VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - A top cardinal, favored by Pope Francis while implicated in the Vatican's most sensational financial scandal in recent history, has quit after he revealed he was fired by the pontiff.
On Thursday evening the Holy See Press Office announced in a one-line statement that the Holy Father had accepted Cdl. Giovanni Angelo Becciu's resignation as "Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights connected with the Cardinalate" without giving reasons for the cardinal's sudden departure.
However, in a dramatic turn of events, Becciu hit back in an unexpectedly summoned press conference Friday afternoon, revealing he was sacked by Pope Francis and expressing shock at being accused of embezzling Vatican funds.
"I feel a bit dazed. Yesterday until 6:02 p.m. I felt a friend of the pope, a faithful executor of the pope. Then the pope says that he no longer has faith in me because the magistrates reported that I would have committed acts of embezzlement," Becciu told selected journalists at the Istituto Maria Santissima Bambina.
"I said to the pope: Why are you doing this to me in front of the whole world?" he narrated.
"I find it strange that I am accused of this. I renew my trust in the Holy Father. By becoming a cardinal I promised to give my life for the Church and for the pope. Today I renew my trust," Becciu reiterated.
Deputy Secretary of State Becciu hit the headlines in 2019 after authorizing the controversial purchase of a property on 60 Sloane Avenue in London for more than $200 million, using money taken from Peter's Pence, the pope's charitable fund for the poor.
But he denied the accusations at the press conference. "I did not touch money from Peter's Pence to pay for the property in London," he insisted.
An investigation conducted by Massimiliano Coccia for L'Espresso published Friday reveals that Becciu resigned after an investigation found Vatican funds in the coffers of organizations managed by his family members.
The L'Espresso investigation also uncovered financial irregularities in financial flows from Becciu to his three brothers — Tonino, Francesco and Mario.
But Becciu maintained his family's innocence, stating: "My family did not get rich from this."
Tonino is said to have received money through Becciu in the form of nonrepayable loans from the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and from Peter's Pence for his Spes Cooperative, the operational arm of Caritas in Ozieri.
Francesco, who runs a carpentry company, allegedly benefited from contracts to furnish and modernize numerous churches in Angola and Cuba, where Becciu had served as papal nuncio.
Mario, who is a professor of psychology at the Salesian University in Rome, reportedly received money to fund a beverage cooperative of which he owns 95% as majority shareholder. The academic categorically denied the reports on Friday.
L'Espresso's investigation claims that the purchase of the Sloane Avenue property was the culmination of an operation in which "a kingdom of white-collar workers, lawyers, [and] fixers" circulated money "over the years on a network of funds and companies with capital in tax havens, guaranteed confidentiality on the personal affairs of Cardinal Becciu and his family, and brought about a blackmail mechanism which generated a hole of 454 million euros" in the Vatican.
Becciu, who earlier held the rank of archbishop, had already come under a shadow when in 2016 he obstructed global accountancy firm PwC from including the Secretariat of State in its first major external audit of the Vatican.
Becciu is said to have revoked instructions given by former Vatican treasurer Cdl. George Pell to the auditing firm to collect financial information from the Vatican's 120 departments, leading Vatican observers to conclude that Pope Francis had most likely approved of Becciu's letter.
Archbishop Becciu also had the support of his boss, Cdl. Pietro Parolin, secretary of state, the Vatican's second-highest-ranking officeholder.
"Becciu was one of Francis' leading advisers, already deeply implicated in corruption when the pope disgracefully made him a cardinal," tweeted Damian Thompson, Catholic journalist and presenter of the Spectator's Holy Smoke religion podcast.
Becciu is also alleged to have funneled Vatican investments to former Credit Suisse financier Enrico Crasso, who in turn directed the money to speculative funds in tax havens.
Becciu denied the accusations, insisting he had "a clear conscience" and had "acted always in the interest of the Holy See and never my own." He maintained that such property investments were "accepted practice for the Holy See."
Since 2011, Becciu served as sostituto (chief of staff) in the secretariat of state under Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, overseeing the Holy See's ambassadors and playing a lead role in running the Curia.
In Oct. 2019, Vatican prosecutors Gian Piero Milano and Alessandro Diddi claimed they had identified "serious indications of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office and money laundering" among senior ecclesiastics and laypersons.
Becciu resigned after an investigation found Vatican funds in the coffers of organizations managed by Becciu's family members.
According to reports from the Office of the Auditor General, about "500 million euros" ended up in financial transactions displaying "conspicuous irregularities," as well as opening up "disturbing scenarios."
According to Fr. Davide Scito, professor of canon law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, the resignation of a cardinal similar to Becciu falling on his sword is rare.
"We need to go back in history to the 1900s, at the time of the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, who forced French Jesuit cardinal Louis Billot to resign," Scito told Adnkronos.
"In that case, it was for doctrinal reasons. In this case, pending further news, it can be assumed that it is the consequence of the London property scandal," Scito said.
In 2018, Pope Francis ordered Theodore McCarrick to observe "a life of prayer and penance in seclusion" and accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals. McCarrick was also returned to the lay state.