Is Cardinal Becciu Being Rehabilitated?

Why did Pope Francis visit Cardinal Becciu on Holy Thursday?

Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu speaks with journalists aboard the papal flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka on Jan. 12, 2015.
Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu speaks with journalists aboard the papal flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka on Jan. 12, 2015. (photo: Alan Holdren / CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis' private visit to Cardinal Angelo Becciu on Holy Thursday set off speculation about whether the pope is attempting to rehabilitate the disgraced cardinal

The real reasons why Pope Francis asked Cardinal Becciu to resign as Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints and renounce his prerogatives as a cardinal late last year were never spelled out formally by the Vatican or Cardinal Becciu.  

Nevertheless, according to information leaked to the press, Cardinal Becciu is currently under investigation for embezzlement, abuse of office, and “offense to the King” – that is, the pope – a little-known crime that is still part of the Vatican penal code.  

It is also known that Cardinal Becciu was involved in two cases: the Secretariat of State’s investment in a luxury real estate venture in London – which was finalized by his successor Edgar Pena Parra and is now under scrutiny by Vatican magistrates – and the mismanagement of the Secretariat of State’s purse, of which the Secretariat has now been stripped.

The second case regards a series of suspicious transfers to Cecilia Marogna, an intelligence analyst and supposed mediator for the liberation of five nuns kidnapped in Africa.

The 39-year-old Marogna was later incarcerated and became the object of a Vatican international arrest request. Italian authorities later revoked Marogna's arrest, in a decision that criticized the Holy See, saying the incarceration had a “motivational vacuum”, i.e. there was no apparent reason for it.

Since the beginning of the Cardinal Becciu-related investigations in October 2019, there have been six Vatican officials suspended: two of them – both priests – were sent back to their home dioceses; another one was not renewed in his position; two of them got early retirement; one of them was transferred to another office, effectively demoted.

But the Holy Thursday visit sparked rumors of a possible rehabilitation for Cardinal Becciu, especially when the Vatican press office was slow to confirm the visit, while a person close to Cardinal Becciu said that “Pope Francis himself” gave the cardinal permission to spread the news of the visit. 

In another bizarre twist to the story, the official Vatican News portal finally reported the pope's visit to Cardinal Becciu, quoting “sources from the Focolare movement” and stressing that “since it is a private appointment of the Holy Father, there are no official confirmations for this news.”

However, if Pope Francis had wanted to rehabilitate Cardinal Becciu, clear communication on his visit would have been the order of the day, authorized by the pope himself. If fact, when Cardinal Becciu resigned, the pope wanted an official Bollettino to go out so fast that Cardinal Becciu found out that the news had been made official only when he got back home.

Why, then, did Pope Francis visit Becciu? 

It is known that Pope Francis likes to spend Holy Thursday Mass with prisoners and other marginalized groups. Cardinal Becciu is currently marginalized and under investigation. So, as one source told CNA, “The pope treated Cardinal Becciu like any other inmate.”

It is also possible that the pope wanted to show a gesture of mercy. The investigations are stalled, and the latest reports suggest Vatican prosecutors are not even close to a decision. The gesture also shifts the news focus away from Vatican judicial system's perils to the visit itself.

However, Pope Francis' visit could in no way be in view for rehabilitation, a source confident with the Vatican judicial system told CNA. 

“Cardinal Becciu's issue is in the Vatican prosecutor's hands,” the source said. “There are two options: either the pope exercises his power as Supreme Authority, interferes with the judicial power, and asks to stop the investigation; or the pope will make a paternal gesture, leaving the issue in the prosecutor's hands.”

According to the same sources within the Vatican tribunal, the investigation into Cardinal Becciu might be concluded “within 40 days,” and “only then will we know if there will be indictments.”

This means that Cardinal Becciu will have to wait for any eventual rehabilitation.

Stripped of his duties as well as of his rights as a cardinal, Cardinal Becciu might also testify in Italian court, probably more than once, since he has sued L’Espresso, the Italian magazine that broke many of the more damning stories against the cardinal and his family.

Whatever the Pope’s intention to visit him was, only time will tell if Cardinal Becciu will be prosecuted or if he will regain the rights that go with his red hat. 

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The Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat, who has also been representing the Holy Father in South Sudan, highlighted the need to seek God’s mercy as important and implored: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”