Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Angelo Becciu as a cardinal and as the prefect of the Vatican saints’ department.

– “An extremely rare move”

Late Thursday evening, the Holy See Press Office released a statement to say that Pope Francis had accepted Becciu’s renunciation of “the rights connected” to being a cardinal and his resignation as head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Official information was not immediately available as to the reasons for Becciu’s sudden retirement.

Vaticanist Robert Mickens noted on Twitter that the departure of Becciu, 72, was an “extremely rare move”.

“The last time this happened was to Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien who was accused of sexual harassment of several adult men”, Mickens noted, referring to a 2015 scandal.

“It’s a big resignation given that the cardinal once held the equivalent of a papal chief of staff role. He is still several years from reaching retirement age”, Vaticanist Christopher Lamb added on the social network.

– Accusations of corruption

While the Catholic world waits for an official explanation from the Vatican as to the reasons for Becciu’s resignation, speculation is swirling that it is linked to the 2014 Vatican purchase of a luxury London property for over 200 million euros.

At the time of that deal, Becciu was the sostituto, or “substitute”, at the Vatican Secretariat of State.

The Secretariat of State allegedly purchased the London property with the aid not only of ‘Peter’s Pence’ donations from the faithful – intended for use in the Pope’s charitable works – but also with loans from the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), the so-called Vatican bank. The deal also cost the Vatican millions of euros in fees to middlemen.

The IOR loans to the Secretariat of State triggered an internal Vatican investigation and subsequent raids on Secretariat of State offices. Several officials in the Secretariat of State were either suspended or fired over their alleged involvement in the London deal.

Becciu has been accused of attempting to hide the IOR loans by cancelling them out on Vatican balance sheets against the value of the property, but he has repeatedly denied all accusations of financial mismanagement.

The Vatican announcement Thursday continued to refer to the former sostituto and now ex-Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints as “His Eminence Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu”, making it clear that he continues to be a cardinal even if he has given up the rights connected with that post, including – presumably – voting in future conclaves to elect a new Pope.

More stories on Novena on the Vatican London real estate deal:

Vatican corruption: police search home, office of curial official as Cardinal Becciu again denies wrongdoing

Vatican Cardinal Becciu “shocked” by “shameful”, “misleading” reports pinning him for financial wrongdoing

Vatican sources claim Becciu hid loans for London property buy as Holy See goes to war over finances

Vatican Cardinal Becciu denies “slanderous” charges of wrongdoing in London property purchase

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.