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Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu says allegations are part of campaign to discredit him

Cardinal Angelo Becciu speaks with journalists during a news conference in Rome in this Sept. 25, 2020, file photo. Cardinal Becciu, former prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, took the stand March 17 in the Vatican trial against him and nine other defendants. (CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — Taking the stand for the first time at his Vatican trial, Cardinal Angelo Becciu said the allegations of embezzlement against him are part of a “violent and vulgar” media campaign meant to “demonize and destroy me.”

“I have been described as a corrupt man, greedy for money, disloyal to the pope, concerned only with the welfare of my family members,” Cardinal Becciu, the former prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, told the Vatican City court March 17.

“They have insinuated hideous things about the integrity of my priestly life, that I had paid witnesses in a trial against a brother, and even of being the owner of oil wells or tax havens,” he said in his testimony.

Cardinal Becciu, who is accused of embezzlement, abuse of office and witness tampering, was the first of nine defendants to take the stand at the trial.

Vatican prosecutors accused the Italian cardinal of embezzling an estimated 100,000 euros ($116,361) of Vatican funds and redirecting them to Spes, a Caritas organization run by his brother, Tonino Becciu, in his home Diocese of Ozieri.

He also is expected to face questions regarding his involvement in a botched property development project in London’s posh Chelsea district, which incurred millions of dollars of debt for the Vatican Secretariat of State. At the time of the deal, then-Archbishop Becciu served as “sostituto,” the No. 3 position in the secretariat.

Addressing the Vatican judges, including Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican City State criminal court, Cardinal Becciu said he was the victim of an “unprecedented media massacre,” rife with accusations that were “grotesque” and “monstrous.”

“One wonders who wanted all of this and for what purpose,” he said.

The cardinal told the judges that despite the accusations leveled against him, he was there “with my head held high” and certain that the “incontrovertible examination of the facts” would exonerate him.

“I am not afraid of (the truth). On the contrary, I want the truth to be proclaimed as soon as possible. I owe it to my conscience,” the cardinal said. “I owe it to my family members; I owe it to the whole church.”

Cardinal Becciu also told the court that he owed the truth “above all to the Holy Father,” who, he claimed, had “recently declared his belief in my innocence.”

“I never wanted a euro, indeed a cent, of which I have had management or knowledge, to be misappropriated, misused or used for purposes that were not exclusively institutional,” he said.

After the cardinal testified, Pignatone began cross-examining him and asked whether the money sent to Spes, which was for a program to help disadvantaged young people obtain work, was a loan or donation.

Cardinal Becciu said he was “very enthusiastic about the project” and that half of the 100,000 euros sent to Spes was repaid while the rest was a donation.

Pignatone also asked him about a 130,000-euro ($143,668) loan made by Spes to Maria Luisa Zambrano, who, according to media reports, is Cardinal Becciu’s niece by marriage.

“She is not a relative,” Cardinal Becciu told Pignatone. “We are longtime family friends. I did not know that a loan was given to her. I found out after” the fact.

He also said that hundreds of thousands of euros sent to both Spes and his home diocese of Ozieri were for specific projects that provided work for the poor and unemployed, including the building of a bakery as well as a multipurpose center that would house Caritas offices and assist the elderly and refugees.

In a statement released after the session ended, Cardinal Becciu’s lawyers — Fabio Viglione and Maria Concetta Marzo — said the evidence given by the cardinal proved the money was given “with the sole and exclusive purpose of charity.”

“The suspicion of any irregularity has thus been eliminated, thus confirming the innocence that the cardinal has always maintained,” the statement said.

Cardinal Becciu is expected to continue to answer questions from the court April 6.