International News

Pope Francis Celebrates Holy Thursday Mass With Cardinal He Fired

Pope Francis is pictured in a file photo at the Vatican greeting Cardinal Angelo Becciu. (Photo: CNS/Vatican Media)

By Elise Ann Allen 

ROME (Crux) – In a surprise move, Pope Francis on Holy Thursday, April 1, celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper – one of the most sacred liturgies on the Catholic calendar – at the private apartment of Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who resigned from his post earlier this year at the pontiff’s direct request.

According to an article published on the Italian news site “Faro di Roma” by veteran Vatican journalist Francesco Grana, the pontiff celebrated the Mass in the chapel of Cardinal Becciu’s apartment at 5:30 p.m. Thursday Rome time, roughly a half hour before the Vatican’s own celebration began, which Pope Francis did not attend.

A Vatican source spoke to Crux about the Mass at Cardinal Becciu’s apartment, saying that while they cannot speak to the Holy Father’s private commitments, “a gesture of paternity like this on a day like this, Holy Thursday, does not seem strange to me.”

Speculation arose earlier this week when the Vatican published its Holy Week schedule, with Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Dean of the College of Cardinals, slated to celebrate Thursday’s “Coena Domini” Mass instead of Pope Francis, despite the fact that it is traditionally a papal liturgy.

Pope Francis has skipped out on several major liturgies since the beginning of the year due to flare-ups in his sciatica.

Cardinal Becciu, the pontiff’s former chief of staff, was asked by Pope Francis in September to resign both from his post as head of the Vatican’s department for saints, and from his duties and responsibilities as a cardinal.

No reasons for the unusual move were given. However, in an impromptu press conference the following day, Cardinal Becciu said he had been accused of embezzlement, and that as a result, the Holy Father had lost confidence in him.

Cardinal Becciu’s ouster was interpreted by many as an attempt by Pope Francis to act on his continuing reform of Vatican finances, as it is widely believed Cardinal Becciu is tied to a shady contract between the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and a swanky London property, as the deal was made in 2014, when Cardinal Becciu was still in his role as “sostituto,” effectively the Holy Father’s chief of staff.

The deal was brokered through an Italian financier and drew on funds collected by “Peter’s Pence,” an annual appeal directed to Catholics around the world as a way to support the Holy Father’s activity, especially his charitable works.

At the time of his resignation, Cardinal Becciu insisted that the Peter’s Pence fund “was never touched” during the London property deal, and that the incident was not mentioned in his 20-minute conversation with Pope Francis.

According to Faro di Roma’s report, since the beginning of his pontificate Pope Francis has spent every Holy Thursday at Cardinal Becciu’s apartment, apart from 2020, when, due to the coronavirus pandemic, he opted to hold informal meetings in his own apartment with priests in Rome who are often “at the margins of the life of the Curia.”

The pontiff’s decision to celebrate this year’s Holy Thursday Mass with Cardinal Becciu, the report said, was an act intended to show “friendship and closeness.”

A group of religious sisters who care for Cardinal Becciu’s apartment also attended the Mass, as did a handful of members of the Focolare Movement.