Holy Smoke

The humiliation of Becciu and the return of Pell: what lies behind this spectacular reversal of fortunes at the Vatican?

24 min listen

In This Episode

The Vatican is this week in the grip of a paranoia reminiscent of the days when Renaissance popes (and their dinner guests) were forced to employ food-tasters.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, until 2018 the sostituto at the Secretariat of State – that is, the Pope’s hugely powerful chief of staff – has been sacked by Francis, who has accused him of stealing vast amounts of money. It’s now a matter of record that Becciu organised a series of bizarre investments, costing the Vatican hundreds of millions of dollars, in a former Harrods warehouse converted into luxury flats and an African oil company. The Pope, who once showered him with favours, stripped Becciu of all the privileges associated with the position of cardinal – a twist of the knife worthy of a Netflix drama, or perhaps one of the Godfather films. 

And now, in an equally extraordinary sequel, Becciu’s arch-foe Cardinal George Pell, until recently languishing in an Australian jail cell, is heading back to Rome to advise Francis on resuming the Pell financial reforms that Becciu torpedoed. One of the things he’ll want to discover is whether there was any collusion between the former sostituto and the state prosecutors in Victoria who had Pell locked away on disgracefully trumped-up charges of sex abuse.

My guest for this episode of Holy Smoke is the journalist who can take the most credit for uncovering Becciu’s activities: Ed Condon, Washington Bureau Chief of the Catholic News Agency. He provides a startling outline of this byzantine scandal, and I ask him a question that has been bugging me for months. The then-Archbishop Becciu left the Secretariat of State two years ago, amid widespread rumours of his corruption. Whereupon the same Pope who has just thrown him under a bus made him a cardinal. Why?

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