ROME (AFP) – The powerful head of the Vatican office, Cardinal Angelo Picchio, abruptly resigned Thursday from his post and relinquished his rights as Cardinal amid a financial scandal implicating him indirectly.
The Vatican did not give any details of why Pope Francis accepted Picchu’s resignation, in a statement issued late Thursday. In the one-sentence declaration, the Holy See said only that Francis had accepted Becciu’s resignation from the position of Governor of the Congregation for Saints Causes and “his rights relating to the cardinals”.
Peccio, a former second in the Vatican State Secretariat, was reportedly involved in a financial scandal related to the Vatican’s investment in a London real estate deal that lost the Holy See millions of euros in fees paid to intermediaries.
The Vatican Prosecutor has placed several Vatican officials under investigation, as well as mediators, but not Picchu. Becciu has defended the integrity of the original investment and denied wrongdoing, and it is unclear whether the scandal itself was behind his resignation or perhaps sparked a separate line of investigation.
But the breaking news of his resignation, the apparent severity of the punishment, the tight release of the Vatican, and the unexpected fall of one of the Vatican’s most powerful officials all point to a terrifying new chapter in the scandal that shook the Vatican. Over the past year.
The last time a cardinal’s rights were removed was when American Theodore McCarrick relinquished his rights and privileges as a cardinal in July 2018 amid an investigation of sexual assault. Later, Francis fired him completely last year for sexual assault of adults as well as minors.
Before him, the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien in 2015 relinquished the rights and privileges of being a cardinal after unknown priests alleged sexual misconduct. However, O’Brien was allowed to retain the cardinal title and died as a member of the College of Cardinals, the elite group of churchmen whose main task is to elect the Pope.
In the Vatican Statement, the Holy See defined Pisio as “the sovereign of Cardinal Angelo Pescio”, stating that he was still a Cardinal but without any rights.
At age 72, Becciu would be able to participate in a possible future secret meeting to elect Francis’ successor. Cardinal who are over 80 years old cannot vote. But by relinquishing his rights as a cardinal, Becciu waived his rights to participate.
Becciu was the “surrogate”, or First Deputy in the State Secretariat from 2011 to 2018, when Francis appointed him as a Cardinal and transferred him to the Vatican office. It spanned between two testimonies, after being appointed by Pope Benedict XVI and entrusted with managing the bureaucracy in Korea, or the bureaucracy of the Vatican, a position that gave him immense power and influence.
The financial troubles date back to 2014, when he entered the Vatican into a real estate project by investing more than $ 200 million in a fund run by an Italian businessman. The deal gave Holy See 45% off the luxury building located at 60 Sloane Ave. In the Chelsea neighborhood of London.
The money came from the State Assets Portfolio Trust, which is largely funded by Peter Pence’s donations to Catholics around the world for the Pope to use in charitable work and Vatican expenditures.
The Holy See decided in November 2018, after Becciu left the State Secretariat, to exit the fund, end his relationship with the businessman and purchase what was left of the building. It did so after Becciu’s successor decided the mortgage was too burdensome and the businessman was losing money to the Vatican in some of the fund’s other investments.
But the acquisition cost the Holy See tens of millions of euros more and triggered the Vatican investigation that has so far implicated half a dozen Vatican employees.
Becciu insisted that he had not been in power during the 2018 acquisition deal and had always acted in the best interest of the Holy See. In the Vatican attorney general’s initial arrest warrant, Becciu’s name was not mentioned, and it remains unclear if his role in managing the trust of the state’s huge asset portfolio was linked to the resignation.
His former boss, Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, said the whole thing was “opaque” and needed clarification. For his part, Francis vowed to get to the truth of what he said was evidence of corruption in the Holy See.
Francis would meet regularly with Becciu in the Italian role as director of the Office of the Making of the Saints, because every month or two he would submit lists of candidates for possible beatification or canonization to Francis for approval.
Additionally, from the start of his Pontificate, Francis has had an annual lunch date in Becciu’s apartment with 10 priests on the Thursday of the Holy Week preceding Easter. The Vatican has always stated that the encounters were an opportunity for the Pope to informally chat with Becciu and the priests of his diocese on the day the church celebrates the institution of the priesthood.
This year’s lunch did not happen amid the Vatican lockdown due to the Coronavirus.