt years ago and the Pope didn’t. Give me a break Ed…

    • Indeed. Pope Francis surrounds himself with corrupt men like Becciu, Parolin, Maradiaga and Zanchetta, which shows that he is either a very poor judge of character or he deliberately promotes such evil men simply because they support his agenda. Either way, we deserve better from the Supreme Pontiff.

    • I couldn’t agree more.

      The Pontiff Francis, like his former self Cardinal Bergoglio, is a total fraud, and the enemy of justice.

    • The article does not give Pope Francis “a pat on the back” for anything. In fact, it says
      At the time of his election, Pope Francis was, indeed, widely hailed as a new broom that would sweep clean curial corruption. Since then, many have grown frustrated at the apparent lack of progress and the appointment, disappointment, and departure of reformers like Milone and Pell.

  2. Did Francis remove Becciu ONLY when the threat of a civil trial seemed imminent?

    Did Francis remove McCarrick ONLY when it appeared that McCarrick’s criminality would bring more civil lawsuits and bring other bishops down with him.

    I do have one question about L’Afaire McCarrick: If he was, in fact, laicized, why is he living under Church auspices?

  3. The Pontiff Francis, being a corrupt man like his very own newly minted Cardinal Becciu, has of course never done anything to bring Becciu to justice.

    The Pontiff Francis only threw Becciu under the bus, because as the article admits, outside investigators in the press exposed his deeds, and as thus author and others have speculated, outside law enforcement is about to indict Becciu.

    As always, the Pontiff Francis never pursues justice. As parents and families have learned of his sex abuser friend “Rev.” Mauro Inzoli, and Argentinisn Catholics and law enforcement know about his sex abuser friend “Rev.” Julio Grassi, and the family of Fr. Manelli, founder of the Franciscan Friars of The Immaculate (FFI) will tell you, when you ask for justice from Cardinal Bergoglio / Pontiff Francis, you get ignored, and have to go outside the Church, and legally sue or indict “the abusers” working for Cardinal Bergoglio / Pontiff Francis.

  4. When he was “sostituto” Becciu was one of the most powerful men in the Curia. He was appointed to that role by Pope Benedict, shortly before he resigned because he could see no way he could deal with the corruption rife in the Curia. The problem is that corruption is so general that no one knows where to start. Pope Francis giving a red hat to Becciu two years ago was a promotion out of power into a fancy title, possibly while he gathered evidence against Becciu. Given the worldwide Mafia-like web of, mainly Italian, curial officials, it would be no surprise to discover that agents of Becciu had financed the absurd accusations against Cardinal Pell. Cardinal Pell was of course on Becciu’s trail, and hampering his financial shenanigans.

    • It’s probematic to suggest, as you indicate, that corruption is greater among Italians, because the Pontiff Francis is Italian, as are many in Argentina. His parents moved from Italy to Argentna in the 1929.

  5. Francis brought McCarrick out of the mothballs to negotiate the betrayal of the Church in China to the Communists. He repeatedly promoted and defended this crook with a collar. He dumped both only because continuing support of them became untenable. He deserves no credit in either case. In regard to the current financial woes at the Vatican, it is interesting to note that McCarrick’s rise through the decades has been attributed partly to his talent for fundraising. Of course, allegations have been made that the CCP has been subsidizing the Vatican to the tune of billions of dollars. Makes one wonder.

  6. It must be that we are dealing here with something akin to the Pauline Privilege. The Catechism is pretty clear about big-ticket white collar crime (article 2409), but by its silence perhaps still carves out an exception for red hat crime. That must be it.

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