The Deep Church: From the Borgias to Becciu

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The Australian government is now beginning to confirm what most of us have suspected for years. In a display of ruthlessness and corruption that would thrill the Borgias, Vatican bureaucrats wired a small fortune to unknown parties in Australia to initiate the fraudulent sex-abuse charges against George Cardinal Pell.

According to local media reports, officials in Rome sent AU$2 million to Australian agents to “secure evidence against Cardinal Pell.” The transfer was discovered by Austrac, the nation’s financial watchdog, and is being investigated by the Australian Federal Police and the Victorian Police.

Of course, the prime suspect is Giovanni Cardinal Becciu. In 2011, Becciu was appointed as the papal chief of staff. In 2014, Francis created a new financial oversight body, the Secretariat for the Economy, and appointed Cardinal Pell as its prefect. Vatican insiders began reporting clashes between Pell and Becciu almost from day one.

In 2017, an anonymous “victim” accused Cardinal Pell of having sexually assaulted him and a friend when they were both minors. Pell returned to Australia to face charges, which led to a lengthy legal battle, including a long bout in prison. His Eminence wasn’t totally exonerated until this past April.

Meanwhile—and thanks largely to Pell’s digging—rumors of Becciu’s corruption began to circulate. Only this year, Becciu was tied to a shady Vatican investment in high-end London real estate. He was also accused of funneling Church funds into a Sardinia-based nonprofit run by his own brother. In 2018, he was moved to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Late last month, Francis stripped Becciu of all his cardinatial privileges, including the right to be tried only by pope himself. Francis then appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the corruption charges. It was widely understood that the Pontiff would allow Becciu to be charged by a Vatican civil tribunal like a common curia bureaucrat—which, at this point, is all he is.

Having been publicly disgraced and abandoned by his allies, Becciu is not going gentle into that goodnight. He’s now threatening to sue the media for suggesting that he would try to sabotage Pell. Cardinal Becciu, you see, is an honorable man.

The CINO (cardinal in name only) belongs to an old and powerful clique of corrupt, self-serving Italians in the Roman curia. For centuries, they’ve formed a kind of Deep Church equivalent to America’s own Deep State. Popes, like presidents, may come and go, but these entrenched bureaucrats keep the institution humming from one administration to the next. In that sense, they’re necessary. But the Deep Church, like the Deep State, feels entitled to run the show as they see fit. They’re the “experts”! Why should they subject themselves to scrutiny from these Johnny-come-latelies?

Like the Deep State, the Deep Church isn’t averse to the occasional kickback—a just reward, they would say, for their dutiful service. And they’ll use any means at their disposal to eliminate any threat to their power and privilege.

My sources in Rome and Australia have suggested that the Becciu clique have ties to the Italian Mafia, who acted as the Cardinal’s middle-men. Others claim that Becciu himself is a Freemason—as are most of the Victoria’s law enforcement, who arrested Cardinal Pell. The Victorian Police, these sources claim, are a bastion of Australia’s old (Protestant) colonial establishment. So far, these are only rumors.

There’s no doubt, however, that Becciu’s clique act much like a cartel or secret society. Their primary interest lies in expanding their own wealth and influence. From the very beginning, Cardinal Pell posed the greatest single threat to their “enterprise” in generations. He was only able to scratch the surface of their corruption before he was brought up on charges of molesting two of his choir boys back in the Nineties.

Those charges were obviously fabricated—and yet, not one, but two courts found Pell guilty before the Australian High Court finally overturned their rulings. That in itself suggests serious misconduct on the part of Australia’s legal system. The fact that the Victorian Police are leading the investigation into this mysterious $2 million transfer is, to say the very least, disappointing. Then again, those of us who long for authentic reform in the Holy See are used to being disappointed.

But the fall of Cardinal Becciu is a real cause for hope. As Francis’s chief-of-staff, Becciu was the second most powerful man in Rome after the Pope himself. If he can be brought low, none of these crooks will sleep easily.

Next in line is Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the Secretary of State for the Holy See. Parolin is widely viewed as one of the top three contenders to succeed Pope Francis. His fanboys in the Catholic press cast him as a solid “institutional” candidate: a steady and experienced hand who would stabilize the Vatican after the tumults of Francis’s papacy. In reality, he’s just a gangster like Becciu and Borgia.

Around this time last year, Vatican police raided the Secretariat of State’s offices for evidence of financial misconduct. Five senior officials were immediately forced to resign. Cardinal Parolin wasn’t among them, but the noose is tightening.

These latest scandals may take Parolin out of the running. Then again, they may not. Curial officials are notorious for brazenly defending their own. That’s why Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the disgraced former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., still sits on the Congregation for Bishops. It’s why they invited Theodore McCarrick to negotiate a concordat with the Chinese Communist Party after he had been ordered to retire from public life by Pope Benedict XVI.

That concordat with China is Cardinal Parolin’s pet project. Ratified in 2018, the agreement has led to increased persecution of Chinese Catholics. More and more bishops are joining the Communist-backed “Patriotic Catholic Association.” And yet, on October 22, the Vatican officially announced that the deal had been renewed for another two years. That news has baffled some Vatican-watchers, though I’m not sure why. It’s only natural that the Becciu clique and the Chicoms should be the best of friends. They’re two peas in a pod.

If Parolin does succeed Francis, no doubt these investigations will come to an abrupt end. He may throw Becciu under the bus; otherwise, the cartel will quickly re-consolidate power. We can only hope that most of the cardinal-electors will realize what a grave threat these gangsters pose to the life and health of the Church. There’s a great deal more work to be done but, now that Cardinal Pell walks free, perhaps the tide has turned at last.

[Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images]

Michael Warren Davis

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Michael Warren Davis is the editor of Crisis Magazine. He is a frequent contributor to The American Conservative and author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021).

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