ROME — The sudden resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu as prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes due to alleged embezzlement was viewed as a vindication of previous attempts to clean house by Australian Cardinal George Pell, former prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy.
“The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances. He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments,” Pell said in a statement released Sept. 25.
Pell’s statement drew renewed attention to a rift between the prelates after an audit of the Vatican’s financial records ordered by the Australian cardinal in 2016 was suspended by Cardinal Becciu.
Becciu was informed by the pope Sept. 24 of an investigation for allegedly embezzling an estimated 100,000 euros ($116,361) of Vatican funds and redirecting them to Spes, a Caritas organization run by his brother, Tonino Becciu, in his home Diocese of Ozieri, Sardinia.
Pope Francis “told me that he no longer has trust in me because a report came from the magistrates that I allegedly committed acts of embezzlement,” Becciu told reporters Sept. 25.
At the time, Becciu served as “sostituto,” the No. 3 position in the Vatican Secretariat of State.
At a press briefing with journalists Sept. 25, Becciu responded to Pell’s statement, saying that between the two there were “professional differences because I saw things one way, and he saw them another way.”
“The fundamental point is that he had wanted to apply laws that hadn’t been promulgated yet” when he was prefect for the economy, Becciu said. The Secretariat of State, he added, had “an obligation to observe the laws that are in force.”
Nevertheless, he continued, his relationship with Pell remained cordial until an argument erupted during a meeting of Vatican officials with Pope Francis.
During the meeting, Becciu recalled, “we spoke about matters dealing with the Secretariat of State.”
“I tried to explain my ideas and he (Pell) silenced me, saying, ‘You are a dishonest person.’ And it was there I lost my patience. I couldn’t allow him to say something like that because from the time I was a child, I had always been taught by my parents to be honest, and the worst thing to be accused of is being a dishonest person.”
“At the end of the meeting, the pope told me, ‘You did well,'” Becciu said.
In mid-2017, Pell took leave from his position as prefect of the secretariat, which was investigating corruption in Vatican finances, so he could return to Australia to face charges of sexual abuse. His term as head of the secretariat expired in 2019.
Becciu told journalists that notwithstanding their differences, he had sent a personal message to Pell when he was facing prosecution in Australia.
“These are the exact words, ‘Your Eminence, despite the professional differences we have had, I suffer because of these accusations, and as a priest, I hope that your innocence will be completely proven. I greet you and I embrace you,'” Becciu recalled.
“If Pell is still convinced that I am dishonest,” the cardinal added, “then there is nothing I can do.”
In April, Pell’s conviction was overturned by the High Court of Australia.