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Vatican cardinal pushes back after pope fires him in scandal

ROME (AP) — A powerful Vatican cardinal who was sacked by Pope Francis in an astonishing twist to the Vatican’s latest financial scandal pushed back Friday against allegations he embezzled Holy See money and denied he did anything wrong.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu presided over an extraordinary news conference a day after Francis fired him and yanked his rights and privileges as a cardinal. The 72-year-old Becciu, a onetime papal contender, said his downfall was “surreal,” but that he had a clear conscience, remained loyal to Francis and was ready to die for him.

Becciu said Francis had asked him to step down as prefect of the Vatican’s saint-making office during a “troubled” 20-minute meeting Thursday evening in which the pope said he “no longer had confidence in me.”

Becciu had gone to the pope’s residence for a previously scheduled meeting to go over possible sainthood candidates when the pope told him that documents from the Italian financial police alleged he had embezzled 100,000 euros of Holy See money and sent it to a charitable fund run by his brother.

The cardinal’s name had previously been caught up in a whirlwind financial scandal involving the Holy See’s investment in a London real estate venture. But Becciu said the London investment didn’t even come up Thursday; instead, he said the issue that forced his removal was the allegation of embezzlement, which was first reported by the L’Espresso news magazine Friday.

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