A defiant Cardinal Angelo Becciu took questions for the first time in the Vatican’s financial trial on Thursday, telling judges that he was prepared to answer criminal charges with his “head held high.” The cardinal is on trial for multiple charges of embezzlement, abuse of office, and attempting to suborn the testimony of a witness.
Becciu answered questions from the court on his financial dealings with members of his family but, despite saying he had “total willingness to seek and tell the truth,” he has declined to answer questions about his employment of Cecilia Marogna, a private intelligence operative, citing state secrecy.
Appearing for questions March 17 on the first day of evidentiary hearings in the trial, which began in July last year, Becciu said it was “not easy” for him to defend his integrity in court, after what he called “an unprecedented massacre of the media.”
In his opening statement to the three-judge panel, the cardinal denounced a “violent and vulgar campaign” against him in the press, which he said had “a worldwide echo.”
Describing the allegations against him as “absurd,” “incredible,” “grotesque,” and “monstrous,” the cardinal wondered to the court “who wanted all this and for what purpose?”
In addition to charges stemming from his involvement in the Secretariat of State’s London property scandal, which was not raised in questioning Thursday, Becciu faces allegations that he used his office to funnel money to members of his own family, including 250,000 euros sent to bank accounts controlled by his brother, Antonio Becciu, who runs the Spes Cooperative, a Catholic charity in Sardinia.
Becciu denied any impropriety, insisting that he “never wanted a euro, not even a cent, that [he] had managed or even just knew about, to be diverted, misused or destined to purposes that were not exclusively institutional.”
Under questioning from Giuseppe Pignatone, the chief judge in the trial, the cardinal declared 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 Secretariat of State account, which apparently went into his brother’s personal account and totaled 130,000 euros, Becciu insisted that it is ordinary practice for Vatican funds to be deposited with individuals for charitable purposes, and that much of the money had not been spent.
The cardinal also denied knowledge of a 150,000 euro loan made by Spes to his niece by marriage, and insisted that the woman was not a relative, properly speaking, though she was an old friend.
Related to the charges of embezzlement and of abuse of office, Becciu also faced questions about his relationship with Cecilia Marogna, a self-styled private intelligence and security consultant.
Marogna has previously refused to answer questions from the court about her work for the Secretariat of State, for which she was paid hundreds of thousands of euros in transfers authorized by Becciu, citing state secrecy.
She has previously claimed on Italian television that in addition to allegedly helping negotiate the release of a kidnapped religious sister in South America, she was tasked by Becciu with compiling dossiers on the private moral failing of senior curial officials.
After Becciu also asserted the protection of the pontifical secret over his dealings with Marogna, the judges deferred questions on his allegedly Nixonian use of Vatican funds for private intelligence gathering until a later session.
The judges said that they would seek clarification from the Secretariat of State on the applicability of the pontifical secret to Becciu and Marogna’s work together and are expected to announce a decision when the court next meets on March 30, at which time Msgr. Mauro Carlino will testify.
Carlino, a former subordinate of Becciu’s at the Secretariat of State, is on trial for extortion and abuse of office. Cardinal Becciu will answer questions again on April 6.