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Gerard O’ConnellApril 01, 2021
Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu is seen at the Vatican in this 2018 photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In a significant pastoral move, Pope Francis celebrated the Mass commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus before his passion and crucifixion in the private chapel of the demoted Cardinal Angelo Becciu, in his Vatican apartment, this Holy Thursday evening, April 1.

Vatican News reports that sources from the Focolare movement confirm that the pope celebrated the Mass in Cardinal Becciu’s chapel, which was attended by the sisters who assist the cardinal and some members of the Focolare movement. The news was broken by Francesco Grana, an Italian journalist known to be very close to the cardinal. He wrote: “The pope has celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 5.30 p.m. this afternoon in the chapel of the private apartment of his eminence, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, in the palace of the Holy Office. The cardinal charged me to make this known.”

At the time of writing, the news has not been officially confirmed by the Vatican. A Vatican official who wished to remain anonymous told a representative of the Vatican press corps that “I do not have any information to give about the commitments of the Holy Father but I would not consider as strange such a paternal gesture from the pope.” It was the closest thing to a confirmation that we are likely to get today.

Over the past days there has been much speculation regarding what Pope Francis might do this evening, since he had decided not to preside at the celebration of the commemoration of the Last Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica and had instead delegated this role to the dean of the college of cardinals, Giovanni Battista Re. It now seems that the answer is to be found here.

Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Beccui’s resignation on Sept. 24, 2020, from his position as prefect of the Congregation for Saints, and his renunciation of all the rights inherent to his being a cardinal, including the right to vote in a conclave. He only retained the title of cardinal.

While he has insistently protested his innocence of any wrongdoing, it is well known in Rome that Cardinal Becciu has suffered greatly after his sudden fall from grace. Some describe him as a broken man who is living under a cloud of uncertainty because of the possibility that in the coming months he may have to answer for his actions before a Vatican tribunal. It is known that he has sought one or more private audiences with the pope, which Francis is said to have granted.

Today’s celebration would appear to fit well into this pattern of Francis the pastor seeking to bring consolation and healing to the wounded man. On the other hand, there is no solid reason to believe that by this evening’s gesture Francis has signalled that he has backtracked on his original decision or intends to reinstate Cardinal Becciu’s rights and privileges as a cardinal.

Before being made cardinal by Pope Francis in June 2018, then-Archbishop Becciu held the second-highest ranking position at the Vatican as “substitute,” or chief of staff, from May 10, 2011 to June 2018, first under Pope Benedict XVI. His position was confirmed by Francis when he became pope. He was one of the most powerful men in the Roman Curia in those years.

The 72-year-old cardinal was born in Sardinia and entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See, where he served as nuncio to Angola and Cuba before he became chief of staff.

It is well known in Rome that Cardinal Becciu has suffered greatly after his sudden fall from grace. Today’s celebration would appear to fit into this pattern of Francis the pastor seeking to bring consolation and healing to the wounded man.

The Vatican never explained the reasons for the pope’s acceptance of Cardinal Becciu’s resignation, but at the time it was seen as connected to the scandal around the purchase of the London Sloane Avenue properties. A judicial investigation of that real estate deal by Vatican magistrates is ongoing. A number of Vatican employees have been suspended because of it so far. Vatican prosecutors have not yet brought charges against anyone related to the scandal, but since Cardinal Becciu was one of the main figures involved in the original decision regarding the purchase of the property, it would seem reasonable to conclude that his resignation is linked to this. He has denied all wrongdoing, and has prepared a legal dossier in which he also sought redress in monetary terms for losing the possibility to be pope.

Shortly after his meeting with the pope on Sept. 24, 2020, Cardinal Becciu told the Italian daily, Il Messagero, “I am shocked. Disturbed. [It’s] a blow for me, for my family and the people of my town. Out of a spirit of obedience and love that I have for the church and the pope, I accepted his request to step aside. But I am innocent, and I will show it. I asked the Holy Father to have the right to defend myself.”

The following day, Sept. 25, the clearly distraught 72-year-old Sardinian-born cardinal, who for over seven years met Pope Francis almost every day and was seen as one in whom Francis had maximum confidence, told what happened at his dramatic meeting with the pope.

He said that as he entered the pope’s room at 6:02 p.m. (local time) for his usual weekly work report, “I felt a friend of the pope and a loyal servant of the pope.” But almost immediately Francis stunned him by telling him straight out: “I do not trust you anymore!”

He said the pope explained that the Vatican magistrates, based on an investigation by the Italian Finance Guards, had informed him that the cardinal had committed “a crime of embezzlement.” According to the magistrates, he said, the crime was committed during his tenure as “substitute in the Secretariat of State” or chief of staff, when he made a bank transfer for 100,000 euros ($116,000) from funds of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State to the Caritas organization in his home diocese of Ozieri in Sardinia for the benefit of a cooperative that is affiliated with Caritas. It assists migrants and poor unemployed people.

A key factor is the fact that his brother is the president of the cooperative. The charge was of embezzlement and “favoring” one of his family.

The cardinal described his 20-minute meeting with Francis as “surreal.” He said he tried to explain to the pope that the money was not for his brother, but only for the work of Caritas, that his order to transfer the money was “within his discretionary powers” as chief of staff, as is clear from the mandate given him at the time of his appointment.

But he said Francis, convinced by the magistrates, asked for his resignation as prefect and for his renunciation of his rights as cardinal and he submitted this immediately.

Just over one hour later, the Vatican press office informed the world that Pope Francis had accepted “the renunciation of the cardinal from his post as prefect and from the rights connected with the cardinalate.”

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