‘Gloves off’, Cardinal heavyweights ‘spar’ at Vatican Trial

Vatican ‘Trial of the Century’

Two high profile Cardinals have gone head to head over testimony during a tribunal in what has been described as the Vatican ‘Trial of the Century.’

Australian Cardinal George Pell has accused Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu of providing “incomplete” information during his testimony and thwarting transparency efforts.

In a May 6 statement, Pell accused Becciu of using his previous role as a top papal aide to block audits of the Vatican Secretariat of State’s finances and to intimidate, bully and fire the auditors themselves.

Becciu, along with nine others, is currently on trial for alleged financial crimes centred on a real estate deal in London that lost the Vatican around $200 million.

Becciu served as the sostituto of the Vatican Secretariat of State from 2011-2018. This placed him as a top papal aide, akin to a chief of staff. He oversaw the London deal at its inception and is accused of embezzlement and abuse of office.

Becciu denied the charges against him, insisting: “All of the accusations are totally unfounded.”

Cardinal Pell, 80, served until 2017 as head of the Vatican Secretariat of the Economy, created in 2014 at the beginning of Pope Francis’s financial reform. At that point, he took leave of his role to respond to allegations of historical sexual abuse of a minor in Australia.

After a hung jury in 2018, Pell was found guilty in a retrial four months later. But, in 2020, he was acquitted on appeal by Australia’s High Court, having served a year in jail.

Pell, in his letter, said Becciu, in his testimony, “gave a spirited defence of his blameless subordinate role in the Vatican finances,” but that the information provided was “incomplete.”

Becciu “did not explain the Secretariat of State’s rejection of the papally approved supervisory role of the new Council and Secretariat for the Economy” during his tenure as sostituto, Pell said.

Pell also pointed to the firing of auditing firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and the ousting of the Vatican’s General Auditor, Libero Milone, as two unexplained actions for which Becciu was responsible.

The rivalry between Pell and Becciu dates back to nearly the beginning of Pope Francis’s papacy, when Pell was personally tapped by the pope to lead the Vatican’s financial reform.

Pell has often voiced public suspicion that Becciu had a hand in the sexual allegations against him. He has suggested that money transfers from the Vatican to Australia made on Becciu’s watch were used as a payout to worsen his own legal trouble.

Becciu has denied using the money to influence Pell’s legal proceedings. Instead, he argued the payments were made to the Australian branch of Neustar, a technology company providing internet information and analytics.

However, Pell wrote that while some of the payments are explained by contractual obligations and routine management, questions remain.

He specifically highlighted four payments made between 2017 and 2018, amounting to the $1.6 million authorised by Becciu, asking “What was the purpose? Where did the money go after Neustar?”

In several interviews, Cardinal Pell had publicly asked Becciu to end the media speculation about the payments. Becciu has refused to do so, calling Pell’s questions “offensive to [his] personal dignity” and insisting that the subject was “high, demanding, and certainly confidential.”

“Doubts, of course, are removed by facts, by evidence, not assertions,” Cardinal Pell said. “Let us see. Truth is the daughter of time,” he concluded.


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