“House of cards” in the vatican?

The next chapter in the Vatican financial thriller: did ousted Cardinal Becciu bribe witnesses who testified against his opponent Pell in an abuse scandal? The accusation reads like fiction, but it is hard reality.

The comparisons to spy movies or Nexflix thrillers à la "House of Cards" and "The Young Pope" have been drawn so frequently in recent weeks that they almost seem tiresome again. Looking at the accusations that are currently circulating in the Catholic world, however, there are hardly more apt comparisons than crime fiction.

The prehistory

One September evening, the Vatican surprisingly announces that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (and substitute in the Vatican Secretariat of State) Angelo Giuseppe Cardinal Becciu not only resigns from his posts, but also suspends his title of cardinal. A quasi unprecedented event in the Vatican before the pontificate of Francis. Questions quickly arose: What was behind it?

The Vatican itself gave no reasons. Italian media spoke not only of speculative financial transactions in the hundreds of millions, but also of personal enrichment. Becciu allegedly funneled money from Vatican pots to family members. According to Italian media reports on Friday, the Italian public prosecutor's office is now also investigating against him.

That would have been scandal enough if the Australian Cardinal Pell had not suddenly reappeared on the scene of Vatican drama. George Pell has long been considered the Vatican's top financial whistleblower, but faced accusations of sexual abuse in his home country last year. After a prison sentence of several months – and the acquittal due to lack of evidence in spring – Cardinal Pell is now back in the Vatican. Was there nothing to the accusations in the end?? First voices suspected a plot against Pell.

The opponents

Two people, two stories – which at first glance would have little to do with each other, were it not rumored in Rome that Pell and Becciu were great adversaries, even enemies, in the Pope's court. The logic certainly wouldn't be any different on "House of Cards." One cardinal tries to shovel money into his own pocket, the other tries to get to the bottom of dishonest dealings.

Francis allegedly used to call Pell, the financial investigator, "the Ranger" behind closed doors because he was so merciless in clearing things up.

For Netflix dramas like "The Young Pope," it would be the end of the season now, and we'd have to wait a year for the scandal to continue. In real life it goes a little faster: This week new accusations came from Australia. This time against Cardinal Becciu. The latter had bribed witnesses in Pell's abuse trial to put his adversary out of action – and tie him up as long as possible in the Australian trial.

Unaccounted money movements

During the Pell trial, unaccounted money in the millions had flowed from the Vatican to Australia. At first there was talk of the equivalent of 700.000 euros, meanwhile, the magazine "The Australian" reported 1.4 million. The Italian newspaper "L'Espresso" suspects that the money was either used to influence witnesses, or even to finance a media campaign against Pell. Several Australian authorities are now looking into these allegations, reports the news agency "AP".

On Tuesday, a member of parliament had contacted Austrac, the Australian financial regulator, to investigate the allegations. This had then entered into contact with the Australian Federal Police, as with the responsible "Victoria Police. At the request of "Guardian Australia", the regional "Victoria Police" has stated that it would not investigate, as it could not identify any "suspicious behavior". The Australian Federal Police would neither confirm nor deny whether it was investigating the case.

And how does it continue in the next "season" of the Vatican thriller? There would still be a former employee of Becciu, who was recently denounced by the Vatican itself, because she had 600.000 euros into their own pockets. Or the European financial investigators, who have just checked the Vatican books again. The material for the next episodes seems to be secured.

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Christina Cherry
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