Sunday 7 April 2024

Becciu tells cardinals ‘media pillory’ made him skip Chrism Mass

Vatican Cardinal Angelo Becciu resigns ...

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the now-convicted former papal chief of staff, told cardinals last week that he was not able to attend the Vatican’s Holy Thursday Chrism Mass because of it would attract unwanted media attention.

Becciu sent a March 26 letter to the College of Cardinals, to denounce his criminal conviction for fraud and embezzlement, and to announce that he would not attend the annual Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The letter, sent to the dean of the college, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, was addressed to the entire college and despite being marked “Confidential” was also handed to the Italian tabloid website Dagospia.

In the letter, Becciu, who was convicted in December last year after a nearly three year trial for financial crimes, said that he had informed Pope Francis in a recent meeting that he would not attend the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, blaming his conviction and negative press attention.

The cardinal has been a notable fixture at public ecclesiastical events throughout his trial, in which he was accused and convicted of various financial crimes, including funneling Church finds to his brother.

“I will not come to the Basilica for the Chrism Mass and celebrate together, as always it was, our priestly day!” wrote the cardinal, to whom the Vatican City court handed a five-and-a-half year prison sentence, currently suspended as he appeals the court’s verdict

“It is the first time this has happened to me in my nearly 52-year priesthood, but the external conditions that have arisen induce me to this painful decision.”

Becciu wrote that he told the pope that he “didn’t have the courage to participate” in the liturgy. 

“It is with suffering that I will [not attend] because I would not want to obscure the splendor of you cardinals with my [presence], stained by a heavy and unjust sentence,” the cardinal wrote. 

“The label of the condemned, while not conditioning the serenity of those who feel totally innocent, does not make me feel at ease in your celebrations,” Becciu added.

The cardinal used the letter to denounce what he called an “insistent media pillory of planetary dimensions” and the results of his trial which he claimed “took the risk of destabilizing me humanly and morally.”

The cardinal, who renounced his legal privileges under papal order in 2020 following a preliminary criminal investigation into his time in office at the Secretariat of State where he served as sostituto, said he faced “unfounded accusations, evil and imbued with hatred, of prejudice, poured against me unscrupulous accusers who swore falsely on the Gospel, in bad faith.”

Becciu has always maintained his innocence, claiming in 2019 — well before his indictment — that journalists had “misled the faithful” with “false” reporting about him.

In his Holy Week letter to the college of cardinals, Becciu said that he “was convicted of embezzlement and fraud, but no evidence was produced.” However, he was found by judges to have embezzled Church funds by arranging for more than hundreds of thousands of euros to be sent to bank accounts controlled by his brother, Antonio, who runs the Spes Cooperative, a Catholic charity in Sardinia.

The cardinal said during the trial that he authorized an initial 100,000 euro loan, later converted to a 50,000 euro donation from the Italian bishops’ conference, because he was “excited” by his brother’s charitable work which, he said, made him “blush, as a priest.”

Asked about two more payments, one of which was made from a Vatican Secretariat of State account into his brother’s personal bank account and totaled 130,000 euros, Becciu insisted that it is ordinary practice for Vatican funds to be deposited with individuals, including family members, for charitable purposes. 

The cardinal was convicted for breaking Vatican City and canon laws prohibiting the alienation of Church funds or property to family members.

Both Italian prosecutors have also questioned how charitable the Becciu brothers’ purposes were, however. 

Italian financial police had identified forged delivery receipts for nearly 20 tons of bread, which was supposedly delivered to parishes by Spes for distribution to the poor.

And public prosecutors in Sardinia are set to bring charges against the cardinal’s brother.

In his letter to the other cardinals, Becciu said that did wish to use his letter to delve into “the merits of the question of whether it was a fair trial or not, but I must take note that in these days authoritative experts in canon law and ecclesiastical law have detected a series of serious violations, even of a procedural type.”

Becciu was presumably referring to recent opinions given by lawyers associated with his defense team which contended Pope Francis had “changed the law” over the course of the trial and investigation to deny the cardinal due process. 

However, examination of the legal instruments in question does not support that assertion.

Apart from his continued assertions of innocence following his conviction, Becciu’s disclosure that he met with Pope Francis in the days leading up to Easter is likely to raise eyebrows.

In his letter, the cardinal said that “the accusation that most hurt me was that of dishonoring the Holy See,” while during his trial Becciu insisted in court that “I reject with indignation and disgust the insinuating and offensive sentences about my priestly life and as a servant of the pope.”

However, during the trial, Becciu repeatedly attempted to blame Pope Francis for his financial entanglement with self-described private intelligence agent Cecilia Marogna, to whom he sent hundreds of thousands of euros from Church funds.

Francis released to the court an exchange of letters with the cardinal from 2021, which were written shortly before Becciu was charged by prosecutors.

In that exchange, Becciu repeatedly demanded that Francis sign statements clearing the cardinal of wrongdoing and asserting that he, the pope, knew and approved of everything he was up to.

Francis flatly refused, and denied having any knowledge of, or giving any approval for actions which, he told the cardinal, “as you well know, are characterized by extemporaneous and incautious assignments of financial resources diverted from the typical purposes and intended… to satisfy personal voluptuous inclinations.”

Becciu responded, in writing, by threatening to call Francis as a witness if he was put on trial and demanding the pope sign a statement excusing him from criminal prosecution. 

“Evidently and surprisingly, I was misunderstood by you,” Francis responded. “Therefore, I regret to inform you [again] that I cannot comply with your request.”

In 2021, Becciu went so far as to secretly record a phone call with the pope, just days before his Vatican City criminal trial began.

The recording was discovered by Italian financial police on a mobile phone belonging to Becciu’s niece, which was seized during a series of searches conducted at the Vatican’s request on the cardinal’s home island of Sardinia in connection with the alleged embezzlement of funds to his family there.

In the July 24, 2021, phone call, Becciu can be heard trying unsuccessfully to get Francis to agree he had approved the cardinal’s dealings with Margona. Becciu can also be heard asserting that the whole matter was a state secret and couldn’t be disclosed to anyone — despite his having his niece listen in and record the call without Francis’ knowledge, which is itself, technically, a crime.

Shortly after his election in 2013, Francis issued a change to Vatican City law in the wake of the so-called Vatileaks scandal involving the former papal butler to Benedict XVI. The new law made the disclosure of “information and documents concerning the fundamental interests or diplomatic relations of the Holy See or of the State” punishable by up to 8 years in prison.

In his letter to the college of cardinals, Becciu said of his pending appeal against conviction that “I do not know how this trial will end, but I am sure that the truth will triumph sooner or later, it may be given even after my death, but it will break in with all its strength.” 

“History will prove me right: it is on the side of the innocent!” said Becciu.