Pope Francis was secretly recorded in a phone call with one of his cardinals he appeared during an ongoing financial trial at the Vatican on Thursday.
A Vatican court has heard the audio recording between Pope Francis and Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a defendant in the lawsuit, in which the cardinal asks the pope to confirm that he authorized payments to help free a nun kidnapped in Africa.
Journalists were not allowed to listen to the recording, but a transcript from the Italian financial police was later published by the Italian news agency Adnkronos. Three defense attorneys at trial also later confirmed the content of the conversation to Vatican reporters present.
The recording was made by a third party in the room with Cardinal Becciu during the telephone conversation, which took place on July 24, 2021. The call took place three days before the start of the Vatican trial in which Becciu is charged with embezzlement and abuse of office, and just 10 days after Francis was released from hospital for bowel surgery.
In the appeal, Becciu asks the pope to confirm that he authorized the payments the cardinal made to a self-proclaimed security consultant named Cecilia Marogna – who is also accused of embezzlement in the lawsuit – to pay in turn the British company Inkerman. Group, to help secure the release of the nun who was kidnapped by Islamist militants in Mali in 2017, the transcript says.
The sums paid, according to Cardinal Becciu, who at the time was number two in the Vatican Secretariat of State, were 350,000 euros (363,706 USD) to the British firm and 500,000 euros (519,580 USD ) as a ransom for the nun.
According to the transcript, the pope said on the call that he vaguely remembers it and asks the cardinal to put in writing what he would like the pope to confirm.
Under Vatican law, there is no provision for a pope to be called as a witness in a trial.
Cardinal Becciu, who was fired from his job and stripped of most of his cardinal rights by Pope Francis in September 2020, has always maintained that all financial transactions he undertakes are fully approved by his superiors, including Pope Francis. Becciu and Marogna both pleaded not guilty to all counts in the trial.
A statement from Becciu’s attorneys sent to CNN on Thursday had no comment on the secretly recorded phone call.
Revelations of a secretly taped phone call and what Pope Francis knew about Vatican financial dealings are just the latest in a long and complicated lawsuit centering on the Vatican’s purchase of a luxury building in London in which 10 defendants are charged with fraud and extortion.