Pope Francis was covertly caught during a phone call with one of his former top cardinals discussing the Holy See’s payments to liberate a nun held prisoner by al-Qaeda-linked extremists in northern Africa.
In a surprising judicial step, the recorded phone call between Pope Francis and Cardinal Angelo Becciu — one of 10 defendants in an ongoing corruption trial — was played before the Vatican court.
In the call, Becciu can be heard asking the Pope to clarify that he had authorized cash to liberate the nun, who was kidnapped in 2017. She was ultimately liberated last year and visited with the pope.
Journalists were requested to leave the courtroom before the audio was played since the recording had not yet been properly brought into evidence, but a transcript from the Italian Financial Police was released by Italian news agency Adnkronos, CNN said.
The tape was recorded on July 24, 2021 — only three days before Becciu was to be placed on trial for suspected corruption and abuse of office — and 10 days after Pope Francis had been released from the hospital in Rome for intestinal surgery, according to the site.
Beccui can be heard asking the Pope to clarify that he had allowed payments to self-described security consultant Cecilia Marogna, who has also been listed as a defendant in the prosecution. Marogna planned to then pay the British business, Inkerman Group, to liberate the nun.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu was compelled to retire as the Holy See’s secretary of state in September.
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Beccui alleged that the payments were $363,706 USD to Inkerman Group and $519,518 USD in ransom for the nun.
The Pope told the Cardinal that he faintly recalled the payments, but urged him to put his confirmation request in writing.
There is no Vatican rule that mandates the Pope to testify in a trial, according to CNN.
Becciu, the Holy See’s former secretary of state, was compelled to retire on Sept. 24. He is suspected of funneling Vatican money to businesses and nonprofits run by his three brothers.
In addition, he reportedly directed a multimillion-dollar investment in premium real estate in London, which is central to the case. The defendants are accused of cheating the Holy See and then extorting 15 million euros from the Vatican in order to gain possession of the property, as alleged by the prosecution. On the property purchase alone, the Vatican lost 100 million euros.
Becciu has asserted that his supervisors rubber-stamped all of his financial activities. He, Marogna, and every other defendant have all entered not-guilty pleas.
Italian brokers and other Vatican officials have been accused of a variety of financial crimes, including fraud, embezzlement, corruption, and abuse of office, by prosecutors.
In the London case, the defendants are accused of defrauding the Holy See and then demanding 15 million euros from the Vatican in order to gain control of the property.