VATICAN CITY — Vatican prosecutors are investigating allegations that Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu funneled 700,000 euro through the apostolic nunciature in Australia — an action that one Italian newspaper suggests could be linked to the strained relationship between Cardinal Becciu and Australian Cardinal George Pell.
According to an article in today’s Corriere della Sera, officials in the Secretariat of State have compiled a dossier showing numerous bank transfers, including one amounting to 700,000 euros that Cardinal Becciu’s department sent to an “Australian account.”
The dossier has been presented to Vatican prosecutors ahead of a possible upcoming trial of Cardinal Becciu. Pope Francis accepted his resignation on Sept. 24 and withdrew his rights as a cardinal but the Vatican has given no reason for his dismissal. The cardinal has denied the allegations against him as “surreal” and “all a misunderstanding.”
In its article, Corriere della Sera noted that Cardinal Pell, whom the newspaper described as one of Cardinal Becciu’s “enemies,” had been forced at the time to return to Australia and stand trial on sexual abuse charges of which he was eventually exonerated.
Corriere della Sera also reported that according to Msgr. Alberto Perlasca — a Secretariat of State official who worked under Cardinal Becciu during the period from 2011 to 2018 when the cardinal served as the Secretariat of State’s sostituto (its deputy secretary of state) — Cardinal Becciu was known to “use journalists and contacts to discredit his enemies.”
“It is precisely in this vein that the payment in Australia would have been made, possibly in connection with Pell’s trial,” the article claimed.
The newspaper stated in the article that it had not obtained confirmation that Cardinal Becciu was personally responsible for the Australian bank transfer, or who the beneficiaries of the transaction were, and consequently was investigating these matters further.
A Vatican source with detailed knowledge of the matter confirmed the contents of the Corriere della Sera report to the Register on Oct. 2, and the existence of the bank transfer to Australia. “The year and date of the transfer are recorded in the archives of the Secretariat of State,” the source said.
The funds were “extra-budgetary,” meaning they did not come from ordinary accounts, and were ostensibly transferred for “works to be done” on the Australian nunciature, the source said.
Cardinal Pell returned to Australia in 2017 to stand trial for the allegations of sexual abuse at a time when he was making concrete progress on financial reform. Shortly before he left Rome, he had told Pope Francis the “moment of truth” was approaching in the Vatican’s economic reforms. The cardinal was tried, convicted and jailed in 2019 before having all charges against him quashed by Australia’s High Court earlier this year.
The tensions between Cardinal Pell and Cardinal Becciu have been widely reported. They had strong disagreements about financial management and reform, with Cardinal Pell speedily pushing for a centralized financial system to foster more control and transparency and Cardinal Becciu favoring the established system of autonomous dicasterial accounting and more gradual reform.
Cardinal Becciu, whom Pope Francis had trusted and considered a loyal collaborator, was also behind the sudden ending of the first external audit of the Vatican in 2016 when attention turned to accounts of the Secretariat of State, and the ouster of the Vatican’s first auditor general, Libero Milone, after he started inquiring about Swiss bank accounts handled by the Secretariat of State.
Msgr. Perlasca, a former right-hand man of Cardinal Becciu when the latter was sostituto, has been widely reported in the Italian media as a key figure behind the chain of events that led the cardinal’s sudden and unexpected dismissal, after Msgr. Perlasca issued a “desperate and heartfelt cry for justice,” according to the Vaticanist Aldo Maria Valli.
But Cardinal Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, said the cardinal “decisively rejects” allegations against him, and what Cardinal Becciu called “imaginary privileged relations with the press used for defamatory purposes against senior prelates.”
“Since these facts are openly false, I have received an express mandate to report defamation from any source, in order to protect his [Cardinal Becciu’s] honor and reputation, before the competent judicial offices,” Viglione concluded.
Several sources have said Cardinal Pell, who returned to Rome on Wednesday, has conducted his own investigation into possible links between Vatican officials and false allegations against him of sexual abuse, and that his findings will also be part of any upcoming hearing.
The Register asked the cardinal if he could confirm he had made his own inquiries but he declined to comment “at this stage.”