A cardinal under investigation in a sprawling corruption scandal denied wrongdoing and insisted Monday he acted for the good of the church while handling real estate transactions for the Vatican office that funds missionary work abroad.
Naples Cardinal Crecenzio Sepe told a press conference he forgave his accusers and was going ahead serenely while accepting the "cross" that the investigation had brought on him.
Prosecutors are trying to untangle an alleged web of kickbacks involving billions of euros (dollars) worth of contracts for such mega-projects as preparing 2000 Holy Year events in Rome, the 2009 Group of Eight summit and rebuilding the quake-shattered town of L'Aquila.
Sepe's real estate transactions at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples are under scrutiny since they involved some of the key figures implicated in the probe, including Premier Silvio Berlusconi's disaster chief Guido Bertolaso.
The scandal marks the second major crisis implicating top church officials this year following the clerical abuse crisis.
Sepe said Monday he was sure of the Vatican's staunch support as he confronted the accusations.
"I'm going forward with serenity; I accept the cross and I forgive, from the depth of my heart, those who have wanted to strike at me from both inside and outside the church," he said in a letter read aloud at the press conference and posted on the Naples diocesan website.
"I have acted with the maximum transparency," he said, adding that all of his budgets were approved each year by the Vatican's secretariat of state. "I say this for the love of truth, knowing well that I always acted according to conscience and with the good of the church as my sole objective."
In the letter, Sepe denied point-by-point the three main accusations against him concerning his 2001-2006 tenure at the congregation and three real estate transactions involving the sale, renovation and renting of congregation-owned properties.
And he sought to dispel suggestions that he had been demoted to Naples archbishop by Pope Benedict XVI after serving in such a politically powerful position as prefect of one of the Vatican's wealthiest congregations.
Sepe said Benedict had asked him what he thought about moving to Naples, and that he readily agreed, saying he wanted to serve his remaining years among the faithful.