01 October 2020, The Tablet

Cardinal sins

Cardinal Angelo Becciu

Cardinal sins


The case of the cardinal sacked for a breach of trust has sent shockwaves through the Vatican and highlights the intense, and increasingly lonely, battle Pope Francis faces in his attempts to reform the Holy See’s finances

It was bombshell news. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, one of the most powerful figures in the Roman Curia, had been removed by Pope Francis over claims that the 72-year-old Sardinian prelate had embezzled the Church’s money. He was alleged to have improperly given contracts to refurbish some of the Holy See’s overseas embassies to companies owned by his brothers, and to have donated Vatican funds to a charity in his native Sardinia run by another brother. He has lost the rights which come from being a cardinal – including the right to take part in the conclave to elect the next pope – and has been sacked as the head of the Vatican’s saint-making department.

The Cardinal’s dismissal was announced in a blunt statement by the Holy See’s press office just over an hour after his audience with Pope Francis. Since then, some things have become clearer, while others remain vague. Becciu insists he is innocent and is determined to prove it.

Cardinal Becciu (pronounced Beh-choo) is not just any old cardinal. For seven years he held the position of sostituto – the substitute – the Pope’s chief-of-staff, and the minister responsible for running the Vatican and overseeing much of its diplomatic work. It gave him enormous influence –and earned him some powerful enemies. Up until 6.02 p.m. on Thursday 24 September, Becciu believed that he was one of Francis’ most trusted aides. He had faithfully guided a new Pope who had never lived or worked in Rome through the complexities of the Vatican bureaucracy, and had continued to be an influential adviser after being made a cardinal and put in charge of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in June 2018. Becciu, always composed and a strategic thinker, worked closely with both Benedict XVI and Francis. When I interviewed him just before his move to the saint-making department in 2018, he stressed that he was a papal loyalist, always serving whoever sat on the Chair of St Peter.

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