Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu. / Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA
ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 19, 2023 / 10:15 am (CNA).
The trial of Cardinal Angelo Becciu ended Dec. 16 with the prelate being convicted of embezzlement and sentenced by the Vatican court to more than five years in prison.
The sentence states that he has also been permanently barred from holding public office and must pay a fine of 8,000 euros.
Becciu, 75, who for more than seven years held the third-highest position in the Holy See, is the first cardinal to be sentenced by a Vatican court since its creation as a city-state in 1929.
Here are six key facts about the cardinal and his trial:
Becciu was born June 2, 1948, in the province of Sassari on the Italian island of Sardinia. At the age of 24 he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Ozieri, which later figured in the financial scandal trial.
With a degree in canon law, Becciu entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See on May 1, 1984, and served in pontifical affairs for the Central African Republic, Sudan, New Zealand, Liberia, Great Britain, France, and the United States.
On Oct. 15, 2001, Pope John Paul II appointed him apostolic nuncio to Angola. A month later he was also named nuncio in São Tomé and Príncipe, an African island nation off the coast of Gabon. On Dec. 1 of that year he was consecrated bishop.
During the pontificate of Benedict XVI, he was appointed apostolic nuncio in Cuba, a position he held until early 2011.
Third most powerful official in the Vatican
On May 10, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him substitute for general affairs of the Vatican Secretariat of State, the department that collaborates with the Holy Father in the government of the universal Church.
Upon assuming that position, Becciu became the third most powerful person in the Vatican, after the pope and the Vatican secretary of state, who at that time was Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
According to the Vatican website, the Section for General Affairs “is responsible for handling matters regarding the everyday service of the supreme pontiff, both in caring for the universal Church and in dealing with the dicasteries of the Roman Curia.”
In addition, the section “attends to the preparation of whatever documents the Holy Father entrusts to it” and “enacts the provisions for appointments within the Roman Curia.” It also “attends to all that concerns the embassies accredited to the Holy See” and “supervises the Holy See’s official communication agencies,” among other functions.
Becciu held this position until Pope Francis made him a cardinal in 2018, the year he appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
In an unprecedented move, a year and a month after Becciu assumed the new position, on Oct. 1, 2019, the Vatican prosecutor’s office raided the offices of the Secretariat of State and five of its officials were suspended.
Purchase of London building and financial scandal
During Becciu’s time serving in the Secretariat of State, the Vatican acquired a building located in an exclusive area of London, a purchase full of irregularities that led to the prelate’s trial for embezzlement, which lasted from July 2021 to December of this year.
After the raid on the Secretariat of State, the British Financial Times revealed that the Vatican was carrying out an investigation into possible irregularities regarding an investment authorized by Becciu, consisting of the purchase of the building on Sloane Avenue for $364 million. In 2022, the Vatican had to sell the property for just $223.6 million.
In September 2020, Pope Francis summoned Becciu to a meeting after which the prelate lost his rights as cardinal and the position of prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
A few months later, the Holy Father signed a motu proprio to modify the regulation according to which cardinals could only be tried by the Vatican Court of Cassation, made up of three cardinals.
The pope decided that ordinary courts can also judge cardinals, with prior authorization from the pontiff, and authorized the Vatican court to proceed against Becciu.
The first court hearing took place on July 27, 2021. The trial not only focused on the purchase of the property but also on the financial contribution of 125,000 euros that the Secretariat of State directed to Caritas of the Diocese of Ozieri during Becciu’s tenure.
The trial proceedings also investigated the transfer of 570,000 euros that the Vatican department made to Cecilia Marogna, an expert in international geopolitics, to supposedly use in hostage ransom operations, such as the case of Sister Cecilia Narváez, a Colombian nun kidnapped in Mali by Muslim terrorists linked to Al Qaeda,
Although the cardinal stated that the pope was aware of this operation, Promoter of Justice Allesandro Diddi pointed out that Francis had not authorized the transfer of the money to the woman “but to the British company Inkerman” in charge of mediating the release of the Colombian nun.
Finally, on Dec. 16 at its 86th session, the Vatican court ruled that Becciu was responsible for the irregular purchase of the building on Sloane Avenue in London, since this was made “at the request of the cardinal.”
The court also found him guilty of embezzlement for transferring 125,000 euros from the Secretariat of State to Caritas of the Diocese of Ozieri through a cooperative chaired by his brother Antonio Becciu.
Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, told journalists on Dec. 16 that the cardinal “will certainly appeal” the ruling.
The cardinal was also sentenced for the transfer of 570,000 euros from the Vatican department to Cecilia Marogna, which were not used to ransom hostages as had been claimed. Marogna was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.