Pope Francis and the Cardinal Becciu affair

It is difficult to conclude that the pontiff was somehow unaware of the very public acts of his intimate subordinate, who is now on trial at the Vatican for embezzlement, abuse of office, collaboration, and subornation.

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Angelo Becciu at the Vatican Dec. 16, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s fall from grace in the Francis papacy is unparalleled in recent Vatican history, and the Vatican’s public relations apparatus is portraying his case as an example of the pope’s commitment to cleaning up corruption within the Holy See. However, Becciu’s misbehavior was on public display for many years while he held the most intimate confidence of Pope Francis. And now evidence is emerging that indicates the pontiff was informed at least five years ago of his trusted lieutenant’s gross financial malfeasance.

Voices from within and without the Holy See are now objecting to the pope’s inconsistent system of “justice,” which appears to protect certain intimates of the pontiff while throwing others under the proverbial bus. The case is beginning to look less like a financial cleanup operation than a political one in which the criminal justice system is used to settle scores and dispose of fallen confidants, while a pliant international media uncritically repeats the Vatican’s Francis-glorifying narrative.

Becciu’s meteoric fall has all of the necessary elements of a tabloid drama. After becoming the functional equivalent of the papal chief of staff and being made cardinal prefect of a Vatican dicastery, Becciu now finds himself stripped of the privileges of the cardinalate. And he is standing trial for numerous criminal charges leveled against him by Vatican prosecutors for embezzlement, abuse of office, collaboration, and subornation, along with others associated with his investments.

Although the trial is currently on hold while prosecutors revamp their case and comply with court orders, Becciu has all of the appearance of guilt. According to the prosecution, which has reams of financial records at its disposal, the cardinal approved investments of hundreds of millions of euros in ill-founded real estate purchases, charitable donations, and other schemes that lost money but lined the pockets of various shady middle men, among which was Becciu’s own brother.

Moreover, the cardinal is accused of employing a woman for the purposes of “intelligence services,” who in turn is now accused of embezzling over half a million dollars of Vatican funds dished out to her by Becciu himself. Reports in the Italian media suggest that she spent whole nights at the prelate’s residence. She has publicly stated that Becciu paid her to spy and create dossiers on various members of the curia.

Pope Francis’ deputy long associated with ruthless coverups

Becciu’s fall is particularly notable because, in a Vatican long troubled by rumors of serious corruption, he stands out for his mafioso-like ruthlessness exercised with what appeared to be the absolute confidence and support of Pope Francis.

As early as 2014, Becciu began to act as an official public voice for dismissing concerns about Vatican corruption. After an anonymous member of the Swiss Guard told the newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag that he had been sexually propositioned 20 times by clergy, and a retired Swiss Guard commander followed up by commenting on a “homosexual network” in the Vatican, Becciu dismissed the latter’s statements, opining that “it does him no credit and offends the Swiss Guard,” and challenging him to come to him with names.

“There are those who speak about a gay lobby but no one has yet been able to figure out where this lobby is,” said Becciu. He similarly acted as the Vatican’s front man to dismiss concerns raised about the Vatileaks II exposes in 2016, defending the housing of retired cardinals like Tarcisio Bertone in luxury apartments, and indignantly proclaiming that “the Vatican is not a den of thieves. It’s an absolute falsehood to represent it that way.”

Becciu again made international headlines in April of 2016, when he acted to directly obstruct a general audit of Vatican finances sought by Cardinal George Pell, who was carrying out his mandate to implement financial reforms in the Holy See. Becciu reportedly sent a letter to every office in the Vatican bureaucracy announcing that Cardinal Pell’s authority to carry out audits had been revoked, a claim Pell later said contradicted the mandate he had received from Francis. Pell recently opined publicly that much of the financial loss associated with Becciu’s investments could have been prevented if his audits hadn’t been blocked.

Suspicions of Becciu’s motives ran so high that when Pell was brought to Australia for trial on baseless charges of pedophilia, rumors abounded that Becciu had somehow arranged for his prosecution. Reports later emerged in the media that hundreds of thousands of dollars he had sent to Australian recipients was paid to gather dirt on Pell to facilitate his prosecution, despite denials by Becciu’s attorneys.

Becciu’s hardball tactics against financial auditors continued in a very public way. In September 2017 the prelate struck again, and this time his target was the Vatican’s auditor-general, Libero Milone, a highly-respected former chairman of Deloitte Italy who had been hired to review the Holy See’s troubled finances in 2015.

After suddenly being forced to resign under threats of arrest by Vatican police, Milone told the media that he had been trying to investigate several obscure Swiss bank accounts involving investments by the Vatican Secretary of State, where Becciu held the position of “first substitute.”

“Received by the substitute at the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Becciu, I was told that the relationship of trust with the Pope had been damaged: the Holy Father was asking for my resignation,” Milone told a group of reporters after his dismissal.

“I asked for the reasons, and was provided with a few that seemed incredible to me. I responded that the accusations were false, and constructed to deceive both him and Francis; and that in any case I would speak about them with the pope. But the response was that this was not possible.”

Following Milone’s interviews, Becciu doubled down and publicly attacked Milone, telling Reuters that he “went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me, and adding menacingly, “If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him.”

Milone’s account of the affair, however, was very different. He told Reuters that he discovered evidence that his computers were being tampered with. He contracted with an outside consultant to assess the machines used by his accounting team in the Vatican and received verification that spyware had been placed in their computers that could make copies of its files.

Milone’s attorneys showed Reuters the warrants used to search and arrest Milone, which included a vague complaint that his investigations were “in clear violation” of the rules governing his department. However, Reuters noted that the statutes granted Milone “full autonomy and independence” and the power to “receive and investigate any reports on anomalous activities” within the Holy See’s bureaucracy.

“Some people got worried that I was about to uncover something I shouldn’t see,” Milone told The Financial Times in 2019. “We were getting too close to information that they wanted to be secret, and they fabricated a situation for me to be thrown out.” That information included the financial records of certain off-the-books bank accounts at the Swiss bank BSI, an institution notorious for shady financial dealings, which were used in the questionable investments Becciu is now accused of orchestrating. In the Milone case, as in the case of Cardinal Pell’s abortive audit, it appears Pope Francis did nothing to correct Becciu.

How much did Pope Francis know?

It is difficult to conclude that the pontiff was somehow unaware of the very public acts of his intimate subordinate, which would have drawn the attention of both the pontiff himself and Becciu’s immediate superior, the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. Becciu, in fact, was so close to Francis that he was reportedly the only official who could walk in on him without scheduling a meeting. It seems impossible that Francis was not at least aware of Becciu’s behavior.

Moreover, an anonymous former Vatican official (who most probably is Libero Milone) has now told Forbes that he personally delivered a dossier to Francis on Becciu’s illicit financial activities five years ago. The dossier had “incontrovertible” proof of Becciu’s diversion of over $2 million of Vatican funds, the source reportedly said, but “His Holiness closed the file; that was the end of it.” As a result, the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice never received the information.

Milone has told the press that he was able to meet with Pope Francis every 4 to 5 weeks after he was hired in 2015. But after April 1, 2016 he was never able to obtain another meeting with the pontiff, despite making multiple requests.

Milone isn’t the only auditor who says he was prevented from talking to Pope Francis about the scandalous ongoing obstruction of financial regulation within the Holy See. Marc Odendall, a retired investment banker who was on the board of directors of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF), the agency created by Pope Benedict to counteract financial abuse, says he resigned after he attempted to obtain an audience with Pope Francis regarding the disabling of the AIF following Francis-approved raids on the agency, but his request was vetoed by Archbishop Georg Gänswein.

Nonetheless, Odendall regards Francis as the source of the problem. “The person responsible for this is the pope,” Odendall told Forbes. “He has made the wrong decisions and appointed the wrong people, all the while pretending he is fighting against bad people.”

The involvement of the pope appears to have extended to regulations he promulgated facilitating the financial “opacity” protecting the Secretariat of State. Becciu stated in a recent interview that the Secretariat’s financial autonomy had been affirmed twice in recent years by Pope Francis, in 2016, and again in 2020. If this were not true, it would be difficult to explain the ongoing successful resistance of the dicastery to auditing and regulation efforts.

“Insiders use the term ‘Friends of Francis to explain why some Vatican officials are being prosecuted and others aren’t,” states Forbes in its exposé on the Becciu affair, adding that “dozens of Vatican sources” interviewed by the publication decry an environment in the Vatican of “self-dealing, favoritism and lack of due process that leads all the way up to the Vatican’s absolute monarch, the pope himself.”

(Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two part series. Read Part 2 here.)


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About Matthew Cullinan Hoffman 26 Articles
Matthew Cullinan Hoffman is a Catholic essayist and journalist, and the author and translator of The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian's Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption (2015). His award-winning articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, London Sunday Times, Catholic World Report, LifeSite News, Crisis, the National Catholic Register, and many other publications. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, with a focus on Thomism.

19 Comments

  1. Very disturbing situation.

    If the Vatican were a private company, Bergoglio would have long since been out on his keister and under investigation.

  2. #1. Watch for it: The Pope’s next ‘back of the plane interview’ will include a not-so-veiled attack against Cullinan.

    #2. If things don’t work out well for Becciu, he can always take up oil painting. His paintings could fetch millions at “Gallery Francis 1st” in Rome, Paris, New York and Beijing.

  3. Brineyman, you are right. It is very disturbing. But can we really be surprised? Bergoglio has manifested over and over again a rather flexible notion of truth and a ruthless determination to get his way. I’ve come to a certain hopelessness for this papacy, and maybe even the institutional Church. Knowing that there is an inner circle of hierarchs, who no doubt know all of this and more, are so timid, career-obsessed, and unable to be scandalized, that these men of the Church would remain silent and even complicit is a grave threat to the Church itself. Christ talked about these shepherds very precisely; they are hirelings. Starting at the very top.

    • Yes all of this and a lot of other things is very disturbing.
      We must keep our eyes fixed on Christ. And pray for conversions of hearts. And for the truth. All I’d these terrible scandals are an obstacle to new evangelization. Just as the innumerable teenage victims of homosexual abuse committed by clergymen.

  4. Pope Francis closes the book on an investigation. Where have we heard this before? Oh yes, the slandered yet prophetic Archbishop Vigano pointed this out regarding McCarrick.

  5. Feast of Dedication of Lateran Basilica – place rich with history , much of same too shrouded in deep mystery as are our own temples of our own bodies as is evident in the confusion on handling a virus .
    https://www.thetablet.co.uk/features/2/13738/power-behind-the-throne-new-cardinal-angelo-becciu
    Thankful for the above article , that narrates how the Cardnl had been in the Pope Emer. service as well , active in the Focolare movement with its focus on community building and mention about his valuing trust and honor due to those whom he chose to serve , ? trying to protect and preserve same , thus having fallen into the financial quagmire in trying to help the debt ridden hospital of a Congregation ,
    ever going deeper into the related swampland and ? seeing those who could
    potentially damage the trust that he thought he had to protect and presereve as adversaries …
    ? The Holy Father , if he knew anything in detail , with compassion knowing
    about the initial well intentioned steps taht could have led to all else …
    in the balance in wisdom and justice , also taking steps such as bringing back Cardnl Pell …
    True , we all yearn for a Church , in which every member , esp. those who are in Father roles ,can be seen as preserved and protected from corruption , as in The Immaculate Conception , yet all of us existing in a world polluted with much carnal sins and its related lusts ; we have much to be thankful for as well , for every Sacrament that brings its eternal fruits , into the temples of our bodies , of our living and departed , to one day reflect the glory of our Beloved Mother and a timeless eternity where in we too would see it all with the eyes and hearts in compassion for all and from all .
    God bless !

  6. What is covered up now, will be uncovered, on the day of judgement. Who are these people, that judge Pope Francis, obviously have not read the scriptures ” “DO NOT JUDGE”
    Regards from Canada

    • If one sees no reason for concern and even alarm in the pattern of governance under Bergoglio I might conclude it arises from willful ignorance. Every Catholic has a right to expect higher standards of its leaders, including the pope, than the standards that seem to be in play these days. And by the way, Bergoglio knows how to dish insults and ridicule better than most. He is fair game for reasonable criticism.

    • Who are these people, that judge Pope Francis, obviously have not read the scriptures ” “DO NOT JUDGE”(sic)

      You’ve exercised extremely poor judgment while judging others, Patricia. You might want to practice what you preach and actually read Scripture yourself. People like you and the Pontiff have an aversion to that because behind every double standard lies an unconfessed single standard.

      “And why even of yourselves, do you not judge that which is just?” Jesus Christ, Luke 12:57

    • Justa Tourist,
      I agree!: God has come to the Church’s rescue before.

      I’ll mention the conversion of St. Paul, which was quite a “violent” conversion.

      I’ll also mention Pope John Paul II who only became Pope after the very untimely and surprising death of John Paul I [which I also believe to be an act of God].

    • True. Pope Benedict made him First Substitute in the Secretariat of State in 2012, so he’s not a Francis appointee. Still, he has been Francis’ very close collaborator.

  7. Why cannot we wait for the court to determine what transpired? Judging with superficial knowledge is not the right thing to do.
    Many years ago, I did not suspect a workmate to be a child abuser, and was surprised when he was charged and found guilty. Being close to someone does not mean you know everything about the person.

    • Some of us go through life blind, and it is just full of surprises. Get ready Mal. Zanchetta was summoned from Marta Dei to stand trial in Argentinna. Could be a trend setter (Internet search: Bergiglio, Buenos Aires,Deaf Dumb kids, Pedophile priests protected by Archbishop….)

  8. The person responsible for this is the pope,”

    That would be an accurate comment in regards to an innumerable number of problems in the Church.

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