News and Commentary

Senior Cardinal Accused Of Bribing Witnesses To Testify Against Rival In Child Sexual Abuse Case
Newly elevated cardinal, Giovanni Angelo Becciu from Italy, attends the courtesy visit of relatives following a consistory for the creation of new cardinals on June 28, 2018 in the Apostolic Palace at St Peter's Basilica in Vatican. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP) (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)

A Catholic cardinal allegedly paid out hundreds of thousands of euros in church money to bribe witnesses during the trial of a rival cardinal charged with child sexual abuse.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu is suspected of sending €700,000 — equivalent to roughly $825,000 — to a number of recipients in Australia as bribe money to testify against Cardinal George Pell, who was on trial for allegedly molesting choir boys in Australia in the 1990s, the British newspaper The Times reported, citing two Italian newspapers.

Cardinal Becciu is the former head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican department in charge of canonizing saints. He resigned the office on Sept. 24 at the request of Pope Francis as Vatican officials investigate Becciu’s handling of church finances while he served as sostituto, or chief of staff, in the Secretariat of State from 2012 to 2018.

Throughout his time in the Vatican, rumors and conspiracies have swirled around Becciu that he has shut down attempted reforms of the Catholic Church’s finances. In 2016, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Becciu, then Parolin’s deputy, shut down an audit of Vatican finances by the international accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Cooper. The audit was arranged by Pell, who at the time headed the Secretariat for the Economy.

The next year, Pell was forced to leave the Vatican to face trial in Australia for allegedly molesting choir boys. He was convicted of molesting two boys and sentenced to jail for six years. The High Court of Australia overturned Pell’s conviction in April, setting the cardinal free.

“I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice,” Pell said when the court overturned his conviction.

Becciu is suspected of rigging Pell’s trial by bribing witnesses to testify against his rival. Pell’s supporters have long believed that Becciu was involved in getting Pell wrongfully convicted of the crimes. Becciu has denied the allegations, saying, “I categorically deny interfering in any way in the trial of Cardinal Pell.”

In September when Becciu resigned, the Vatican released a statement saying that Becciu, now 72 years old, had lost his right to vote for the pope in the next conclave, a privilege usually revoked once a cardinal turns 80. Becciu retained his title of cardinal, however, as the church investigates him for a London real estate deal separate from the allegations over Pell’s trial. Becciu has denied any wrongdoing in the deal.

“Yesterday until 6:02 p.m. I felt like a friend of the Pope, the Pope’s faithful executor,” Becciu said in a press conference after his resignation, according to the Financial Times. “Then the Pope says that he no longer has confidence in me because he was told by the magistrates that I had committed acts of embezzlement. I have not made my family rich, I am ready to sue.”

Becciu oversaw a $200 million investment in a Chelsea property to convert an office building into a luxury apartment complex. The Vatican arrested London-based businessman Gianluigi Torzi, a middleman in the deal, in June on charges of “extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and self laundering.”

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