Cardinal Pell demands inquiry into bribery allegations

Cardinal Pell demands inquiry into ‘grave allegations’ that another cardinal used £600,000 of Vatican funds to bribe witnesses and secure a sex abuse conviction against him

  • Italian reports accused Cardinal Becciu of using funds to secure Pell’s conviction
  • Pell was convicted then later acquitted of molesting two choirboys in Australia
  • Robert Richter, QC, who defended Pell, has called for an investigation into claim
  • Becciu was a known rival of Pell’s and opposed his Vatican finance reform efforts
  • The cardinal, who resigned last month, has strongly denied the allegations

Cardinal George Pell’s attorney has demanded an investigation into allegations that Vatican funds were used to secure his client’s sex abuse conviction.

Robert Richter, QC, who defended Pell against charges of molesting choirboys, spoke after reports from Italy accused Giovanni Angelo Becciu, a senior Vatican cardinal, of wiring €700,000 (£635,000) to Australia to secure evidence.

Cardinal Pell spent more than 400 days behind bars after being convicted of abusing two 13-year-old choir boys in the 1990s, before the verdict was overturned on appeal. 

‘These are grave allegations… which require the most thorough investigation seeking to establish a money trail,’ Mr Richter said to The Times newspaper. 

Cardinal George Pell’s attorney Robert Richter has called for an investigation into claims that another Cardinal used Vatican funds to secure his client’s 2019 conviction. Pictured: Cardinal Pell enjoys a drink in a bar near the Vatican upon his return to Rome following his acquittal 

‘I would hope that both Australian and international law-enforcement money trackers do their job professionally and with complete independence so that we all get to know what the true facts were.’ 

Cardinal Becciu has strongly denied the reports, stating: ‘I categorically deny interfering in any way in the trial of Cardinal Pell’. Pell’s accuser has also denied receiving any bribe in the case.

Pell, brought in by Pope Francis to bring accountability and transparency to the Vatican’s opaque finances, was convicted but ultimately absolved by Australia’s High Court of allegations he molested two choirboys in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne while he was archbishop in the 1990s.

He was released in April this year after spending 13 months behind bars, and upon his release, he claimed that other officials at the Vatican believed opposition he faced to financial reform were later linked to the later sex-abuse charges.  

‘Most of the senior people in Rome who were in any way sympathetic to financial reform believed that they were [linked],’ he said at the time.

‘I don’t have any evidence of that but if I could just say: one of my fears was that what we had done would remain hidden.’

Italian newspapers have accused Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu (pictured) a senior Vatican cardinal, of wiring €700,000 (£635,000) to Australia to secure evidence against Cardinal Pell

The Italian newspapers La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera reported Vatican investigators suspected that Cardinal Becciu hoped to stop Pell from exposing his allegedly corrupt management of Vatican cash. 

The Corriere report had no sourcing, attribution or details and the report appeared more an effort to discredit Becciu and distract attention from the shortcomings of the Vatican prosecutors’ primary investigation into a London real estate venture. 

Vivian Waller, a lawyer for the prosecution’s key witness whose testimony led a jury to initially convict Pell in 2018, said on Monday her client hadn’t been bribed.

‘My client denies any knowledge or receipt of any payments,’ Waller said in a statement. ‘He won’t be commenting further in response to these allegations.’  

Cardinal Becciu resigned last month amid separate accusations he misappropriated Catholic funds while working as the deputy secretary of state between 2011 and 2018.

Among a raft of suspicions – all denied by Cardinal Becciu – are claims he may have funnelled Vatican cash to charities and businesses run by his three brothers.  

‘If those reports are accurate, they have to be investigated,’ Richter (pictured in 2019) said on Tuesday. ‘I want these reports to be thoroughly investigated by both Australian and international authorities’

Cardinal Becciu’s supposed feud with Cardinal Pell goes back to 2016 when Pell ordered an audit of Vatican finances by an external accountancy firm.

That audit was quickly blocked by Cardinal Becciu.

The Corriere della Sera report alleged Cardinal Becciu often used journalists and contacts to discredit his rivals.

‘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.  

Victoria Police said it had not received a complaint about the allegations and was not investigating. 

Cardinal Pell returned to Rome last week after securing a travel exemption from the Australian government and on Saturday, he was seen enjoying a refreshing iced drink with a colleague at a cafe in Rome.

Cardinal George Pell (right) is escorted in handcuffs from the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne last year after being convicted of sexual abuse. He was later acquitted 

The reason for his trip to Rome remains unclear but he said shortly after his release from jail he would at some point return to the city to pack up his apartment.

A Pell aide said his stay in Rome was a ‘private visit’. 

At their last face-to-face meeting in June 2017, Pope Francis gave Cardinal Pell an extended period of leave to return to Australia and clear his name.

Last week, Pell was furiously heckled by a woman outside his apartment in Rome.

‘We hate you, we hate you,’ the woman from Melbourne said as the cardinal entered his apartment building.

Experts on the workings of the tiny city state said a reunion between the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the man he once appointed as his trusted anti-corruption tsar was inevitable.

Cardinal George Pell arrives at his residence in Rome, Italy, on September 30

‘He will meet Francis. He’ll do it as a free man,’ Italy’s Repubblica newspaper said. ‘It will be Pell’s chance for a redress, after many in the Vatican rejoiced at his removal.’

Vatican prosecutors have been investigating the secretariat of state’s 350 million-euro (£320 million) investment in a London real estate venture for over a year, but to date no indictments have been handed down.

Becciu was involved in the initial investment, but his successor actually authorized payments of tens of millions of euros in fees to the middlemen most implicated in the money-losing venture. 

Becciu has denied any wrongdoing and he was fired last week by Francis over another scandal: allegations that he wired 100,000 euros (£90,300) in Vatican funds to a charity headed by his brother. He has denied wrongdoing.

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