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World News

Vatican cardinal denies wrongdoing after sacking over property scandal

by Press Association

The financial scandal that toppled Cardinal Angelo Becciu has mounted as evidence shows he directed hundreds of thousands of euros of Vatican and Italian church funds to a charity controlled by his brother.

But Mr Becciu denied he did anything wrong, much less criminal, during a news conference a day after Pope Francis sacked him and revoked his rights and privileges as a cardinal.

The 72-year-old said his downfall has been "surreal" but he has a clean conscience.

Mr Becciu said Francis asked him to step down as prefect of the Vatican's saint-making office during a "troubled" 20-minute meeting on Thursday evening in which the Pope said he "no longer had confidence in me".

He had gone to the Pope's residence for a previously scheduled meeting to go over possible sainthood candidates when Francis told him that documents from the Italian financial police alleged he had embezzled 100,000 euro (£90,754) of Holy See money.

The cardinal's name has been caught up in a financial scandal involving the Holy See's investment in a London property venture.

But he said the issue that forced his removal was the allegation of embezzlement, which was first reported by the L'Espresso news magazine in excerpts published on Friday.

Mr Becciu, the former number two in the Vatican's secretariat of state, admitted he sent the money from the office's asset fund in 2017 to his home diocese in Ozieri, Sardinia, for its charitable work.

His brother, Tonino, is the legal representative of the diocese's charitable arm, Spes Cooperative.

Mr Becciu said he also recommended the Italian bishops' conference donate 300,000 euro (£272,490) to the same charitable fund years earlier to help set it up but insisted that too was legitimate because it was the conference's decision to do so.

He said such donations were fully in line with directives that the secretariat of state's off-the-books fund be destined toward charity.

The bishop of Ozieri, Corrado Melis, issued a statement on Friday saying the money was indeed destined for charity but was never used and remains in the diocesan coffers.

"I don't think I've committed any crime," Mr Becciu said during the news conference, sitting in front of a giant silver crucifix in a religious institute just off St Peter's Square.

He said in giving up his rights and privileges as a cardinal he obviously would no longer vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

But he acknowledged he can now be judged by others, including Vatican magistrates, and not just the Pope, who has the exclusive rights to judge cardinals under canon law.

"If they want me to clarify, I'll clarify," Mr Becciu said of Vatican prosecutors.

"All the more now because the Pope took away my rights as a cardinal and there's no more obligation" he be judged solely by the Pontiff.

"So I'm a citizen like everyone else, and if they call me, I'm ready," he said.

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