A former cardinal has denied using £600,000 of Vatican funds to bribe witnesses and secure a sex abuse conviction against Cardinal George Pell.
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.
Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who last month was accused by the Vatican of misusing funds, was reportedly a strong rival of Cardinal Pell at the time he was brought to trial.
Cardinal Pell had served as finance minister at the Vatican, where he was tasked with cleaning up the Catholic Church’s accounting practices.
Pope Francis appoints Giovanni Angelo Becciu (left) as Cardinal during a consistory ceremony in 2018; and Cardinal George Pell (right) is escorted in handcuffs from the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne last year
Cardinal George Pell arrives at his residence in Rome, Italy, on September 30
In explosive allegations appearing in the Italian press, it was reported Cardinal Becciu was suspected of wiring the cash to recipients in Australia who helped to ensure hostile testimony against Cardinal Pell at his County Court of Victoria trial.
Cardinal Becciu has strongly denied the reports, stating: ‘I categorically deny interfering in any way in the trial of 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.
Cardinal Becciu resigned last month amid 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.
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.
Cardinal George Pell returned to Rome last month after spending more than 400 days in jail
Cardinal George Pell is seen having dinner on October 4 in Vatican City
Cardinal George Pell waves as he arrives at Rome’s international airport in Fiumicino last month
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.
The former choirboy who accused Cardinal Pell of abuse has denied any knowledge of bribes allegedly being paid to witnesses against Pell.
‘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 told the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
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.
On Saturday, he was seen enjoying a refreshing iced drink with a colleague at a cafe in Rome.
Giovanni Angelo Becciu has denied any wrongdoing
Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu poses after a consistory ceremony lead by Pope Francis to create 14 new cardinals at St. Peters Basilica on June 28, 2018
Cardinal George Pell has a drink in a cafe in Rome on Saturday
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.
‘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.’