Cardinal Becciu takes the stand: 'Accusations are unfounded'
By Salvatore Cernuzio
Delivered over the course of more than 2.5 hours, Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s spontaneous statement covered a wide range of topics, from his relations with the manager Cecilia Marogna and with Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, to bank transfers to Australia and the details of the sale of the London property, to his audience with the Pope on 24 September 2020, in which he was deprived of his rights as a Cardinal.
The fourteenth session of the trial in the Vatican for alleged financial wrongdoing, once again presided over by Giuseppe Pignatone, opened with the news that Msgr Perlasca, the former head of the administrative office of the Secretariat of State and considered the “key witness” in the trial, has joined the civil action. He will be represented by Angelo Alessandro Sammarco.
Becciu’s spontaneous statement
Seated in the centre of the multi-purpose hall of the Vatican Museums, holding a blue leather folder, the cardinal – in his second appearance on the stand – strongly reiterated his “absolute innocence,” as well as his dismay at having been exposed to a “public pillory of worldwide proportions.”
Saying he was “torn apart by an inner conflict” between the desire to defend himself and “the priestly dignity that leads me not to expose the evil done by others,” the cardinal, from 10:05am to 12:35pm spoke without interruption and dwelt on each of the charges.
Audience with the Pope on 24 September 2020
First, he returned to the so-called Sardinia affair, then to the bank transfers to Caritas of Ozieri and the Spes Cooperative, of which his brother Tonino is a member. The cardinal objected to the fact that the family member was “made to look like a ‘fixer’,” describing him instead as a man who has done a great deal for the poor and the community.
He then recalled the moment when “for the first time” such accusations were made against him personally – namely, at the audience with Pope Francis at the end of September 2020, which ended with Becciu’s resignation.
“The Holy Father,” Becciu said, “told me that following ad hoc investigations, he had been told that the funds from the Peter’s Pence charity that I sent to Caritas in my diocese of Ozieri had served to enrich my brothers, in particular my brother Tonino. He also told me that he was saddened that an Italian weekly magazine had already reported this serious accusation and that an article on the subject would soon be published.”
“A scandal of unprecedented gravity”
The cardinal explained in court that he was “speechless, so absurd and unfounded was that accusation.”
He said, “The transfer of the 125,000 Euro was the only accusation he made against me. The Holy Father told me expressly that he had no others. For the love of the Church, I, therefore, considered it necessary, with great sorrow, to resign from the post I held” [ed.: Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints].
From that point, he said, his life was “turned upside down”: “I was splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world; deprived of every ecclesiastical office; relegated to the margins of the Curia and the Church.” The cardinal said he still wonders today “why these false accusations were reported to the Pope,” creating in the Church “a scandal of unprecedented gravity.”
Investments of the Secretariat of State
Cardinal Becciu likewise described as “infamous” the accusations of embezzlement with regard to investments with the funds of the Secretariat of State, and specifically the illicit use of internal finances and of funds from Peter’s Pence for purposes other than charitable ones.
If the accusations had any merit, he said, “I would have abused my powers to enrich people substantially unknown to me.” He once again insisted, “All of the accusations are totally unfounded.”
Perlasca and “the investigation that overwhelmed him”
The cardinal dwelt at length on the figure of Monsignor Perlasca, whom he described as a “highly experienced technical expert with a high level of dedication to his office,” a man of “the utmost trust,” but also an “irascible and touchy” personality, “jealous of his own autonomy,” with the great ambition of becoming an apostolic nuncio.
Monsignor Perlasca always had positive relations with him while Becciu was Substitute at the Secretariat of State, he said, until the investigation “that prostrated him terribly”.
The monsignor ended up “in the grip of profound loneliness” and experienced the “great bitterness” of being removed from his post in the Dicastery.
Cardinal Becciu said that Msgr Perlasca asked him for help to defend his position and to meet with the Pope. The audience took place but did not improve his mood, the cardinal said, before describing a dramatic text message in which Perlasca announced his intention of committing suicide by throwing himself out of the window of his room.
According to Cardinal Becciu, Monsignor Perlasca felt it was “the only possible solution to get out of a situation that left him no chance of proving his innocence.” Cardinal Becciu said he alerted several people, including the gendarmes, and personally went to the Casa Santa Marta where Perlasca was staying. The priest was also given a sedative that evening.
Cardinal Becciu said in court that he had always been at his collaborator’s side and that, after the summer, he invited him to dinner “to repay him for his caring assistance.” However, he said, at the restaurant he found “a different man, very strange and touchy.” The cardinal went on to say, “After that dinner, he distanced himself from me.”
A ‘disturbing figure’
The situation was aggravated, Cardinal Becciu said, by the emergence of a “disturbing figure”: a woman who said her name was Genevieve Putignani, born Genoveffa Ciferri, who contacted Becciu as someone close to Perlasca and, in brusque tones, asked “to speak to the Pope to defend his innocence”.
The woman, who claimed to be a former secret service agent, began pestering him with phone calls, the cardinal said, accusing him of having done nothing for the monsignor. He described one scene where she came to his flat “beatifying” Perlasca, reproaching Becciu, and expressing “uncomplimentary sentiments directed at the Pope.”
The cardinal said he became impatient and sent her away, and claimed she responded with a threat: “If you do not do everything to restore honour and employment to Perlasca, you will lose your cardinal’s hat.” In a phone call to the cardinal’s other brother, Mario, “she told him to get ready to visit me in prison.” Cardinal Becciu said she warned him on 10 September that between the 15th and 30th of the month I would lose the cardinalate. “I lost it on 24 September,” Becciu said in his testimony.
He also revealed, among other things, that on the basis of investigations conducted by lawyers, he discovered that Genoveffa Ciferri had donated real estate to Perlascain in 2017 in exchange for “suitable moral and spiritual assistance” and the assurance of “celebrating or having celebrated Gregorian Masses in suffrage or after death for five years, in accordance diocesan rate.”
Cecilia Marogna: ‘very competent'
One other woman figured prominently in Becciu’s statement: Cecilia Marogna, the manager from Cagliari (who has also been charged) who presented herself to him as an intelligence expert and an aspiring collaborator of the Holy See to help free religious who had been kidnapped in global trouble spots. For this mission, the cardinal allegedly provided her with large sums of money, which she then used for purchases “incompatible with the purpose imposed on her by the Secretariat of State.”
Marogna met the cardinal in 2016 and, he said, he immediately had a “good impression” of her, seeing her as particularly “competent,” with good connections in the Vatican and among the Italian Secret Services.
The “lady” proposed herself as an intermediary for the release of Sister Gloria Cecilia Navaes Goti, a Colombian Franciscan kidnapped in Mali in 2017. “She referred me to a British intelligence agency, Inkerman, with which she could profitably interface by activating all the operations necessary for the release of Sister Gloria.”
Becciu informed the Pope, who, he said, was “pleased,” and “immediately understood the need not to expose the Vatican to useless, and indeed harmful, publicity.” The Pope, said Cardinal Becciu, “gave me the authorization to proceed and, when I explicitly asked if I should have spoken to the Commander of the Gendarmerie, he said no, adding that the matter should remain confidential between him and me.”
The nun was actually released on 21 October 2021. Marogna was paid into different accounts. The expenses were intended to secure the nun’s release, but, according to the prosecution, the manager used much of the money to buy clothing, accessories, and luxury furniture.
Investment with Falcon Oil
In his lengthy statement, Cardinal Becciu also touched on two further issues.
The first was the investment with Falcon Oil, an oil company in Angola, owned by entrepreneur Antonio Mosquito, his “friend” during Becciu’s time in the nunciature to the African country. Mosquito, a “benefactor of the Nunciature,” proposed the purchase of the right to exploit the fields of Well 15, also owned by [Italian energy company] ENI.
Becciu reported the possible investment to the Secretariat of State: “My intervention was limited to reporting the simple proposal, and on several occasions, I urged Perlasca to rigorously carry out all the necessary checks to protect the Holy See from any possible financial risk.”
The negotiations did not go forward. Becciu said he did not protest because, he said, he cared more about the “greater good of the Holy See” than about any “personal interest.”
Case of Cardinal Pell
The second issue concerned bank transfers sent to Australia, amounting to about 2.3 million Australian dollars, during the period of the abuse trial against Cardinal George Pell. Two years ago, some media outlets suggested that Becciu – who, at the time, was Substitute of the Secretariat of State – had financed false testimonies to the detriment of the Australian cardinal, with whom he had differences in the Curia.
In his testimony on Thursday, Cardinal Becciu denounced the accusation as “shameful… an ignoble and unbearable inference.” He read part of a letter from Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin stating that the sum was used to pay for the Internet domain “.catholic.”
From correspondence, Becciu claimed to have discovered that, among other things, it was Cardinal Pell himself who had authorized this payment, in a letter from 2015. Cardinal Becciu said he was saddened that Cardinal Pell “had fallen into this misunderstanding.”
Cross-examination by the Promoter of Justice
Following Cardinal Becciu’s statement, the hearing continued with questioning by the Deputy Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi. Almost three hours of questioning was characterized by strong tensions between the promoter and the defence lawyers, to the point where Pignatone, the presiding judge, became impatient and exclaimed: “Enough! I’m tired of your bickering” and called a five–minute break “to calm everyone down.”
The defence lawyers’ ire was raised when Diddi asked the cardinal to further explain the conversation with the Pope on 24 September, given that many details had already been reconstructed in the summons against the newspaper L’Espresso “in an analytical manner, minute by minute.”
Becciu, however, wanted to respond. He said the Pope told him that, based on the investigation by the Guardia di Finanza, after the cardinal had sent the money (then 100,000 Euro) to Ozieri, the Vatican magistrates had seen “that the little hand of his brother Tonino had removed the money.”
The Pope, the cardinals added, had also heard about “a newspaper that is about to come out with a news story” and therefore said: “In the face of public opinion, I have to distance myself from a collaborator of mine who is accused of stealing money.” Cardinal Becciu said that when he returned home, he phoned the bishop of Ozieri and his brother asking where the money was. Both confirmed that it was in the account of the diocese.
Press conference after the resignation
The day after the audience, Becciu invited journalists to a press conference in an institute close to St Peter’s – a move seen by many as disrespectful to the Pontiff.
At the Promoter’s request, the cardinal explained his action by saying he wanted to hold the conference because, after the Vatican Press Office statement, he was “harassed by so many phone calls” from “journalists who thought I had resigned because of sex crimes.”
He said, “It disturbed me enormously, it unnerved me quite a bit. I didn’t want to be accused of those crimes.”
Carlino and Milone
Cardinal Becciu then clarified his relationship with Monsignor Mauro Carlino, also a defendant: for him, he was always and only a secretary. He defined his relations with the former auditor general, Libero Milone, as “very courteous.”
On the “fate” of the auditor, who ceased to hold office in the Vatican in 2017 (against his will, according to Milone), the cardinal did not want to answer “for the love of the Holy Father.”
The Assistant Promoter also asked numerous questions about the investments of the Secretariat of State.
In the courtroom, Diddi also displayed a chart listing all the contributions made to the dioceses in the years when Becciu was Substitute, including Buenos Aires, Carpi, Rieti, Norcia, and Bucharest. “Ehh, Ozieri the first of all in seven years. I’m proud of it,” the cardinal exclaimed. He then reiterated that he had always been very “strict” about the fact that the resources of Peter’s Pence were not directed to purposes other than charity.
He also said that the Secretariat of State was a sort of “ivory tower”, with its own sovereignty over finances that no one could enter. This, at least, is how it has always been and has continued to be even after the birth of the economic bodies set up by Pope Francis, first and foremost the Secretariat of the Economy which – despite the attempts of the then Prefect, Cardinal Pell – only had the task of supervision.
Credit Suisse, Lombard and Mincione
Finally, Cardinal Becciu was asked to account for the so-called “Lombard” investment, the transfer of all the economic assets of the Secretariat of State into a single account in order to benefit from the interest.
In 2013, all deposits were transferred to Credit Suisse. Why there? The cardinal said he did not remember or know the details of the operation, which was planned by “insiders” such as Fabrizio Tirabassi and the financier Enrico Crasso, consultant to the Secretariat of State since the 1990s, with Perlasca’s consent. Credit Suisse, he said, “seemed a trustworthy bank.”
The same bank proposed the name of broker Raffaele Mincione (also a defendant) as an expert in the oil sector to lead the negotiations with Falcon Oil.
Mincione – about whom the Secretariat of State asked the Gendarmerie for information following articles that were not very “laudatory” – then suggested investing in the Sloane Avenue building in London. The deal was then passed on to the broker Gianluigi Torzi.
The rest is more or less known history on which the judicial proceedings are intended to shed light. Pignatone, however, noted, “we are still on the periphery of the process.”