As if straight out of an episode of HBO’s The Young Pope, the Vatican has recently erupted amidst a vast financial scandal and political intrigue within the Church. On September 25, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, a high-ranking member of the clergy who headed the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, resigned from his position upon Pope Francis’s request. Resignations are extremely rare in the upper levels of the Vatican, BBC reports. Becciu’s departure comes at a crucial moment as Moneyval, a European committee that investigates money laundering, is due to inspect Vatican funds.
Cardinal Becciu is considered one of the Pope’s closest aides and advisers. Before his promotion to cardinal in 2018, Becciu served as the Substitute for General Affairs in the office of the Secretariat of State. The Secretariat of State is the central bureaucratic body of the Catholic Church responsible for the political and diplomatic functions of the Vatican. In his position, Becciu managed the daily affairs of the Roman Curia, the administrative branch of the Vatican.
Financial investigations within the Vatican are revealing several alleged cases of embezzlement and unauthorized speculative and real estate investment linked to Becciu during his time at the Secretariat of State. While Becciu himself is not officially accused of these crimes, the Vatican prosecutor has placed a number of Vatican officials and middlemen under investigation, according to AP News. The allegations against Becciu, Crux Now reports, include embezzlement of church funds to personal family accounts, requesting unauthorized loans from the Vatican Bank, and interference in the Australian legal process during the trial of Cardinal George Pell, a former rival. In total, there are 8 definitive allegations against Becciu.
The Vatican officials currently under investigation were linked to Becciu’s purchase of a building in London in 2015. The Financial Times states that Becciu invested nearly $200 million to convert a large office in Chelsea into high-end luxury apartments. Becciu publicly denies any wrongdoing in his actions and defends the investment as “standard practice” within the Vatican. Gianluigi Torzi, the middleman in the deal, was arrested and charged under accusations of “extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud, and self-laundering.” Torzi also denies any wrongdoing and is pursuing legal action against the Vatican secretariat in London’s High Court.
However, as the Economist reports, Becciu claims his forced resignation was due to financial contributions to business partners and his family. In 2018, for example, Becciu sent $116,000 to his brother through Peter’s Pence, a Vatican-based charity. While intended to support his native Sardinian diocese, Becciu also intended to send more funds, totaling around $353,000. Another instance saw Becciu use Vatican funds to purchase new doors from another brother for the Vatican’s embassy in Cuba. Along with allegations of misappropriating Vatican funds in foreign bank accounts, investment funds, and personal businesses, Becciu also directed nearly $500,000 to Cecilia Marogna, a global security consultant for the Vatican embassies, who is suspected of either fraud or romantic involvement. Becciu has denied these allegations as false.
Most striking is Becciu’s involvement in Cardinal George Pell’s legal proceedings from 2017-2018. Cardinal Pell was involved in an infamous trial and was accused of numerous sexual offenses during his time as Archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney. As Catholic News Agency reports, Becciu allegedly directed almost $823,000 from a Vatican account to an Australian account during Pell’s trial. The accusation further asserts that the funds were used in an attempt to subvert the courts and incriminate Pell further. Becciu and Pell had long been intense rivals, as Pell clashed against Becciu for financial and institution reforms. It is believed that Becciu’s involvement was meant to halt Pell’s attempted economic reforms and hide Becciu’s history of “creative accounting”.
Becciu has been stripped of his position as cardinal and prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Additionally, his right to elect the next pope has been revoked. Pell, after serving 13 months in prison for the sexual abuse of a minor, has also re-emerged and is visiting Pope Francis to solve the financial crisis the Church faces, as Reuters reports. Pell was initially meant to serve a full 6 years in prison until he was acquitted with the support of the Vatican. Now, he hopes to continue the work of “cleaning the stables”.
“Cleaning the stables”, however, is a huge understatement when regarding the Vatican. These recent events have only scratched the surface of the Church’s gilded exterior and the people who run it. When the next best option to a fraudulent leader is a convicted pedophile, how can we trust the benevolence of an organization? How can you clean the stables when all the horses are already sick?