Becciu says answering Pell questions ‘beneath the dignity of cardinals’
News: Vatican finances
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the disgraced former sostituto of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, has written to Cardinal George Pell, the former prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, declining to explain why he sent millions of euros of Vatican funds to Australia during the run up to Pell’s 2017 criminal trial.
In an open letter dated December 22, Cardinal Becciu wrote that he felt forced to respond to recent media statements by Pell which, he said, “were offensive to my personal dignity” and which impugned his decades of curial service.
“Believe me,” Becciu said, “I am [writing this letter] against my personal desires, because I am now forced to do so by your numerous interventions.”
The cardinal, who was dismissed from his curial positions by Pope Francis in September last year, and is currently on trial in Vatican City charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, and related financial crimes, said he had no intention of responding to claims made by Pell concerning his time at the Secretariat of State, and that engaging with Pell’s statements would be “beneath the dignity of cardinals.”
Claiming that the complicated financial matters which have led to his own criminal trial, and have been the subject of years of media reports prior to Pell’s recent comments, were “little understood by our faithful,” Becciu said he would not engage in the merits of the issues raised by Pell because they are “high, demanding, and certainly confidential.”
Instead, Becciu said he would wait for “the appropriate moment” to answer the various “groundless” charges he faces during his trial, and that he would answer all the accusations against him “point by point” in due course.
Cardinal Pell has given a series of interviews discussing the publication of the third installment of his Prison Journals, which he wrote while jailed in Australia for more than a year on charges of sexual abuse. Pell’s conviction, secured on the testimony of a single witness-accuer, was overturned and the charges against him dismissed by Australia’s High Court in 2019.
Becciu’s letter came in apparent response to a recent interview in which Cardinal Pell referenced claims by a former subordinate of Becciu’s who told prosecutors that hundreds of thousands of euros had been sent to the Australian bishops’ conference to help fund his legal defense.
“That’s certainly not true,” Pell said. “We’ve asked the bishops’ conference, they received nothing. So I have one question for Cardinal Becciu: “Will he just tell us what the money was sent for?”
Pell was referencing a series of payments made by the Secretariat of State in 2016 and 2017, which totaled more than AU$2 million, sent to the Melbourne offices of technology and security company Neustar.
The payments have been linked in the Italian press to allegations of interference in the criminal trial of Pell. The transfers are under investigation by financial authorities in Australia because they raised red flags amid an audit of financial transfers between the two jurisdictions.
At various points in his Prison Journals, Pell discusses his time as head of the Vatican’s economic oversight office and the dealings of Becciu’s former department. The two cardinals repeatedly clashed over Pell’s efforts to impose financial reforms ordered by Pope Francis.
Becciu has been accused of attempting to shield investments from the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, which was led by Pell at the time. Key among those investments was the Secretariat of State’s stake in a London building, secured with money borrowed by Becciu’s department and obscured on departmental balance sheets.
Becciu called reporting on the way the loans were used “false” and “shamefully misleading” in 2019. In a 2019 entry in his prison journal, published in 2021, Pell called the same reporting an “accurate account of the London property fiasco, and of the accounting procedures which were used to conceal it,” while noting Becciu’s denial.
The investment in the London building triggered a nearly two-year criminal investigation into the Secretariat of State’s finances and led to a still-ongoing trial in Vatican City, in which Becciu is the star defendant.
Although Becciu claimed in his letter to Pell that he would not engage in any preempting of his Vatican trial, the cardinal has attempted to sue the star witness against him through the Italian courts.
Earlier this month, an Italian judge dismissed a suit Becciu filed against his former deputy in the Secretariat of State, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, ruling that there was “no concrete harmful conduct in the plaintiff's narrative” and found Becciu’s claims “completely lacking in any, albeit approximate, quantification.”
According to leaked footage of Perlasca’s interviews with Vatican prosecutors, the monsignor confirmed that, acting on instructions from Becciu, he helped arrange money transfers amounting to more than half a million euros to Cecilia Marogna, the self-styled geo-political analyst who claims to have worked as a personal spy for Becciu while he was at the Secretariat of State.
On one occasion, Perlasca said, he prepared an envelope with nearly 15,000 euros in cash for the cardinal, but that he did not know to whom the money was going — only that Becciu told him the transfers had been approved by Pope Francis personally.
Perlasca told Vatican prosecutors that Becciu “became very angry” with him for discussing the money transfers, and had demanded to know why he had not deleted records of the transactions from secretariat records.
The next court session in Becciu’s trial is set for Jan. 25, 2022.