Two months since his fall from grace, Cardinal Angelo Becciu remains in the news, and out of any future papal conclave.
And despite the disgraced cardinal’s attempts to fight his way back to credibility, there seems little prospect of a return to favor for Becciu, who is now effectively a cardinal-in-name-only.
Becciu, the former sostituto at the Secretariat of State and prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, remains locked in a public dispute with Italian media, whom he blames for ruining his reputation and career.
He claims, in essence, that he has been hounded from office and Pope Francis turned against him because of unfair and untrue media reporting on financial affairs conducted under his direction or supervision.
Becciu has gone so far as to sue an Italian newspaper, claiming its reporting cost him a fighting chance to become the next pope, even though the pope dismissed Becciu weeks before much of the reporting he cites was published.
The cardinal has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in his handling of Vatican financial affairs, despite reports that he helped steer Church funds to organizations controlled by members of his family. He has also denied allegations that Vatican money was wired to Australia at the time of the trial of Cardinal George Pell, Becciu’s long-time nemesis is Curial financial reform.
The most dramatic accusations leveled against Becciu have yet to be tested in a court, either in the Vatican or in Italy, and supporters of the cardinal have mounted a determined media defense, attempting to paint Becciu’s fall from grace as a sinister plot against him, the pope, and against the Church itself. Earlier this week, local media in Becciu’s native Sardinia reported the cardinal had received a friendly phone call from Pope Francis, and other news sites suggested that call was the opening of a door to Becciu’s possible rehabilitation.
Some have suggested that Francis may one day welcome back an exonerated Becciu, much in the way he has done Pell, following the latter’s vindication by the Australian High Court earlier this year. But parallels between the two cardinals may prove inexact.
But unlike Becciu, Pell was never asked to resign either his curial offices or his privileges as a cardinal, and the pope refused to strip him of either – even after he was initially convicted by an Australian court.
Despite the long working relationship between Francis and Becciu, whatever evidence Vatican prosecutors showed the pope in September, it was enough to convince the pope to deal with Becciu summarily, in a way more similar to Theodore McCarrick than George Pell. The full contents of that dossier have yet to be tested or aired in public, but the contents may go well beyond recent headlines.
Behind the most eye-catching allegations, far more serious, far more complicated, and far better documented questions plague Becciu’s time in charge of the first section of the Secretariat of State — questions about the network of businessmen given charge of hundreds of millions of euros of Church money, where that money went, and who profited from it.
These questions, and an ongoing investigation by Vatican prosecutors, have been gathering pace for almost two years, undercutting the cardinal’s insistence that he is the victim of a tabloid hit job.
The biggest headlines have been given to the allegations about money transferred to Australia during Pell’s ordeal: allegations as yet unsupported and unsubstantiated. Attention is also given to the jet-setting, purse-buying leader of a de facto intelligence network Becciu is alleged to have built.
Even beyond those sensational accounts, much of the media interest in Vatican finances centers on the purchase of a London building from an Italian businessman, Raffaele Mincione, for hundreds of millions of euros, with the deal being finalized in 2018 – after Becciu’s departure from the secretariat.
Far less attention has been paid to previous the use of Vatican funds, including Peter’s Pence, to secure massive loans from Swiss banks, including those with a reputation for disregarding anti-money laundering regulations, in alleged attempts to keep high-risk investments off Vatican balance sheets and outside of oversight mechanisms.
There has been even less scrutiny, at least in public, given to the possibility that Vatican funds were invested in financial products tied to Italian companies with links to organized crime, or indications of conflicts of interest between the businessmen charged with managing Holy See investments.
Other reports have raised still unanswered questions about the possibility a Vatican passport was granted to Luciano Capaldo, a lay businessman involved in the London deal, and the appointment of Fabrizio Tirabassi, a lay curial official, to a Luxembourg company controlled by Gianluigi Torzi – who was subsequently arrested and charged with extorting the Holy See. The same lay official was recently raided by police, who discovered hundreds of euros in cash and gold coins stashed in his two homes.
That five members of Becciu’s old department, all of whom reported to him for years, were raided and suspended by investigators months before his own resignation further tarnishes the argument that he is the simple victim of a sudden press campaign.
While Becciu has maintained that he was unaware of anything amiss in the financial dealings of his old department, he nevertheless remained active in the management of Vatican financial affairs even after his appointment to the unrelated post of prefect at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Earlier this year, it was reported that Becciu took personal charge of lobbying the pope and Cardinal Parolin to accept a new bid on the London building from a group of businessmen represented by Raffaele Mincione’s lawyer.
That bid was rejected, but Becciu’s active role in trying to sell the deal to his old department at least suggests his ongoing involvement in financial affairs, and his relationship with a network of individuals interested in doing business with the Vatican.
In a recent interview, Cardinal George Pell expressed surprise at the “technicolor criminality” being reported in relation to Vatican finances, and mentioned disappointment that his own worst suspicions appeared to have been vindicated. But, Pell stressed, the full truth could and must come out in a trial, which is the only real way of closing the matter.
It remains to be seen if prosecutors will formally charge Becciu, or if the Holy See would allow the still-in-law cardinal to face charges in another jurisdiction.
In the meantime, underneath the swirl of daily media speculation and Becciu’s own protestations, the Vatican investigation slowly grinds on, as does the slow unravelling of a scandal apparently years in the making.