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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - A senior cardinal sacked by Pope Francis over allegations of corruption is suing an Italian publication for 10 million euros ($11.9 million), claiming that the defamation has eliminated his chances of being considered for election as the next pope.
In an unprecedented move in September, Pope Francis fired Cdl. Angelo Becciu from his post as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and stripped him of the rights connected with the cardinalate.
As deputy secretary of state, Becciu was implicated in a sensational Vatican financial scandal after authorizing the controversial purchase of a property on 60 Sloane Ave. in London for more than $200 million, using money taken from Peter's Pence, the pope's charitable fund for the poor.
The Sardinian cardinal, a longtime favorite of the pontiff, has hit back at L'Espresso — the news magazine that alleged that Becciu had funneled Vatican funds to organizations run by his three brothers, Tonino, Francesco and Mario.
Becciu's lawyer, Nicola Calipari, filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing the journal of conducting a "smear campaign" against Becciu in the Sassari, Sardinia tribunal stating that "on the basis of his prestigious curriculum and by virtue of the aforementioned path, [Becciu] could well have been among the Papabili [eligible to become pope]."
Calipari claims that Pope Francis took his decision to remove Becciu from the cardinalate based on the L'Espresso article.
The 74-page complaint also indicates Vatican criminal prosecutors may have leaked information to L'Espresso in the course of building a corruption case around the Holy See's controversial investment in the luxury London property.
The complaint further argues that Becciu's absence from a future conclave as a voting cardinal "could give rise to questions about the validity of the election," resulting in the possibility of a costly second conclave and a divided Church.
Under Italian law, journalists can be accused of both civil and criminal defamation.
Journalists can be imprisoned for up to three years for defamation under article 595 of the Italian criminal code, with increased penalties if the defamatory statement is directed at a political, administrative or judicial body or a representative of such a body.
Defamation is also considered a criminal offense under the country's press law, which allows for a jail term of up to six years.
L'Espresso's editor Marco Damilano has responded in a statement standing by its story and hitting at Becciu's "ambition."
"L'Espresso is accused of influencing not only the pope but also the Holy Spirit, who could have chosen Becciu as his successor had an article not intervened to block his rise," writes Damilano. "The throne of Peter, for the first time, is valued at 10 million euros."
If the cardinal has the curriculum so meticulously reported in the document of his lawyers and an image mirroring this, why did Pope Francis decide to believe in a journalistic investigation and not him?
We are aware of our work and are proud to exercise it with full freedom and autonomy, but this seems an enormity that alone describes the drama of the clash taking place in the Vatican and the extent of the stakes.
Adding that "[i]t will be for a court to decide on the merits and this newspaper has nothing to fear," Damilano expressed confidence that "we have done our job and our duty of information with correctness and professionalism — aware of the exceptional public relevance of the matter."
In 2015, an Italian court sentenced editor Roberto D'Agostino of news website Dagospia to nine months in prison for defaming public prosecutor Alberto Lari. D'Agostino was fined €10,000.
In 2012, a South Tyrol court sentenced journalist Orfeo Donatini and editor Tiziano Marson of the newspaper Alto Adige to four months in prison for reporting that a provincial councilor, Sven Knoll, was under police investigation for links to neo-Nazi groups.
Dagospia had republished an article from L'Espresso raising questions over a recent promotion of the prosecutor's wife.
However, in June — following calls for prison sentences to be abolished — the Italian Constitutional Court began public hearings into the legitimacy of laws that allow for jail sentences for journalists convicted of defamation.
Cardinal Becciu stands by his claims of innocence.