VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a move apparently related to Vatican financial scandals, Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Angelo Becciu's resignation as prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes and his renunciation of the rights associated with being a cardinal, the Vatican announced late Sept. 24.
The cardinal, 72, told reporters Sept. 25 that Pope Francis told him he was being investigated for 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.
Meeting reporters at a religious institute near the Vatican, Cardinal Becciu denied any wrongdoing.
"I have not made my family rich," he said.
The cardinal said he met with Pope Francis the evening of Sept. 24 and the pope told him he had lost trust in him and asked him to step down.
The meeting "was something surreal because yesterday until 6:02 p.m., I thought that I was a friend of the pope," one who faithfully carried out the pope's wishes, he said. "And the pope, speaking to me, told me that he no longer has trust in me because a report came from the magistrates that I allegedly committed acts of embezzlement. I admit that the pope was very troubled, and he suffered while telling me this.”
Cardinal Becciu said he told the pope, "'If you no longer trust in me, I forfeit my mandate, I will resign' and that's it." He also said he had received no formal notification from authorities that he was under investigation or being charged with a crime.
Nevertheless, he said, "I will never betray the pope and am ready to give my life for him.”
Cardinal Becciu will remain a priest and retired bishop but will no longer exercise the role of a cardinal, including by serving as a papal adviser, a member of Vatican congregations and councils, and as an elector of a new pope. The cardinal told journalists, however, that the pope allowed him to continue living in Vatican City.
"'Do I have to leave my apartment,'" Cardinal Becciu said he asked the pope. "'No, for all the work that you have done for me, I'll leave it to you,'" the pope said, according to the cardinal.
After meeting with the pope, Cardinal Becciu said he called his brother, who confirmed to him that the money remained with Caritas and was not "absorbed" by Spes.
Cardinal Becciu also took issue with reports that the money allegedly sent came from Peter's Pence, the global collection for the poor. Similar accusations were leveled against the cardinal in the past regarding the use of funds from the annual collection for the purchase of a majority stake in a property located in London's posh Chelsea district.
Cardinal Becciu told journalists that "Peter's Pence was not used. The Secretariat of State had a fund and this fund" would be maintained by the capital gained from the London property.
However, when asked if the money in the Secretariat of State fund came from Peter's Pence, Cardinal Becciu said, "Yes.”
The last cardinal to renounce the rights and privileges of being a cardinal was Scotland's Cardinal Keith O'Brien, former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, who did so in 2015; he had resigned as archbishop two years earlier after admitting to sexual misconduct. He did not participate in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, and he died in 2018.
Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018; he did not just renounce the rights and duties of a cardinal.
Before Pope Francis named him a cardinal in 2018 and appointed him to head the Congregation for Saints' Causes, Cardinal Becciu had served for seven years as "sostituto," the No. 3 position in the Vatican Secretariat of State.
The cardinal has been one of the central figures in a financial scandal involving millions of dollars of Vatican money invested in a property in London which garnered attention in October 2019 when Vatican police conducted a raid on offices in the Secretariat of State and the Vatican financial oversight office.
The October raid was part of an investigation into five individuals, four of whom were once among the cardinal's closest collaborators at the Vatican Secretariat of State.
The day after the raid, the Italian magazine L'Espresso published an internal notice as well as leaked documents alleging the raid was part of a Vatican investigation into how the Secretariat of State used $200 million to finance the London property development project in 2014.
According to leaked documents, the Vatican Secretariat of State purchased a majority stake in the London property in 2018 and incurred debts from deal.
Cardinal Becciu defended the purchase, saying that making property investments in Rome and abroad was a common Vatican practice and denying that funds from Peter's Pence were used.
However, the Vatican investigation continued to focus on those involved in the property deal.
In June, Vatican authorities arrested Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian broker who served as the middleman in the Vatican's purchase of the majority stake in the property from London-based Italian financier, Raffaele Mincione.
After spending 10 days in a Vatican jail cell, Torzi was granted a conditional release after providing "a detailed memorandum" and documents "deemed useful for the reconstruction of the facts under investigation." He still faces Vatican charges of extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering.
The London property deal involved "things that don't seem 'clean,'" the pope told reporters in November on his return flight from Japan. "It was the internal auditor general, who said, 'Look, here is something that doesn't add up.' He came to me.”
The pope said he authorized the October raid after speaking with the Vatican prosecutor. He also said the investigation was proof that financial reforms that began under Pope Benedict XVI were working and that "the Vatican administration has the resources" to report and investigate suspicious activity.
Cardinal Becciu was born June 2, 1948, in Sardinia and ordained to the priesthood in 1972 for the Diocese of Ozieri.
After earning a degree in canon law, he entered the Vatican diplomatic service in 1984, serving at Vatican embassies and offices in the Central African Republic, Sudan, New Zealand, Liberia, Great Britain, France and, finally, the United States.
In 2001, St. John Paul II named him an archbishop and apostolic nuncio to Angola and to Sao Tome and Principe.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI named him nuncio to Cuba, a position he held until 2011, when the pope asked then-Archbishop Becciu to move to the Vatican Secretariat of State.