A report published by an Italian newspaper alleged that Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the former Substitute for General Affairs in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, spent more than $800,000 to discredit Cardinal George Pell during a sexual abuse trial. Pell was later unanimously cleared of the charges by the seven justices of the High Court of Australia.
On September 24, the Vatican announced Pope Francis had accepted “the resignation of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu from his position as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and from the rights connected with the Cardinalate.”
Before heading the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Becciu was part of the Vatican’s diplomatic service. From 2001 until 2009, he served as the apostolic nuncio to African nations Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe. He subsequently held one of the most powerful positions in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State as Substitute for General Affairs until 2018.
During his tenure at the Secretariat of State, yesterday’s article in Corriere della Sera alleged, Becciu transferred €700,000 (more than $800,000) “to an Australian account.”
At roughly the same time, Cardinal Pell, the former Archbishop of Sydney who was appointed by Pope Francis to clean up the Vatican’s finances as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, faced charges of sexually abusing boys. The Vatican didn’t intervene on behalf of the cardinal regarding what many observers quickly identified as false charges.
Pell spent several months in prison before the High Court of Australia overturned the conviction in April. The court explained that the jury, “acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted.”
According to Corriere della Sera, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who worked with Becciu in the Secretariat of State, started cooperating with Vatican investigators looking into financial misconduct within the Holy See’s institutions.
Perlasca argued, the newspaper wrote, that “Becciu has used some journalists and other sources to discredit his enemies in recent years.”
“And it is precisely in this vein that the payment in Australia would have been made, possibly in connection with Pell’s trial,” Corriere della Sera commented.
The precise nature of the payment — Who sent it, who received it, and what was it used for? — is still unclear and needs to be verified, the newspaper acknowledged.
Edward Pentin, the National Catholic Register’s Rome correspondent, wrote, “A Vatican source with detailed knowledge of the matter confirmed the contents of the Corriere della Sera report to the Register on Oct. 2, and the existence of the bank transfer to Australia. ‘The year and date of the transfer are recorded in the archives of the Secretariat of State,’ the source said.”
“The funds were ‘extra-budgetary,’ meaning they did not come from ordinary accounts, and were ostensibly transferred for ‘works to be done’ on the Australian nunciature, the source said,” according to Pentin.
Cardinal Becciu, meanwhile, denied Perlasca’s accusations of having used journalists to discredit his enemies. “I decisively reject any kind of allusion about imaginary privileged relations with the press,” Becciu said.
After news broke of Cardinal Becciu stepping down as Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Pell thanked Pope Francis for accepting the resignation of a powerful Vatican official who in 2016 single-handedly canceled a planned external audit of Vatican finances.
“The Holy Father has elected to clean up Vatican finances,” Pell wrote in an official statement. “He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments. I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria.”
“In 2016, Becciu was instrumental in bringing to a halt reforms initiated by Pell,” Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported. “Although Pope Francis had given the newly created Prefecture for the Economy autonomous oversight authority over Vatican finances, Becciu interfered when the prefecture planned an external audit of all Vatican departments, to be conducted by the firm PriceWaterhouseCooper.”
Becciu canceled the audit, telling all departments that it would not take place. Pope Francis hadn’t been asked for approval at the time. However, after “Pell challenged internally the audit’s cancellation, Becciu persuaded Pope Francis to give his decision ex post facto approval, sources inside the prefecture told CNA. The audit never took place.”
Becciu was also implicated in the cover-up of the sexual abuse and misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
After Becciu’s resignation, Viganò commented, “People of mirrored honesty and great faith such as (former head of the Vatican bank) Ettore Gotti Tedeschi or Cardinal Pell, without forgetting (former head of the General Secretariat of the Governorate) Eugenio Hasler and the mere executors of Becciu in the Secretariat of State, were treated worse than a serial abuser like Theodore McCarrick or a (presumed) manipulator like Becciu.”
“It is to be believed that the annoyance of having honest and incorruptible collaborators led to their expulsion, just as the blackmail of immoral and dishonest collaborators was considered a sort of guarantee of their loyalty and their silence,” he added. “Time has shown that honest men have suffered injustice with dignity without discrediting the Vatican or the person of the Pope; it is to be believed that on the other side the corrupt and the vicious will, in turn, resort to blackmail against their accusers, as courtiers without honor have always done.”