Although Cardinal Angelo Becciu is attending the Vatican consistory of cardinals that opened on Saturday, he remains excluded from participating in a future conclave, according to an official Vatican list of the College of the Cardinals.
In a statistical overview of the College of Cardinals, updated and distributed by the Holy See press office for the consistory’s opening on Saturday, Becciu’s name appears among the ordinary members of the college, whose primary right and duty is to participate in the conclaves which elect the Bishop of Rome.
Cardinals lose the right to attend conclaves when they turn 80 years old. While Becciu is of voting age, the cardinal is listed as a “non-elector” on the Vatican’s list.
The disgraced cardinal’s legal status was brought into question last week, after Becciu said in a homily Aug. 21 that Pope Francis had personally invited him to attend the consistory and would soon “reinstate” him to full membership of the College of Cardinals.
Becciu was forced to resign the rights and privileges of a cardinal, but not formal membership of the college, in September 2020, after Vatican City prosecutors presented the pope with their preliminary findings in an investigation into possible financial crimes at the Secretariat of State, Becciu’s former curial department.
Soon after Becciu claimed last week that the pope would formally reinstate him, a report from Vatican Media - the Holy See’s official governmental media portal - confirmed that Francis had invited Becciu to attend the consistory, during which the pope created 20 new cardinals and has convened the college to reflect on his recent reform of the Roman curia.
Citing anonymous Vatican sources, the Vatican’s official news outlet said that “the rights of the cardinalate do not refer to participation in the life of the Church,” including an invitation to attend the consistory personally extended by the pope.
Despite the cardinal’s prediction last week that Francis intends to restore him to all his “cardinalatial functions,” an official Vatican biography of Becciu notes that “the Holy Father accepted the resignation” of Becciu “from the rights connected to the Cardinalate” as the final entry in the cardinal’s listing.
In July 2021, prosecutors formally charged Becciu a range of crimes, including embezzlement, abuse of office, conspiracy, and subornation of witnesses. The cardinal is now the star defendant in a sprawling financial crimes trial in Vatican City, now in its second year.
Becciu’s appearance at the consistory’s opening on Saturday was his first public appearance as a member of the college.
Some commentators and Vatican watchers have suggested that the pope’s decision to seat Becciu at the consistory could be interpreted as a signal of papal favor for the cardinal during his ongoing trial. As sovereign of the Vatican City state, Pope Francis is head of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, and is the final chief judge of the Holy See, both in canon law and in the civil law of Vatican City.
Becciu and the pope worked together closely for the first five years of Francis’ pontificate, during which Becciu served as sostituto at the Secretariat of State — effectively the office of papal chief of staff.
The invitation to attend the consistory is not the first gesture of personal solicitude from the pope following the cardinal’s disgrace.
Between Becciu’s resignation of his cardinalatial rights in Sept. 2020 and his formal charging in July 2021, Pope Francis celebrated a private Holy Thursday Mass in Becciu’s Vatican apartment, a move widely interpreted by media, and by Mario Becciu, as an indication the cardinal was about to be reinstated by the pope.
The Vatican subsequently clarified that the visit was a private act of pastoral mercy towards the cardinal, and not a step towards his rehabilitation.
Since then, Becciu has appeared in court several times to answer questions about several of the charges he faces.
In subsequent court appearances, Becciu told the judges that Francis himself was ultimately responsible for many of the final transactions which led to the trial, and depicted himself as essentially a functionary operating between the pope and his own officials, but with little understanding of what was actually going on in the department he oversaw.
Becciu also blamed Pope Francis personally for the June 2017 sacking of Libero Milone, the Vatican’s first auditor general, who was detained by Becciu and threatened with criminal prosecution if he did not resign, telling the court that Francis personally ordered Becciu to sack Milone.
The cardinal said at the time that Milone had been threatened with prosecution and that Milone “went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me.” “If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him.”
Milone said that he and his team were targeted by the Secretariat of State because they were uncovering financial misconduct in the department, and had their offices and computers bugged. “We had come across something we shouldn’t have seen,” Milone said.
In court in May, Becciu said that he had not previously discussed Francis’ role in Milone’s ousting out of “love for the pope,”
The Vatican trial stands in recess until September.