Powerful Vatican cardinal Angelo Becciu resigns amid financial scandal

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A powerful Vatican cardinal accused of siphoning off funds to help his siblings has said he found the allegations against him “surreal”.

Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, 72, told a press conference in Rome he was ready to “give my life for the pope” after the Vatican announced on Thursday night that said he had resigned and had therefore “given up the rights associated with being a cardinal”, including his right to take part in an eventual conclave to elect a pope.

“They accuse me of embezzlement and of favouring [my] brothers, surreal,” Becciu told reporters. “I have not enriched my family. “I hope the pope realises that it is all a misunderstanding.”

He said he was “ready to sue” and “ready to clarify with my lawyers, I am a normal citizen”.

The Vatican did not give a reason for Becciu’s resignation but it came before publication of an investigation by the Italian weekly news magazine L’Espresso in which it was alleged he had given at least €600,000 (£550,000) to a charity cooperative run by one of his brothers in Sardinia.

Becciu, who until 2018 was deputy secretary of state, one of the most powerful positions in the Vatican, was also caught up in a controversial deal in which the secretariat used church money to purchase a luxury building in London as an investment.

Relinquishing the right to participate in an enclave that elects the next pope suggests the reasons for a resignation or dismissal are serious. The last time this happened was in 2018 when the US cardinal Theodore McCarrick was accused of the sexual abuse of children.

The Vatican has not yet responded to a request by the Guardian for an explanation behind its brief statement, but Becciu told the Rome-based newspaper Il Messaggero that he was asked to step aside.

“I am shocked. Troubled,” he said. “[This is] a blow to me, my family and the people of my country. In the spirit of obedience and out of love for the church and the pope, I accepted his request to step aside. But I am innocent and I will prove it. I ask the Holy Father for the right to defend myself.”

The investigation into the London property deal led to the suspension last year of five Vatican employees, the resignation of its police chief and the departure of the former head of its financial information authority. Becciu has defended the investment, saying it was consistent with standard practice and has not lost the Vatican any money. He has insisted he always acted in the sole interests of the Holy See.

According to Il Messaggero, the move by Pope Francis was not based on the property deal but on evidence that Becciu allegedly committed embezzlement connected to the transfer of €100,000 to the charity, which helps refugees, run by his brother in his diocese in Ozieri, Sardinia. The newspaper reported that the money was still in the charity’s bank account.

“The most problematic thing about the whole issue is that there’s no transparency,” said Robert Mickens, the Rome-based editor of the English-language edition of Catholic daily newspaper La Croix.

“Again – this is very typical when they sack a bishop and that’s what’s happened here. They sacked an official and they keep using these euphemisms and these silly word games such as ‘he handed in his resignation’. Nobody resigns from being a cardinal. It’s the pinnacle of the ecclesiastical career, nobody is just going to relinquish that.”

Mickens added: “The Vatican probably wanted to get ahead of the curve on the L’Espresso article, and I hope they say something [more] as they just leave themselves open to other people setting the narrative.”