Sacked cardinal denies Pell trial bribe

 

A demoted cardinal has denied that he sent $1.1 million to Australia to interfere with witnesses in his rival Cardinal George Pell's sex abuse trial.

Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu was last month stripped of his right to vote on who the next Pope will be after he says that the Vatican accused him of misusing funds.

Two Italian newspapers, La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, reported at the weekend that he also authorised money to be wired to Australia to give to people who helped build a case against Cardinal Pell.

The plot was part of a plan to stop Cardinal Pell's investigations into Cardinal Becciu's financial dealings, it was alleged.

Cardinal Becciu, who resigned after a meeting with the Pope last month, issued a strong denial of the reports.

"I categorically deny interfering in any way in the trial of Cardinal Pell," The Times of London reported.

The two men were bitter rivals at the Vatican, which sources say can be a fiercely competitive place as they cardinals and bishops vie for the attention of the Pope.

Cardinal Becciu used "journalists and contacts to discredit his enemies", according to the Corriere della Sera report.

"It is precisely in this vein that the payment in Australia would have been made, possibly in connection with Pell's trial," the article claimed.

The newspaper did not allege that Cardinal Becciu had personally sent the money, or to whom it was sent.

However, a Vatican source confirmed that money was sent to Australia.

"The year and date of the transfer are recorded in the archives of the Secretariat of State," the source the National Catholic Register.

The former choirboy who accused George Pell of abusing him in the 1990s has denied knowing anything about Vatican bribes allegedly paid to witnesses against Pell.

The man, known during Pell's trial as Witness J, spoke out after sensational reports that $1.1 million was sent to Australia to build a case against Pell.

He was one of two choirboys Pell was convicted of sexually assaulting before the convictions were overturned following a High Court appeal.

The reports in Italian newspapers do not name Witness J.

"My client denies any knowledge or receipt of any payments. He won't be commenting further in response to these allegations," his lawyer Dr Vivian Waller said today.

Victoria Police said today that no-one had made a report of the allegations to them and they were not investigating.

The cardinals bitter feud was sparked in 2016 when Cardinal Pell attempted an audit of the Vatican's finances.

Cardinal Becciu has said he was angry that Cardinal Pell accused him of being dishonest.

"I couldn't allow him to say something like that … from the time I was a child, I had always been taught by my parents to be honest," he said, according to The Times of London.

Cardinal Pell was acquitted of child sex abuse charges following a High Court appeal.

He had served more than 400 days at Victoria's maximum security Barwon Prison after being found guilty of abusing two 13-year-old choir boys in the 1990s, before the verdict was overturned on appeal in a unanimous decision.

Cardinal Pell returned to Rome last week after securing a travel exemption from the Australian government.

He returned to his Vatican apartment where he was expected to be self-isolating for 14 days because of COVID-19 restrictions.

PELL'S NEW ROLE

Australia's Cardinal George Pell has returned to his apartment at the Vatican, where he was expected to advise the Pope on a financial scandal.

He arrived at his former home late on Wednesday night Australian time, the first time he has set foot in the church's capital since he was acquitted of child abuse charges in Victoria.

He was granted permission to leave Australia despite the strict travel bans in place, with common exemptions including people who are going overseas for more than three months.

Cardinal Pell will provide background and advice on investigations into financial corruption within the Catholic Church when he returns to the Vatican.

News Corp Australia understands that Pell was encouraged to return because of his knowledge of the Vatican's financial systems, having served as its former Treasurer.

A source close to Cardinal Pell said that the Pope himself had made the request for Pell and that he was expected to be at the Vatican for a lengthy period.

The Vatican did not respond to questions.

Cardinal George Pell is returning to Rome. Picture: Franco Origlia/Redferns
Cardinal George Pell is returning to Rome. Picture: Franco Origlia/Redferns

Damian Thompson, a religious commentator and associate editor of British magazine The Spectator, said that the Pope would need Pell's advice on financial matters after the resignation of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu last week on "embezzlement" claims.

"The Pope is deeply implicated in this mess and it's very wise of him to consult Cardinal Pell in the circumstances," he said.

Pell, 79, had been staying in Sydney since April after the High Court quashed his child sexual abuse convictions.

He had served more than 400 days at Victoria's maximum security Barwon Prison after being found guilty of abusing two 13-year-old choir boys in the 1990s, before the verdict was overturned on appeal.

Pell was appointed the Vatican's treasurer in 2014 and had been investigating claims of corruption before he was charged in Victoria.

Cardinal Becciu resigned from his job at the Vatican last week amid claims he was misusing church funds.

 

A controversial property deal on a $363 million commercial building in London's Chelsea district was at the centre of the scandal.

He was also accused of using money from "Peter's pence", money meant to be distributed to the poor, to fund his brothers' businesses.

Cardinal Becciu, who is no longer allowed to vote on who would be appointed the next Pope, was presented with the concerns in a 20-minute meeting with Pope Francis.

"In our meeting, the Holy Father told me that I favoured my brothers and their companies with money from the Secretariat of State," Becciu told reporters last week.

"I told the Pope: Why are you doing this to me? In front of the whole world, nonetheless.

"I gave money to my brother only because I bought fixtures from his company for the nunciatures in Egypt and Cuba. I don't see any crimes."

 

Pell said last week after the Pope sacked Becciu that the pontiff played a "long game."

"The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances. He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments," he said.

"I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria."

Pope Francis made an extraordinary statement at a mass shortly after Pell was acquitted following an Australian High Court appeal.

"I would like to pray today for all those people who suffer unjust sentences resulting from intransigence (against them)," the Pope said in April.

stephen.drill@news.co.uk

Originally published as Pell arrives in Rome amid Vatican corruption claims


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