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In Vatican intrigue, ousted cardinal breaks silence to deny embezzlement

Angelo Becciu holds a news conference in Rome near the Vatican on Friday.
Angelo Becciu holds a news conference in Rome near the Vatican on Friday. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)
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VATICAN CITY — Before Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, only a few other cardinals over a century had been similarly pushed out — and they had all gone away quietly.

But Friday, with Vatican insiders still trying to make sense of what happened, Becciu called a news conference just beyond St. Peter’s Square and offered his version of events, saying he had been accused by the pope of embezzlement and other financial wrongdoing in a “surreal” 20-minute conversation.

Becciu said the pope had told him, “I no longer have trust in you.”

“I became white in the face,” said Becciu, who had been head of the church’s saintmaking department.

Pope Francis accepts resignation of cardinal connected to a financial scandal

The Vatican has long tried to keep its intrigue and scandals under wraps, and the church’s initial, terse announcement Thursday night about Becciu’s resignation provided no explanation about what had happened.

But Becciu, while still declaring loyalty to the pope, divulged details Friday of a complicated financial saga and described the accusations against him while also strenuously denying wrongdoing.

“I do not understand why I am accused,” Becciu said.

Becciu not only stepped down from his day-to-day position but also renounced his rights as a cardinal. The last time the pope levied a similar punishment was in 2015, when Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland faced sexual misconduct accusations.

Scandal-scarred Cardinal Keith O’Brien renounces ‘rights and privileges’ of his office

Becciu, 72, had been three years shy of the typical retirement age for cardinals and will not be able to participate in future conclaves.

He arrived at the news conference without the traditional cardinal’s cassock or cap but still wore the standard necklace with a pectoral cross. “It’s a little strange, no?” Becciu said as he began.

Becciu’s name has surfaced in several financial scandals, including in the Vatican’s purchase of a London investment property that had allegedly helped enrich the middlemen. But on Friday, Becciu described a separate case involving the donations of church money to Becciu’s home diocese on the Italian island of Sardinia, where the cardinal’s brother is the head of a charitable arm. Becciu said he was being accused of “aiding and abetting my family, my brother.”

“I did not make my family wealthy,” Becciu said, suggesting that people visit and see their cars and houses. “They are like they used to be.”

The alleged activity came when Becciu served as the No. 2 official in the Holy See’s powerful Secretariat of State, a position he held from 2011 to 2018, before Francis named him a cardinal. Becciu said the pope had received information about the case from Vatican prosecutors.

Pope Francis launches reform of Vatican bureaucracy, with cleanup of Vatican bank

Before his resignation, Becciu had met frequently with Francis and was one of the most prominent eminences inside the city-state’s walls. But he had also been a central figure in behind-the-scenes intrigue, reportedly standing in the way of attempted revamping of the Vatican’s finances.

Cardinal George Pell, a former chief Vatican economic official who returned to Australia to fight sexual abuse charges in court, said in a statement Friday that Francis had been elected to clean up the Vatican’s finances and suggested that removing Becciu was a way to make progress.

The pope “plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments,” Pell said.