ROME—The strange case of a top Vatican cardinal who Pope Francis dismissed in September has just taken a Machiavellian turn that would make Dan Brown proud.
Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the Vatican’s former secretary of state and, until recently, head of the Holy See’s saint-making wing, has been accused of funneling some $800,000 of the pope’s charity money to Australia to buy false testimony against his archrival, Cardinal George Pell, while he was on trial for sexually abusing choir boys in Australia more than 30 years ago.
Becciu adamantly denies all wrongdoing, issuing a statement Monday in which he said, “I categorically deny interfering in any way in the trial of Cardinal Pell.”
Pell, who mysteriously returned to Rome last week despite a ban on Australians traveling abroad, was first convicted in 2018, and then acquitted of historical clerical sex abuse in April, after what was known as the “cathedral trial” because the alleged crimes happened in Melbourne’s main basilica. The trial in which he was acquitted came after a hung jury on the same case. A subsequent trial that involved accusations of Pell grabbing young boys’ genitals in a public swimming club, known as the “swimmers trial,” was dropped when Pell was convicted.
Pell left Rome in 2017 while serving as the pope’s top financial czar as head of the Secretariat of the Economy. The pope never removed him from that post, even after his conviction, but the term expired in 2019 and Pell’s mandate was not renewed. The role has not been filled since.
It was during that time as the Vatican’s No. 3 that he first accused Becciu—who was then the Vatican’s secretary of state and thus the church’s No. 2—of financial improprieties tied to dodgy loans, a property in London’s Sloane Square, and mysterious transfers of cash from the papal charity known as Peter’s Pence to his brother in Sardinia.
At the time, Pell ordered an audit into the Holy See’s financial discrepancies, which was halted by Becciu, who was Pell’s superior. It is unclear what Pope Francis said at the time Becciu pulled rank to stop the audit.
Over the weekend, Italian newspapers were slipped leaked summaries of what is being reported as the Vatican’s internal investigation into Becciu’s alleged crimes. Those leaks imply that Becciu is being investigated for funneling around $800,000 to conservative groups in Australia meant to buy hostile testimony against Pell in his pedophile trial. Pell was unanimously convicted in February 2019 for assaulting two former choir boys in a cathedral while he was archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s. His conviction was overturned in April after an appellate court found that the testimony was lacking.
The Italian leaks also refer to a 39-year-old woman named as Cecilia Morogna, who is described as Becciu’s niece and reported to be involved in some of the transfers. But the investigation leaks imply that Morogna is no relative of Becciu’s at all and is in fact part of a Freemasonry Roosevelt Movement. Grainy photos run in the papers imply that she has been seen in the cardinal’s company several times in Rome.
On Monday in Melbourne, a lawyer representing the primary witness in the trial against Pell adamantly denied receiving money for his testimony. Viv Waller represents the alleged victim, whose name has not been made public because of privacy issues related to child sex-abuse allegations. She said her client’s testimony was genuine. “My client denies any knowledge or receipt of any payments,” she told reporters in Melbourne. “He won’t be commenting further in response to these allegations.”
Pell’s Australian lawyer, Robert Richter, has instead insisted that these claims of paid-for testimony be investigated. “They are concerning allegations and require thorough investigation of the money trail, wherever that may be,” he said Monday.
The Vatican has not issued comment on the latest allegations beyond confirming that its investigation into Becciu and at least six others continues in secrecy.