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Powerful Vatican cardinal resigns amid scandal

The Vatican prosecutor has placed several Vatican officials under investigation, as well as the middlemen, but not Becciu. Becciu has defended the soundness of the original investment and denied any wrongdoing, and it’s not clear whether the scandal itself was behind his resignation or possibly sparked a separate line of inquiry.

But the late-breaking news of his resignation, the severity of his apparent sanction, the Vatican’s tight-lipped release and the unexpected downfall of one of the most powerful Vatican officials all suggested a shocking new chapter in the scandal, which has convulsed the Vatican for the past year.

Cardinal George Pell spoke with conservative commentator Andrew Bolt on Sky News.

Cardinal George Pell spoke with conservative commentator Andrew Bolt on Sky News.Credit:Sky News

The Catholic News Agency reported late last year that the Vatican’s Prefecture of the Economy, led by Cardinal Pell, first detected “loans off-books” related to the investment in the London property in 2015.

In response, CNA reported, Becciu personally reprimanded Pell.

“Becciu summoned the cardinal – summoned him,” according to a senior official quoted by CNA.

“Pell was supposed to be the ultimate authority in monitoring and authorising all Vatican financial business, answerable only to Pope Francis, but Becciu shouted at him like he was an inferior.”

Pell was convicted of two cases of historical sexual assault in 2019 in Australia and sentenced to six years. The case was later overturned by the High Court of Australia.

Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Becciu's resignation.

Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Becciu’s resignation.Credit:AP

In the Vatican statement, the Holy See identified Becciu as “His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Becciu,” making clear he remained a cardinal but without any rights.

At 72, Becciu would have been able to participate in a possible future conclave to elect Francis’ successor. Cardinals over age 80 can’t vote. But by renouncing his rights as a cardinal, Becciu has relinquished his rights to take part.

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Becciu was the “substitute” or top deputy in the secretariat of state from 2011-2018, when Francis made him a cardinal and moved him into the Vatican’s saint-making office. He straddled two pontificates, having been named by Pope Benedict XVI and entrusted with essentially running the Curia, or Vatican bureaucracy, a position that gave him enormous influence and power.

The financial problems date from 2014, when the Vatican entered into a real estate venture by investing over $US200 million ($283 million) in a fund run by an Italian businessman. The deal gave the Holy See 45 per cent of the luxury building at 60 Sloane Ave. in London’s Chelsea neighbourhood.

The money came from the secretariat of state’s asset portfolio, which is funded in large part by the Peter’s Pence donations of Catholics around the world for the pope to use for charity and Vatican expenses.

The Holy See decided in November 2018, after Becciu had left the secretariat of state, to exit the fund, end its relationship with the businessman and buy out the remainder of the building. It did so after Becciu’s successor determined that the mortgage was too onerous and that the businessman was losing money for the Vatican in some of the fund’s other investments.

The buyout deal, however, cost the Holy See tens of millions of euros more and sparked the Vatican investigation that has so far implicated a half-dozen Vatican employees.

Becciu has insisted he wasn’t in power during the 2018 buyout deal and always acted in the sole interests of the Holy See. In the Vatican prosecutor’s initial warrant, Becciu is not named, and it remains unclear if his role in managing the secretariat of state’s vast asset portfolio was connected with the resignation.

His former boss, Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, has said the whole matter was “opaque” and needed to be clarified. Francis, for his part, has vowed to get to the bottom of what he has said was evidence of corruption in the Holy See.

Francis would meet regularly with Becciu in the Italian’s role as prefect of the saint-making office, since every month or two he would present lists of candidates for possible beatification or canonisation for Francis to approve.

In addition, since the beginning of his pontificate, Francis had an annual luncheon date at Becciu’s apartment along with 10 priests on the Thursday of Holy Week leading up to Easter. The Vatican always reported the get-togethers were a chance for the pope to chat informally with Becciu and priests of his diocese on the day the church celebrates the institution of the priesthood.

The luncheon didn’t happen this year amid the Vatican’s coronavirus lockdown.

AP with staff reporters

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