But while the Holy See has not officially acknowledged the reasons for Becciu's departure, he has now become the first curial cardinal, at least in the modern era, to be dismissed for financial misconduct – something few would have predicted when Francis was elected in 2013.
While Becciu's dismissal has taken many in the media by surprise, the drumbeat of reports in recent years has indicated that Vatican prosecutors were – at last – being given a free hand to pursue their work wherever it led.
In October 2019, several of Becciu's former employees and closest collaborators at the Secretariat of State were the subject of a raid by investigators. By February, Becciu's former deputy and effective right hand man, who had moved on to a position at the Vatican's supreme court, was raided and suspended.
The arrest of Gianluigi Torzi, a key player in the London property deal that triggered the initial investigation into Becciu's old department, was a major sign prosecutors were intent on bringing charges, not just filing reports.
Perhaps the most significant development came in July, when a search and seizure warrant was served on Italian businessman Rafaelle Mincione in a Roman hotel. That warrant was sought by Vatican prosecutors, but it was issued by an Italian magistrate and served by Italian state police, indicating that the investigation was sufficiently developed to convince Italian authorities to intervene.
But after generational attempts to bring order to Vatican finances, what makes this attempt different?
In addition to the spotlight which has fallen on Becciu and his collaborators over the last year, Vatican prosecutors have also had the unfortunate benefit of an acute cash crunch developing for the Holy See, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Bluntly put: When there is less money around, it is harder to hide what is missing.
At the same time, Moneyval, the EU Commission's anti-money laundering watchdog, has made repeated inspections of the Vatican's financial institutions – with another progress report due out in the next few months. While they have expressed satisfaction with some of the financial structural reforms brought in under Pope Francis, they have repeatedly noted the Vatican's poor record of prosecuting criminal financial behavior, increasing the pressure on investigators to bring charges.
This pressure will have increased exponentially if Italian prosecutors plan to bring charges of their own: the Vatican simply cannot risk appearing to have shied away from bringing a case if the Italian courts get involved.
Becciu has insisted on his innocence, and demanded he be given the opportunity to prove it. Lucky for him, in this case, his desire may well align perfectly with those of the Vatican prosecutors and financial inspectors. A public trial of curial officials, headlined by a cardinal, may be the last thing many in the Vatican wanted or expected to see. But it may now become the next stage of a story that still has a long way to go.