Giovanni Angelo Becciu, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, pictured June 27, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Vatican City, May 18, 2022 / 13:33 pm (CNA).
Cardinal Angelo Becciu said Wednesday that he is blameless in the forced resignation of a Vatican auditor, because it came at Pope Francis’ request.
Becciu was said to be responsible for the sudden firing in 2017 of the Vatican’s first auditor general, Libero Milone, as well as the cancelation of an internal audit.
But during a May 18 hearing in the Vatican’s finance trial, Becciu denied this, stating that in June 2017, Pope Francis called him to a meeting in his Santa Marta residence, where he claimed that he longer had trust in Milone, and therefore wanted Becciu to call the auditor and tell him he must resign.
According to Becciu, the pope also expressed regret for entrusting the then-sostituto of the Secretariat of State with “these thankless tasks.”
At a May 5 hearing, the 73-year-old Becciu had declined to respond to a question from a prosecuting attorney about his involvement in Milone’s firing, claiming “for love of the Holy Father” he could not answer.
But during Wednesday’s interrogation, Becciu said he had since received Pope Francis’ permission to speak freely about the situation.
The cardinal said the motivation for ousting Milone was the same one cited by the Vatican in a Sept. 24, 2017 press release, which stated that Milone had “illegally commissioned an external firm to carry out investigative activities on the private lives of representatives of the Holy See.”
Milone has maintained that he was falsely accused with “staged” allegations and that Pope Francis was “blocked by the old guard” which “felt threatened” by him in his role as auditor general.
Becciu was questioned by Vatican prosecutor Alessandro Diddi for nearly eight hours on May 18 as part of the Vatican’s trial to prosecute Vatican officials and collaborators for financial malfeasance, mainly in connection with the controversial purchase of a London investment property.
The interrogation, which will be continued on May 19, was characterized by combative questioning from Diddi, who was rebuked by court president Giuseppe Pignatone more than once.
Becciu, the second-ranking official of the Secretariat of State until 2018, frequently said he could not remember the answer to questions the prosecutor posed, once making reference to his age, claiming that the stress of the trial “has influenced my memory greatly.”
President Pignatone called for a five-minute recess after Diddi got aggressive with Becciu, accusing the cardinal of pretending not to remember.
Becciu, who has been charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, and witness tampering, also responded to questions about whether the London building was purchased using money from Peter’s Pence, a fund used to finance the pope’s charitable activities and the operations of the Roman Curia.
According to 2019 reports, Peter’s Pence funds, which are donated by Catholics around the world, were used to help finance the Secretariat of State’s purchase of the property at 60 Sloane Avenue in London — an investment the secretariat now claims was designed by bad actors to defraud the Vatican of money.
Becciu said he was told by the former head of his administrative office, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, that Peter’s Pence funds were not used in the London purchase, only Secretariat of State assets.
The head of the Vatican’s central bank, APSA, has also said Peter’s Pence money was not used.
Bishop Nunzio Galantino also said in 2020 that “independent estimates” put the Vatican’s losses on the property at between 66-150 million pounds ($81-185 million).
Becciu said at the May 5 hearing, however, that it would not be incompatible with their purposes to use Peter’s Pence funds for investments.
Perlasca, once a suspect in the Vatican’s financial investigation, is now a witness for the prosecution. He was also approved on May 18 to join the trial as a civil party seeking damages against his former superior, Becciu, on the witness tampering charge.
Cardinal Becciu said on the stand that while he was at the Secretariat of State, he trusted Perlasca and his honesty, which was the reason why, he said, he never questioned any of the investments.
He said Perlasca never made him aware of any suspicious behavior by Italian businessmen Raffaele Mincione, who sold the Vatican the London building, and Gianluigi Torzi, who brokered the deal’s final stage in 2018.
The prosecutor presented to the court evidence of messages from July 2019, the year after the conclusion of the London sale, in which Perlasca relayed information to Becciu about suspicious behavior by Mincione and Torzi.