Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s eight-year tenure in the Vatican Secretariat of State has left a trail of scandal and moral wreckage that makes for sensational headlines. But that may be obscuring the more significant and under-reported aspect of Holy See’s corruption problem, and that is the apparent involvement of Pope Francis himself, as well as numerous favored subordinates whose misbehavior and checkered pasts seem to have been completely overlooked.
Cardinal Becciu himself functioned for many years as a case in point. His blatant attacks and obstruction against Vatican auditors, in coordination with Vatican prosecutors, were carried out in broad daylight by people who answered directly to Pope Francis. And he operated with a very clear enjoyment of impunity from both the pontiff and from his immediate superior Pietro Parolin.
Despite Becciu’s long public record of troubling and suspicious behavior, Pope Francis did not admonish him nor remove him from his position, but actually made him a cardinal in 2018 and appointed him as Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Becciu appeared to be an untouchable favorite of the pope, and there is little indication that this situation would have changed if an internal Vatican report on investigations into Becciu’s investments hadn’t been leaked to the most eminent of Vaticanista exposé journalists, Emiliano Fittipaldi of L’Espresso.
In early October of 2019, Fittipaldi wrote an article exposing the fact that the Vatican Gendarmerie had carried out raids on the Secretariat of State and the Holy See’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) as part of an investigation of suspicious financial activities, which appeared to be homing in on several low-level actors at the two agencies, as well as the president of the board of directors of the the AIF, René Brülhart and some private financiers. However, Fittipaldi’s article also mentioned the involvement of Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, his “substitute” or second-in-command, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, and the previous substitute, Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
The leak to Fittipaldi was clearly upsetting to Pope Francis, who expressed concern that it might do harm to those who were under investigation, complaining that the it was “injurious to the dignity of persons and of the principle of the presumption of innocence.” He quickly obtained the resignation of the commander of the gendarmerie, Domenico Giani.
However, it was impossible to hide the facts of the case from the public. The Vatican admitted that the raids had occurred, and that both written and electronic records had been confiscated. A year later, in late 2020, Becciu was forced by Pope Francis to renounce his privileges as cardinal and his leadership of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
It is unclear what Pope Francis’ precise motives are for finally turning on his chief fixer and personal confidant. But it seems most likely that he was forced by the media exposure to sacrifice one of his favorites to protect two others who are more valuable to him: Parolin and Peña Parra. Although Parolin was Becciu’s immediate superior and was in charge of the Secretariat of State while his agency repeatedly acted to block investigations into the secretariat’s management of investments, and although Peña Parra has overseen the investments for years, neither have been charged with any crimes, on the claim that they were not sufficiently informed of the situation.
The Holy See’s own press release on the prosecution of Becciu, issued through Vatican News, offers a vague explanation for why Parolin and Peña Parra are being spared, quoting Vatican prosecutors stating that the two were not “effectively informed to be fully aware of the juridical effects that the different categories of actions would cause” in the management of the investments.
Francis seems to be uncomfortably conscious of the appearance of selective justice and has begun to repair his relationship with Becciu with open shows of sympathy for his fallen deputy. He made a phone call to Becciu within weeks of removing him which Becciu described as “comforting” and “a ray of light.” He then joined Becciu in his private apartment to celebrate the Mass of Holy Thursday with him this year.
Francis followed this up with radio interview on September 1 that was notably publicized by the Vatican in which he frankly stated his closeness to Becciu and strongly hinted at a preference for a particular outcome in the trial: acquittal. “I hope with all my heart that [Becciu] is innocent,” he told Radio Cope. “Besides, he was a collaborator of mine and helped me a lot. He is a person whom I have a certain esteem as a person, that is to say that my wish is that he turns out well. … In any case, justice will decide….”
The above comes from a Nov. 14 posting in Catholic World Report, part two of a lengthy two-part story.