ROME – The powerful head of the Vatican’s Office of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, suddenly resigned from his post on Thursday and waived his cardinal rights in a financial scandal that reportedly indirectly implicated him.
The Vatican did not provide details on why Pope Francis accepted Beccius’ resignation in a statement late Thursday. In the one-sentence announcement, the Holy See only said that Francis had accepted Beccius’ resignation as prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints “and his cardinal rights”.
Becciu, the former number 2 in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, was reportedly embroiled in a financial scandal involving the Vatican’s investment in a London real estate business in which the Holy See lost millions of euros in fees to middlemen.
The Vatican prosecutor has investigated several Vatican officials and the middlemen, but not Becciu. Becciu has defended the soundness of the original investment and denied any wrongdoing, and it is not clear whether the scandal itself was behind his resignation or possibly sparked a separate line of investigation.
But the latest news of his resignation, the severity of his overt sanction, the release of the Vatican and the unexpected fall of one of the most powerful Vatican officials pointed to a shocking new chapter in the scandal that rocked the Vatican for the past year.
The last time a cardinal’s rights were removed was when the American Theodore McCarrick surrendered his cardinal rights and privileges in a sexual abuse investigation in July 2018. Subsequently, he was completely dismissed by Francis last year for sexually abusing adults and minors.
Before him, the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien gave up cardinal rights and privileges in 2015 after unidentified priests alleged sexual misconduct. However, O’Brien was allowed to keep the title of cardinal and died a member of the college of cardinals, the elite group of churchmen whose main task is to elect a pope.
In the Vatican Declaration, the Holy See identified Becciu as “His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Becciu” and made it clear that he remained a cardinal but without rights.
At the age of 72, Becciu could have attended a possible future conclave to elect Francis’ successor. Cardinals over 80 cannot vote. By renouncing his cardinal rights, Becciu has given up his right to participate.
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Becciu was the “Deputy” or top deputy in the State Secretariat from 2011 to 2018 when Francis appointed him cardinal and transferred him to the office of saint in the Vatican. He spanned two pontificates given by Pope Benedict XVI. Named and entrusted with running the Curia or the Vatican bureaucracy, a position that gave him enormous influence and power.
The financial troubles date back to 2014, when the Vatican went into a real estate company by investing over $ 200 million in a fund run by an Italian businessman. The deal gave the Holy See 45 percent of the luxury building at 60 Sloane Ave. in the London borough of Chelsea.
The money came from the Secretariat of the State Asset Portfolio, largely funded by Peter Pence donations from Catholics around the world, which the Pope can use for charities and for Vatican expenses.
In November 2018, after Becciu left the State Secretariat, the Holy See decided to leave the fund, end his relationship with the businessman and buy up the rest of the building. It did so after Beccius’ successor discovered that the mortgage was too onerous and the businessman lost money for the Vatican on some of the fund’s other investments.
However, the buyout deal cost the Holy See tens of millions more euros and sparked the Vatican investigation, which has so far involved half a dozen Vatican staff.
Becciu has insisted he was out of power during the 2018 buyout deal and always acted in the sole interests of the Holy See. Becciu is not named in the Vatican Public Prosecutor’s original arrest warrant, and it remains unclear whether his role in managing the secretariat of the state’s vast portfolio of assets was linked to his resignation.
His former boss, Foreign Minister Pietro Parolin, said the whole matter was “opaque” and needed to be resolved. For his part, Francis has vowed to investigate what he called evidence of corruption in the sacred.
Francis met regularly with Becciu in the role of Italian as Prefect of the Holy Office, as every month or two he submitted lists of candidates for a possible beatification or canonization that Francis should approve.
In addition, since the beginning of his pontificate on the Thursday of Holy Week before Easter, Francis had an annual lunch in Beccius’ apartment together with 10 priests. The Vatican always reported that the meetings were an opportunity for the Pope to meet informally with Becciu and priests of his diocese on the day the Church celebrates the establishment of the priesthood.
Lunch did not take place this year as the Vatican’s coronavirus was locked.