Cardinal at center of Vatican trial claims he has been ‘reinstated’ by Pope

ROME – The Italian cardinal at the center of a historic Vatican trial about corruption and mismanagement, said on Sunday that Pope Francis had invited him to the consistory for the creation of 21 new cardinals, to be held on Saturday, Aug. 27, in Rome.

“On Saturday, the pope phoned me to tell me that I will be reinstated in my cardinal duties and to ask me to participate in a meeting with all the cardinals that will be held in the coming days in Rome,” Cardinal Angelo Becciu reportedly said Sunday, during a private Mass celebrated before a group of faithful in Italy’s Golfo Aranci, where he is vacationing.

He shared the story with those in attendance to explain why he will not be “able to be present” during next Sunday’s Mass because he will be “busy in Rome.”

The prelate’s lawyer, Ivano Iai, confirmed the information to a local news outlet: “An invitation has arrived from the Vatican to the Consistory for the creation of new cardinals to be held August 27-30. This is the first time, since September 24, 2020, that His Eminence has been summoned to a Consistory. It is in fact a prerogative of cardinals, and these functions, two years ago, had been frozen by Pope Francis as a result of judicial events.”

Becciu had been removed from his duties as a cardinal – though he kept the title – and soon after, the trial against him and nine other people was announced. It centered on the scandal surrounding the Vatican’s purchase of a property in London, especially the millions of Euros paid in fees to the middlemen arranging the deal. Becciu is accused of embezzlement and abuse of office, but vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

His suspension meant he was not invited to attend the November 2020 consistory.

Becciu had been serving as the head of the Vatican’s saint-making office when he was told to step down by Pope Francis. At the time, the Vatican provided no details, only issuing a one-sentence announcement of Becciu’s resignation as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints “and his rights connected to the cardinalate.”

Becciu is also the former second in command in the Vatican’s secretariat of state. Francis made him a cardinal in 2018.

Relinquishing the rights and privileges of being a cardinal means he is still a priest in good standing, but he cannot, for instance, take part in an eventual conclave to find Pope Francis’s successor, nor hold an office in the Roman Curia, the central government of the Catholic Church.

Only a handful of cardinals throughout history have had their privileges removed. American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was fully removed from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, before being removed from the priesthood, due to allegations of the sexual abuse of minors.

The late Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien in 2015 relinquished the rights and privileges of being a cardinal after unidentified priests alleged sexual misconduct against him. O’Brien was, however, allowed to retain the cardinal’s title and he died a member of the College of Cardinals.

The Vatican’s “trial of the century” is not expected to end anytime soon; in June, the judges announced that the prosecution and defendants plan to call more than 200 witnesses.

At the heart of the case is the controversial purchase by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State of a property at 60 Sloane Avenue in London’s posh Chelsea district, which according to Vatican prosecutors cost the church 350 million euros drawn in part from donations to a papal charity called Peter’s Pence.

Though the Holy See’s press office has yet to confirm Becciu’s assertion, it would not be surprising if it were true, as Pope Francis has voiced his support for the disgraced cardinal since accepting his resignation, even saying Mass at the cardinal’s home on Holy Thursday in 2021.

Late last year, Francis spoke about Becciu during a radio interview: “I hope with all my heart that he is innocent. Besides, he was a collaborator of mine and helped me a lot. He is a person whom I have a certain esteem for as a person, that is to say that my wish is that he turns out well. … In any case, justice will decide.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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