Vatican cardinal linked to financial scandal resigns and loses rights

Vatican cardinal linked to financial scandal resigns and loses rights

During a book presentation in Rome Feb. 17, 2020, Italian Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, denied allegations that money earmarked for helping the poor was used to invest in a London property deal. He is pictured in a June 28, 2018, photo. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

In a rare move, the Vatican announced late Thursday evening that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who's been linked to a financial scandal, as head of the department for saints and from his rights as a cardinal.

ROME – In a highly unusual development, the Vatican issued a brief statement late Thursday in Rome stating that Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, formerly the pope’s chief of staff, has resigned not only as the head of the Vatican’s office for saints but also from “the rights connected to being a cardinal.”

Though the one-line statement offered no further details, presumably it means that Becciu, 72, will not be eligible to vote in a future conclave to elect a new pope.

Prior to his 2018 elevation to the College of Cardinals and appointment to head the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Becciu had served since 2011 as the sostituto, or “substitute,” in the Secretariat of State, a position traditionally likened to the Chief of Staff for a US president. The sostituto is largely responsible for the day-to-day management of the Vatican and is the only Vatican official with a standing right to see the pope without an appointment.

While the Vatican did not immediately respond to Crux requests for explanation, Becciu has been linked to a burgeoning Vatican financial scandal centering on the $225 million purchase of a former Harrod’s warehouse in the London neighborhood of Chelsea originally slated for conversion into luxury apartments.

The deal was brokered in 2014, while Becciu was the sostituto, through an Italian financier and drawing upon funds collected by “Peter’s Pence,” an annual appeal directed to Catholics around the world as a way to support the pope’s activity, especially his charitable works. The original deal was for 50 percent of the London property, but the Secretariat of State eventually soured on its relationship with the first financier and planned to purchase the rest of the property with the aid of another.

The Secretariat of State appealed to the Institute for the Works of Religion, the so-called “Vatican bank,” for a loan to finance that transaction, which triggered an internal investigation. In October 2019, Pope Francis authorized raids at Secretary of State as well as the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF), which monitors for suspicious financial transactions, and seven officials were either suspended or fired.

Not only did Becciu have to approve the deal, but he’s been accused of attempting to disguise the loans it required by cancelling them out on Vatican balance sheets against the value of the property, a practice prohibited by general accounting norms and specifically forbidden by legislation decreed by Pope Francis in 2014.

However, Becciu has also been linked to other controversial developments, such as a Vatican attempt to rescue a failing Roman hospital where his own niece was given a staff position, as well as questions regarding the financial management of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The last time a cardinal lost the rights pertaining to his office was in 2015 when Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who had been of sexual misconduct involving several adult men.

In O’Brien’s case, he lost his rights as a cardinal but not the title.

The lone member of the College of Cardinals to be removed recently, and thus to lose his status as a cardinal, was Theodore McCarrick, defrocked last year after credible allegations arose that he had abused minors and sexually harassed seminarians.

Follow John Allen on Twitter at @JohnLAllenJr.

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