VATICAN CITY — While financial reforms in the Vatican are progressing steadily, cases involving corruption and malfeasance in the Eternal City are “a disease that we relapse into,” Pope Francis said.
In a wide-ranging interview broadcast Sept. 1 by COPE, the Spanish radio station owned by the Spanish bishops’ conference, Pope Francis said changes made in the Vatican’s financial laws have allowed prosecutors to “become more independent” in their investigations.
“Let’s hope that these steps we are taking … will help to make these events happen less and less,” he said.
During the interview, the pope was asked about the Vatican trial against 10 individuals and entities, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, former prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, on charges ranging from embezzlement to money laundering and abuse of office.
The charges stemmed from a Vatican investigation into how the Secretariat of State used $200 million to finance a property development project in London’s posh Chelsea district and incurred millions of dollars in debt. At the time, then-Archbishop Becciu served as “sostituto,” the No. 3 position in the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Cardinal Becciu was forced to offer his resignation to the pope in September 2020, after he was accused of embezzling an estimated 100,000 euros of Vatican funds and redirecting them to Spes, a Caritas organization run by his brother, Tonino Becciu.
The pope told COPE he authorized the Vatican’s investigation into the property deal as a sign that he was “not afraid of transparency or the truth.”
“Sometimes it hurts a lot, but the truth is what sets us free,” he said.
When asked by COPE about the Catholic Church’s efforts to fight against clergy sexual abuse, Pope Francis praised the efforts made by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Cardinal O’Malley, he said, was among those who spoke about the sexual abuse crisis “with courage,” especially when “it fell to him to settle the matter in Boston, and it was not easy.”
“The Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was Cardinal O’Malley’s invention, is now functioning,” he said.
The pope said sexual abuse is “a serious, global problem,” and he criticized governments that have failed to stop the production of child pornography, which he called “demonic.”
Pope Francis also said he is reviewing the proposed apostolic constitution for reforming and governing the Roman Curia.
The document, “Praedicate Evangelium” (“Preach the Gospel”) — which will replace “Pastor Bonus,” St. John Paul II’s 1988 constitution reforming the Curia — “is nearly finished” and there are only a few things that require “tweaking,” he said.
Pope Francis was asked about the Vatican’s renewal of an agreement with the Chinese government regarding the appointment of bishops.
The 2018 provisional agreement, the text of which has never been made public, outlines procedures for ensuring Catholic bishops are elected by the Catholic community in China and approved by the pope before their ordinations and installations, according to news reports at the time.
“What has been achieved so far in China was at least dialogue, some concrete things like the appointment of new bishops, slowly,” the pope said. “But these are also steps that may be questionable and” with varying results.
During the interview, the pope commented on the United States’ “20 years of occupation and then leaving” Afghanistan.
However, he mistakenly attributed a quote to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that criticized attempts to impose democracy in other countries; it was actually said by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It’s necessary to stop the irresponsible policy of enforcing its own values on others and attempts to build democracy in other countries based on outside models without taking into account historic, ethnic and religious issues and fully ignoring other people’s traditions,” Putin said during an Aug. 20 meeting with Merkel in Moscow.
“Concise and conclusive,” the pope said about the quote. “I think this says a lot; and everyone can interpret it as they wish. But there I felt a wisdom in what this woman said.”
In the interview, the pope said that while the reasons for withdrawing Afghanistan were legitimate, the way it was carried out did not take into account “all the eventualities.”