A Fall From Grace, A Court Case, the Consistory: Four Twists and Turns in the Life of Cardinal Angelo Becciu

The 74-year-old cardinal from the Italian island region of Sardinia was once one of the most powerful men in the Vatican before he was investigated for financial wrongdoing and charged with crimes including embezzlement, fraud, and extortion.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu. (photo: Credit: Claude Truong-Ngoc / (CC BY-SA 4.0))

The possible reinstatement of the cardinal privileges of Cardinal Angelo Becciu made headlines this week after the former official said he would be attending the Church’s upcoming consistories, or meetings of cardinals, reportedly by invitation of Pope Francis.

The 74-year-old cardinal from the Italian island region of Sardinia was once one of the most powerful men in the Vatican before he was investigated for financial wrongdoing and charged with crimes including embezzlement, fraud, and extortion.

After more than a year on trial, Becciu continues to defend his innocence and the good intentions behind his actions.

Here is a run-down of all the twists and turns of the last few years for Cardinal Becciu:

1. Fall From Grace

Cardinal Becciu served as “sostituto,” or second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, from 2011 to 2018, when Pope Francis named him a cardinal and made him prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

While serving at the saints’ congregation, media reports began to link Cardinal Becciu to financial scandals at the Vatican, accusing him of “embezzlement” during his time at the Secretariat of State. Becciu was also under investigation by the Vatican.

On the evening of Sept. 24, 2020, the Vatican published a statement announcing that Pope Francis had accepted Becciu’s resignation from his position at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and, in an extremely rare move, also from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals.

In a press conference the next day, Cardinal Becciu denied the accusations and said his resignation had followed a short meeting with Pope Francis, who asked him to give up the “privileges” of cardinals.

“I felt I was a friend of the pope, a faithful agent of the pope ... and then there, speaking, he tells me that he no longer trusts me,” Becciu told journalists on Sept. 25, 2020.

2. After the Resignation

Unlike other situations in which cardinals had renounced their privileges, the Vatican never specified precisely which rights Cardinal Becciu had given up. 

Cardinal Becciu did not, however, continue to attend public ecclesiastical events with other members of the College of Cardinals.

In April 2021, Pope Francis invited Cardinal Becciu to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass with him in the chapel of Becciu’s private apartment — a move some thought to mean the pope was going to reinstate the cardinal’s privileges.

But sources close to the Vatican said afterward that the visit was pastoral, not a reinstatement.  

3. Becciu Goes to Court

In summer 2021, Vatican prosecutors formally charged Becciu and nine other defendants in the so-called Vatican “trial of the century” after a two-year investigation. 

Since July 27, 2021, the cardinal has been on trial on charges of embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, extortion, and abuse of office. 

The trial marks the first time a cardinal is tried by lay judges in the Vatican court. 

In early 2021, Pope Francis changed Vatican law to allow cardinals to be tried by the city state's court and not only by a special tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

A little over a month after the trial's start, the pope told Spanish broadcaster COPE he hoped “with all my heart” that Cardinal Becciu is proven innocent.

“Besides, he was a collaborator of mine and helped me a lot. He is a person for whom I have a certain esteem as a person, that is to say, that my wish is that it turns out well,” Francis said.

The cardinal has consistently denied all wrongdoing.

4. Participating in Consistories?

This week Cardinal Becciu said he would participate in the extraordinary consistory of cardinals taking place Aug. 29-30, and in the ordinary consistory to create new cardinals on Aug. 27, after receiving a phone call from Pope Francis.

Cardinal Becciu announced the news during a private Mass on Aug. 21 celebrated in Golfo Aranci in his native Sardinia, where he was on vacation.

It appears to possibly be a reintegration of the cardinal privileges of Cardinal Becciu, who has not participated in a consistory since his resignation on Sept. 24, 2020.

Taking part in consistories is part of the rights and prerogatives of a cardinal, as outlined in canons 349, 353, and 356 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law.

The rights described in Canon 349 include the participation in the election of a pope as a cardinal elector and assisting the current pope in the work of the daily care of the universal Church.

Canon 353 addresses a cardinal’s ability to take part in ordinary and extraordinary consistories, while Canon 356 states that cardinals are bound to actively collaborate with the pope, requiring them to live in Rome unless they hold the position of a diocesan bishop.

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