VATICAN CITY – One day after his sudden, surprising dismissal by Pope Francis, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, a powerful Vatican official, confirmed at a news conference in Rome on Friday (Sept 25) that the Pope disciplined him over allegations of corruption.
But the cardinal declared that he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
“My conscience tells me I am not corrupt,” Cardinal Becciu said when reporters peppered him with questions about embezzlement allegations.
He said he was “a bit dazed”, and still grappling with what he described as a “surreal” situation.
Over a career spanning decades in the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Becciu had become a heavyweight in the Vatican hierarchy, described by one Vatican observer as the “finest, most informed and attentive diplomat working inside the Holy See”.
His most recent position was head of the Vatican department that creates saints.
But he also emerged in recent years as a major character in conspiracies about alleged attempts to undercut financial reforms promoted by Cardinal George Pell, who headed the Vatican’s economic arm until he had to return to Australia to face accusations of sexual abuse.
Cardinal Becciu said at the news conference that his life had been upturned after the Pope told him on Thursday afternoon “that he no longer has faith in me, because prosecutors told him that I had committed acts of embezzlement.”
He said he turned pale, and that the Pope, too, appeared to be “suffering” as he asked the cardinal to step down from his departmental position.
He also was stripped of the rights that come with being a cardinal, including voting for the next pontiff.
There has been much speculation in the media that Cardinal Becciu was ousted because of a murky and complicated London real estate deal in which the Vatican is thought to have lost millions – including funds from “Peter’s Pence”, donations for charity given by the faithful.
But the cardinal said the real estate transaction hadn’t come up at all during his meeting with the Pope.
And he said that funds from Peter’s Pence had not been used to finance the acquisition of the London property.
The Vatican on Friday declined to comment.
The cardinal also responded to widespread media reports of his alleged corruption during his long stint at the Secretariat of State, the Vatican department which oversees the diplomacy and administration of the Holy See.
He went over each allegation, proclaiming his innocence.
The prelate said that he had not been contacted by prosecutors, but that he would be willing to speak to them.
He accused the media of having an agenda “to show that Becciu financed his family, made his family rich”.
But he insisted that this is not true.
“You can go and see how they live,” he said of his family members. “Their house, which cars they drive and how many they have, you’ll see that their life has continued as normal.”
When he’d walked into the meeting with the Pope on Thursday, Cardinal Becciu said he had felt “like a friend of the Pope, a faithful executor of the Pope”.
But even after his dressing down, he said of Pope Francis: “I will never betray him.”
He said he hoped that Pope Francis would see “that it was all a big misunderstanding”.