By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - An Italian cardinal fired from his powerful Vatican post said on Friday Pope Francis had accused him of embezzlement and nepotism, but he denied wrongdoing and said he was still ready to lay down his life for the pontiff.
Speaking to reporters the day after his shock ousting, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, a key mover and shaker in the Vatican hierarchy, said he had had a "surreal" meeting with the pope on Thursday night when he was sacked.
"I was white in the face. Certainly it was not a good moment. It was like a bolt out of the blue," Becciu said. "He (the pope) was suffering when he told me."
The pope, who Becciu said had been given information by Vatican and Italian magistrates, told him to resign as head of the Vatican department that decides who will become Roman Catholic saints.
He was also told he would have to give up his rights as cardinal, including participation in an eventual conclave to elect a new pope.
Becciu said the pope had told him "I no longer have trust in you".
Becciu has also been caught up in a Vatican scandal about using Church money to invest in a luxury building in London but said that was not the reason he was ordered to resign.
He acknowledged that in his previous role as deputy secretary of state, which ended in 2018, he had sent 100,000 euros from Peter's Pence, a fund used for charity, to a diocese in his native Sardinia to be used by a group that helps immigrants and is headed by his brother.
He also facilitated a contribution of about 300,000 euros from Italy's bishops conference for the same purpose.
Becciu said he was also accused of nepotism in his previous posts when he was Vatican ambassador in Angola and Cuba.
He said he used the services of another brother, who runs a carpentry business, to do restoration work in both embassies because it was difficult to find qualified workers and good material in those places. He said he had not tried to enrich his family.
"I am stunned. This is all surreal to me. This is a misunderstanding. I am ready to explain everything to the pope. I have not done anything wrong," he said.
During his tenure as deputy secretary of state, the Secretariat of State, Vatican purchased a luxury building in London as an investment.
An investigation into that deal, which involved several middlemen, led to the suspension last year of five
Vatican employees, the resignation of the Vatican's police chief
and the departure of the former head of the Vatican's Financial
Information Authority (AIF).
Becciu has denied all wrongdoing in the deal and defended the purchase, saying the property has increased in value.
In June, Vatican police arrested Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian
middleman who was part of the London property deal and charged him with extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money
laundering. He was later released but the investigation is continuing.
(Editing by William Maclean)