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VATICAN CITY, Italy, December 23, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Vatican financial bodies have transferred a staggering $1.7 billion (AUS $2.3 billion) to Australia between 2014 and 2020, a report in The Australian documented yesterday. The country’s bishops were seemingly unaware of the transactions involving the huge sums of cash.

Australia’s national financial crime regulator, Austrac, discovered that the total monies transferred from the Vatican to Australia had ballooned from $54.1 million in 2014 to $103.6 million the following year. This trend continued, with 2016’s money transfers doubling to $295 million. The deposits peaked in 2017, with $439.3 million being transferred that year alone; over eight times the amount from 2014, just three years earlier.

The high-value transfers continued into 2018 and 2019, with $319 million and $371.7 million being sent respectively. This year’s total to date stands at $222.7 million. Austrac revealed that the sum of $1.7 billion had been sent from the Vatican to Australia across more than 40,000 individual transactions.  

The Australian approached several senior Church officials in Australia, who all remain anonymous, but none of them claimed to know anything about the enormous transfers. Some reportedly said that they were “utterly surprised” by the revelation. The Australian Federal Police have opened an investigation into the nature of the transfers, as revealed by Austrac.

Austrac did not reveal details of any of the recipients of the money. Some Church sources, however, speculated that it may have been used for investment in the Australian bond and equities market, according to The Australian

The timing of the transfers has garnered some suspicion, coinciding with the appointment of Cardinal George Pell to his position as prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy and subsequent trial in Australia on false sex abuse charges. 

In 2017 Pell was removed from his curial post as he returned to Australia to face trial, where he was convicted and sentenced in 2019. He was released in April this year after Australia’s High Court acquitted him of all wrongdoing. 

Earlier this year, accusations were levelled against Cardinal Angelo Becciu regarding the transfer of hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican to an Australian account in 2017, during Pell’s trial. Becciu was the sostenuto of the Vatican’ Secretariat of State at the time before being appointed as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Since then, he has been forced to resign by Pope Francis, following the accusations of financial misconduct.

Becciu’s former chief deputy at the Secretariat of State, Msgr. Albert Perlasca, alleged that the disgraced cardinal transferred “700,000 euros from a Vatican account to an Australian account during the course of Pell’s trial in Victoria on charges of child sexual abuse,” according to Catholic News Agency (CNA.)

Becciu vehemently denied the allegation after resigning the cardinalate, promising to take legal action against Italian newspaper L’Espresso for publishing reports claiming there is a Vatican investigation into his financial dealings, whilst sostenuto.

National Catholic Register reports that Vatican-Australia money transfers are now “part of a Vatican tribunal investigating the matter, as well as other allegations of financial corruption.”

Becciu was also accused of mishandling finances related to infamous Swiss bank BSI. CNA reported in 2019 that Becciu had procured a multi-million dollar line of credit from BSI to invest in high-end London real estate. The report states that “Becciu attempted to disguise $200 million loans on Vatican balance sheets by cancelling them out against the value of the property purchased in the London neighborhood of Chelsea,” an illicit financial practice that was legislated against by Francis in 2014.

Whilst still prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Pell had discovered the discrepancy and began to seek more information on the loan from BSI. Following Pell’s investigation into the loan, Becciu reportedly “summoned the cardinal” and “shouted at him like he was an inferior,” despite Pell’s position of authority concerning Vatican finances. 

Pell, who had been charged with cleaning up the Vatican’s finances, had reportedly attempted to take the matter further, presenting his findings to the Council for the Economy. An inside source told CNAthat the irregularity was “noted, but no action was taken.” Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who was then Coordinator for the Council, continues to serve in this capacity.

Australian senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells raised the alarm when, pouring over the recent discovery of multi-billion dollar transfers between the Vatican and Australia, she noticed that “the transfers accelerated during the period Cardinal (George) Pell was facing investigations in Australia and peaked when he was side-lined from financial control of the Vatican while facing charges and trial in Australia,” The Australian reported. 

Fierravanti-Wells asked the Australian government for “full details of transactions,” including “the date of the transaction, and the amount disbursed, and any notation attached to that transfer” from Vatican entities. The senator told The Australian that, due to ongoing “investigations at the Vatican into corruption,” it is essential that we “know where the money went.”

As things stand, no evidence has come to light that connects the Vatican money with Pell’s trial.