Vatican – Pope Francis has moved quickly to take over the top Vatican leadership post left three weeks ago by the forced resignation of Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, appointing his cardinal’s advisory council secretary as the new prefect of the Catholic Church’s sanctuary.
Marcello Semeraro’s appointment, announced on October 15th, shows that the pontiff wanted a hand in confidence to fill Beciu’s place, which has been the subject of an increasingly fantastic series of allegations of financial wrongdoing in the Italian media in recent weeks.
Semeraro of Puglia, the heel region of Italian footwear, served for more than fifteen years as head of the diocese of Albano, just southeast of Rome.
As secretary of the Council of Cardinals, the bishop has also attended group meetings since 201
Becciu resigned as head of the Bureau of the Saints on September 24, following an apparently tense meeting that day with Francis. The Vatican has not yet given any explanation for the dismissal, which it says includes Bechiu’s renunciation of “the cardinal’s rights.”
Becciu began his role in the sanctuary’s office in 2018. Prior to that, he served for seven years as one of the top officials in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
At a press conference on September 25, Becciu said the pope had accused him of embezzlement, nepotism and financial abuse. The cardinal denied any wrongdoing.
Among the allegations that surfaced in the Italian media were reports that Becciu had used his position in the secretariat to inappropriately send about 100,000 euros ($ 116,000) to a Caritas organization run by his brother. Beciu told reporters on September 25 that he had sent the funds, but that they had been used for legitimate purposes.
The charges against the cardinal turned strange on October 13 with the international arrest of a woman with obvious ties to Beccio. Italian financial police say Cecilia Maronia has been arrested in Milan on a warrant issued by the Vatican.
The Vatican has not commented on the arrest. Italian newspapers reported that Becciu sent hundreds of thousands of euros to Marogna, allegedly intended for humanitarian purposes but then used by it to buy luxury items.
Prior to serving as Bishop of Albano, Semeraro previously served from 1998-2004 as Bishop of Oria, in his native Puglia, from 1998-2004. Semeraro holds a PhD in Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University.
In a bulletin containing Semeraro’s new appointment, the Vatican also announced that Francis had renewed the terms of the six current members of the Council of Cardinals, added a new cardinal to its ranks and appointed a new secretary to the group.
The new member is Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, who has been archbishop of Kinshasa since 2018. The new secretary is Bishop Marco Melino, who has already served in the group as assistant secretary.
The six Cardinals Francis, renewed as members of the group, are: Tegucigalpa, Honduran Archbishop Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga; Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin; Archbishop of Boston Sean O’Malley; Bombay, India Archbishop Oswald Gracias; Munich and Freising, Germany Archbishop Reinhard Marx; and Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Vatican governorate.
The Council of Cardinals had its last meeting on October 14, in which the members took part in practice.[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]