The Vatican’s decision appeared to be made quickly; the Holy See normally announces any resignations, major or minor, at midday, not late at night.
Becciu’s name has been connected for months to a losing Vatican real estate investment in a London luxury property that allegedly landed large profits for the financiers guiding the deal. Vatican authorities earlier seized documents and computers and placed officials under investigation. Becciu has not been named by the church as part of the investigation, but several reports said he helped supervise the investment. He has denied any wrongdoing.
“They have done things that do not seem clean,” the pope said last year, responding to a question about the investment deal. He did not specify to whom he was referring.
Becciu could not be reached by phone Thursday night, and a Vatican spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Becciu is 72, three years shy of the age when cardinals typically retire. Renouncing the rights of the cardinalate is especially rare. The last time a similar move occurred was in 2015, when Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien renounced the rights of his position after being accused of sexual misconduct.
In its handling of onetime cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Vatican in 2018 went further; McCarrick surrendered not only the rights of being a cardinal, but also gave up the title. He was subsequently defrocked for what the church described as soliciting sex during confession and committing “sins” with minors and adults.
One Vatican insider, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said that Becciu’s resignation was “astounding” and that alleged financial wrongdoing was the “only conceivable” explanation.
Before being named cardinal by Francis in 2018, Becciu had spent years as a No. 2 official in the Secretariat of State. There, according to reports in the Financial Times and Catholic News Agency, he helped oversee the $200 million investment that is now under scrutiny. The money for the investment came in part from a purse of charitable donations from Catholics around the world.
In June, Vatican police arrested Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian middleman in the deal. He was charged with extortion, fraud and “self-laundering,” the Vatican said at the time.
A month later, according to the Catholic News Agency, Vatican prosecutors and Italian authorities seized electronics belonging to Raffaele Mincione, one of the key figures in the deal.
Francis, who became pope in 2013, has spoken often about rooting out corruption and better managing the Vatican’s finances after decades of scandals.