Cardinal Pell highlights 'somewhat incomplete' account given by Cardinal Becciu at Vatican finance trial

20201209_His_Eminence_George_Pell_Cardinal_Prefect_emeritus_of_theSecretariat_for_the_Economy_Daniel_Ibez_2.jpg Cardinal George Pell, prefect emeritus of the Secretariat of the Economy, speaks with EWTN News in Rome, Dec. 9, 2020. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Cardinal George Pell said Friday that the recent testimony of Cardinal Angelo Becciu at the Vatican finance trial “was somewhat incomplete.”

He drew particular attention to a lack of evidence regarding payments of more than $1.6 million made to Neustar Australia, an information services firm, in 2017 and 2018.

Becciu, who was the second-ranking official in the Secretariat of State from 2011 to 2018, was questioned May 5 about investments during a hearing in the Vatican trial. The cardinal has been charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, and witness tampering.

In a May 6 statement, Pell said Becciu had given “a spirited defence of his blameless subordinate role in the Vatican finances” during his testimony.

As prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Pell led an effort called for by Pope Francis to bring order and accountability to the Vatican's finances, which have long lacked centralized procedures, controls, and oversight. 

Pell clashed in that role with Becciu, who as sostituto of the Secretariat of State served effectively as the pope's chief of staff. Becciu at one point acted to cancel a contract Pell had made for an external audit of Vatican finances.

Reflecting on Becciu’s statement at the trial, Pell said he wanted to focus “on Cardinal Becciu’s final remarks on the AUD 2.3 million [$1.6m] paid to Neustar for the internet domain ‘.catholic’ on 4/9/2015. Was the payment from the Council for Social Communications or from the Secretariat of State? The introduction of this claim only deepens the mystery.”

Pell added that Becciu’s statement to the court differed from what he had told him in December 2020, “that the destination of the funds from the Secretariat of State to Australia was none of my business, but was known to the Holy Father.”

It is undisputed, Pell said, that the Pontifical Council for Social Communications made large payments to Neustar Australia and a domain name registry “for the reservation of the title “Catholic” in 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.”

“Doubts, of course, are removed by facts, by evidence, not assertions. Unfortunately, I do not have information on payments to Neustar Australia in 2015 beyond USD 150,000 the Council for Social Communications paid as a deposit. It was not my usual practice to sign off on payments from the Secretariat of State,” Pell wrote.

Pell stated: “My interest is focussed on four payments with a value of AUD 2.3 million made by the Secretariat of State in 2017 and 2018 to Neustar Australia.”

He said two of these, with a value of $874,000, “were authorised by Monsignor Becciu on 17/5/2017 and 6/6/2018.”

“Obviously,” Pell wrote, “these are different payments from those of 11/9/2015 which I allegedly authorised. What was the purpose? Where did the money go after Neustar?”

At the time those payments were sent, Pell was being investigated and and was then on trial for sex abuse in Australia. The coincidence has led to suggestions that the funds were related to Pell’s trial in some way. Pell was convicted, but was subsequently acquitted by a unanimous judgement of the High Court of Australia.

Pell also noted in his statement that Becciu’s testimony failed to “explain the Secretariat of State’s rejection of the papally approved supervisory role of the new Council and Secretariat for the Economy.”

“He did not explain his role in the sacking of the auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and in the resignation of the Auditor, Libero Milone; both mandated to investigate Secretariat of State finances. His bizarre account of how the Secretariat of State spent the entire amount of Peter’s Pence (“Cosa mai restava quindi dell’Obolo? Niente!”) is at odds with the official publicity for the fund, the Catholic people’s understanding and the annual Vatican financial reports,” the Australian cardinal stated.

He added that discussion of APSA is “irrelevant,” as it “never had a supervisory role with the Secretariat of State finances.”

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Pell concluded his statement suggesting that knowledge of the nature of Vatican finances under Becciu will come eventually: “Let us see. Truth is the daughter of time.”

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