One of the most influential cardinals of the Vatican, the Italian Angelo Becciu, resigned on Thursday from his position in the Holy See government, without offering any explanation, notes AFP.

“The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the rights related to the position of cardinal presented by His Eminence Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu,” the Holy See announced in a laconic statement on Thursday evening.

After a career as an apostolic nuncio (ambassador), the Italian prelate served for seven years as a substitute in the General Affairs Department of the Secretary of State, the equivalent of an interior minister, in constant contact with Pope Benedict and then Pope Francis.

In the summer of 2018, he received the cardinal’s hat from Pope Francis and after that he took over the leadership of the Holy See administration in charge of investigating and deciding on beatifications and canonizations.

His resignation at the age of 72, premature in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church, has all the characteristics of a sanction. The Vatican’s brief press release states that he remains a cardinal, but loses all rights to the position, especially the possibility of electing a new pope during a conclave or being an adviser to the current sovereign pontiff.

According to revelations published by La Repubblica, he also appears to have embezzled funds for the benefit of his brothers. The pope accepted his resignation, and from now on Becciu is an ex-cardinal, after he had been the one through whom all the beatification proposals passed (the head of the “factory of saints”, Congregazione delle Cause dei Santi).

Becciu is at the center of the investigation into the investigation into a luxury building bought by the Vatican in London for a price of 200 million euros. The conditions for purchasing and signing the contract are not at all clear. One year ago, in October 2019, the Vatican gendarmerie searched the offices of the papal agency that deals with the purchase of real estate and is none other than the Secretariat of State, that branch of the Vatican bureaucracy that combines the role of prime minister’s office with that of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In this investigation, five employees of the State Secretariat are in particular in the sights of the Vatican justice. An Italian businessman was arrested in June last year on suspicion of extortion against the Holy See in the acquisition of the London building, before being released on bail.

According to revelations in the Sunday issue of the Italian magazine L’Espresso, the cardinal has repeatedly directed hundreds of thousands of euros of the Italian episcopate and the Holy See to a Sardinian cooperative run by his brother, dealing with social inclusion under the aegis of a diocese.

The investigation, partially revealed on Friday in the Italian daily La Repubblica and which could have precipitated the cardinal’s sudden decision on Thursday night, states that the prelate also favored the activities of two other brothers during his career. The funds were reinvested by his family in financial activities, including offshore funds, according to the source.

It is not the resignation itself that is shocking, but the fact that Becciu, who is 72 years old, was able to give up, by renouncing the purple cardinal, the right to participate in the election of a Pope. The last time this happened was in 2013, when Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland resigned on charges of pedophilia.

The British weekly The Economist asks if the Vatican has really taken on the difficult task of clearing its accounts.