The Vatican is 'not a den of thieves', says Archbishop Angelo Becciu

The Vatican is not “a den of thieves”, and such insinuations are an injustice to employees who are proud to serve the Pope and the Church, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, a top official in the Vatican Secretariat of State, has said.

Necessary economic and administrative reforms and countermeasures have been taken to address any problems, he told the Italian weekly Panorama in an interview published in the issue dated January 20.

“I must reiterate firmly that we are not a bunch of corrupt and incompetent people,” he said in a lengthy interview conducted at the Vatican.

“The Vatican is not a den of thieves. To represent it as such constitutes an absolute falsehood. I find it extremely unjust that our employees, proudly carrying out a service for the pope and the church, have gotten to the point, for some time now, of being ashamed to tell people they work here,” he told the weekly.

Archbishop Becciu, 67, has been substitute secretary for general affairs in the Vatican Secretariat of State – a job similar to a chief of staff – since 2011.

A large portion of the Q&A interview focused on accusations of financial mismanagement illustrated in recent books by Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of Merchants in the Temple, and Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of Avarice.

The two authors are on trial at the Vatican for “soliciting and exercising pressure” on their alleged sources in order to obtain confidential documents and news. Also standing trial on accusations of forming an “organised criminal association” with the aim of “committing several illegal acts of divulging news and documents” are Spanish Mgr Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organisation of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See; and Nicola Maio, who had served as personal assistant to Mgr Vallejo.

Archbishop Becciu said “stealing those documents was a crime, a deplorable act that does not help”.

“The right of journalists to publish news they come to have is not in question. The misgivings concern the way in which this news was obtained. There is a trial underway that will find out,” he said.

Regarding Mgr Vallejo and Chaouqui, the archbishop said their “betrayal was a slap in the face to the Holy Father. They had sworn on the Gospel to not reveal to anyone what they saw, heard and read in carrying out their assignment” as members of the commission to reform Vatican financial practices.

When asked why money donated by the faithful for Peter’s Pence is being used primarily to fund the Roman Curia – only about two euros out of ten donated goes to charity – the archbishop said if the Vatican were to earmark, for example, 60 per cent of the funds to charity “we would have to immediately fire 400 people” out of the current 4,000 Vatican employees. “We prefer not to load the Italian government with this further burden” of unemployment and to abide by the Pope’s request to reform without layoffs, he said.

The charitable fund’s balance sheets are “public and approved by the Holy Father and the council of cardinals”, adding that it can be seen the money is used to support Vatican Radio, the Vatican newspaper and the various Vatican diplomatic representatives abroad who channel the Pope’s financial support to mission churches and the poor.

The archbishop was asked to comment on the fact that cardinals living in Rome reside in very large apartments while Pope Francis has chosen to live in a small set of rooms in a Vatican guesthouse. The archbishop said the apartments date back to the 1930s “when the cardinals were in effect considered princes of the church and were treated as such”.

He said Nuzzi’s suggestion of moving the cardinals into the more modest Vatican guesthouse would be “populist bordering on the ridiculous”.

There would be the problem of where to then house the priests who are living at the guesthouse, he said: “We would have to build another building to house them”, which would be a “huge waste” of resources, and all the large cardinal residences would be left empty.

When asked why the property would be left unoccupied, the archbishop said only Vatican citizens and employees are allowed to live in Vatican-owned properties.

“Imagine the pandemonium that would be let loose if by accident they ended up being rented to tax evaders or in any case individuals wanted by the law who could benefit from immunity” by living in Vatican City State instead of Italy, he said.

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