The move was unexpected, and does not seem to have been long planned. Becciu had been scheduled to preside over the beatification of Ven. Carlo Acutis, which will take place in Assisi Oct. 10.
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 moved him to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. During his tenure in that position, he was linked to a number of financial scandals, most recently the Secretariat’s investment of hundreds of millions of euros with the Italian businessman Rafaelle Mincione and the controversial purchase of a London building.
CNA has previously reported that a substantial part of the $200 million used to finance the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a luxury development at 60 Sloane Avenue came through credit extended by BSI, a Swiss bank with a long track record of violating money-laundering and fraud safeguards in its dealings with sovereign wealth funds.
CNA has also reported that in 2015 Becciu seemed to have made an attempt to disguise the loans on Vatican balance sheets by cancelling them out against the value of the property purchased in the London neighborhood of Chelsea, an accounting maneuver prohibited by new financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014.
The alleged attempt to hide the loans off-books was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy, then led by Cardinal George Pell. Senior officials at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that when Pell began to demand details of the loans, especially those involving BSI, then-Archbishop Becciu called the cardinal in to the Secretariat of State for a “reprimand.”
Becciu has previously defended the London investment as “accepted practice,” despite Vatican prosecutors staging raids on the offices of several of Becciu’s closest collaborators in the Secretariat, and despite the arrest of one of the businessmen involved.
CNA has also reported that Becciu was involved in a complicated series of events and financial transactions around the purchase of the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), an Italian hospital that collapsed in 2013 under 800 million euros of debt through theft and fraud.
In 2016, Becciu was instrumental in bringing to a halt Vatican financial reforms initiated by Cardinal George Pell. Although Pope Francis had given the newly created Prefecture for the Economy autonomous oversight authority over Vatican finances, Becciu interfered when the prefecture planned an external audit of all Vatican departments, to be conducted by the firm PriceWaterhouseCooper.
Unilaterally, and without permission of Pope Francis, Becciu cancelled the audit and announced in a letter to all Vatican departments that it would not take place.
When Pell challenged internally the audit’s cancellation, Becciu persuaded Pope Francis to give his decision ex post facto approval, sources inside the prefecture told CNA. The audit never took place.
In 2017, Becciu was also responsible for the dismissal of the Vatican’s first-ever auditor general, Libero Milone.
Milone was fired in dramatic fashion by Becciu, who accused the auditor of “spying” on the finances of senior officials, including Becciu. The then-Archbishop Becciu threatened criminal prosecution of Milone if he did not agree to leave his Vatican office quietly.
Milone maintained that he was fired for being too good at his job, and because he and the reforming work of the Prefecture for the Economy were perceived as a threat to the autonomy and business practices of long-time Curial officials. He said that he was dismissed on trumped-up charges after he uncovered evidence of financial misconduct under Becciu’s leadership.
Also in 2017, as sostituto at the Secretariat of State, Becciu was involved in a complicated chain of events with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta that ended with the Grand Master of the Order being deposed, and Becciu being installed as special papal envoy charged with helping to reform the order.
At the center of that controversy were allegations that Vatican financial authorities had siphoned off more than 30 million euros from a 120 million euro bequest held in a Swiss bank account, in order to ease liquidity problems. The Order has said that the Vatican did not recieve any part of the funds.
In February 2017, Pope Francis named Becciu as his personal delegate to oversee the “spiritual and moral” reform of the Order of Malta, with particular attention to the professed members. It is unclear if he will continue in the role.
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Pope Francis created Becciu a cardinal on June 28, 2018. He was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on Aug. 31, 2018.
Editor's note: This post has been updated following a clarification from the Order of Malta.