VATICAN CITY (RNS) — The day after resigning suddenly from his Vatican post, Cardinal Angelo Becciu defended himself from accusations that he had mismanaged funds as head of the Roman Catholic Church’s Secretariat of State, saying during an impromptu press conference on Friday (Sept. 25) that he remains a “faithful servant” of the pontiff.
“Yesterday at 6:02 p.m., I thought that I was a friend of the pope, a faithful executor of the pope” the 72-year-old cardinal told journalists, referring to the time he began a 20-minute meeting on Thursday evening (Sept. 24) with Pope Francis. “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.”
Dwarfed by a massive silver cross behind him, shoulders slumped, Beccui seemed to crumple under the weight of his new status. Once the equivalent of the chief of staff to Pope Benedict XVI, Becciu learned that he had been stripped of all the rights tied to being a cardinal, including attending official ceremonies and electing the next pope at the conclave.
He will remain a cardinal by name only and will likely renounce his role as Special Delegate to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which he took on in 2015 after Francis clashed with the order’s grand master, Matthew Festing.
Becciu said he met with Francis when the pontiff accepted his resignation as the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The Vatican press office sent out an official statement shortly afterward. Becciu said he “accepts” the pope’s decision.
Becciu said that “Pope Francis suffered” when giving him the news of his effective dismissal during their 20-minute meeting on Thursday.
Becciu will continue to reside at the Vatican, he said, in light of his years of service as a papal representative to Angola and Cuba and his influential role as substitute, the third-highest-ranking office at the Vatican.
“All of this is a bit strange,” Becciu said, adding that to his knowledge there is no legal proceeding against him from the Vatican judiciary or civil authorities. He said he would remain available for any further conversations, nonetheless, with church magistrates on financial matters.
According to Becciu, the pope accepted his resignation based on information coming out of an ongoing investigation into his activities as substitute. While Becciu was in that post in 2018, some 100,000 euros — about $116,000 — in church funds ended up in the coffers of SPES, a diocesan branch of the Catholic charitable organization Caritas that is run by the cardinal’s brother, Tonino Becciu.
According to recent reports by Italian media outlet L’Espresso and to Vatican investigators, Becciu also encouraged the Italian Bishops’ Association (Cei) to give SPES almost $350,000 worth of Italian taxpayer money.
The cardinal admitted sending SPES the $100,000 but explained that the fund he drew the money from, known as Peter’s Pence, falls under the purview of the substitute. He also insisted that the money was intended to help his home diocese in Sardinia, rather than his family. He explained that SPES manages a bakery, a few vineyards and a construction firm, all of which employ about 60 employees, some of them immigrants.
After meeting with the pope, Becciu said, he called his brother and learned that the funds in question were still unspent, as they were being reserved for a large planned project.
He denied that the transaction was a conflict of interest, stating that he “wanted to help the diocese, not so much my brother.” Becciu’s family added in a statement released on Friday that “no sum has been proven to be given by Peter’s Pence,” which is collected from the faithful for the poor, and that the money received was destined only for charitable means.
The statement said that reports by L’Espresso alleging corruption are “false, and thus slanderous, offensive and denigrating.”
Becciu emphasized that no money from Peter’s Pence was used in a separate $233 million investment by the Secretariat of State in prime real estate in downtown London, which has also caused a scandal and caused five Vatican employees, including Becciu’s own personal assistant, Monsignor Mauro Carlino, to be suspended as a result of a Vatican-led investigation.
The cardinal said that Francis never mentioned the London investment during their meeting.
“I will never betray the pope,” Becciu said, “and I am ready to give my life for him.”
This story has been updated to correct the amount of the investment in London real estate. We apologize for the error.