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Vatican court hears secret recording of pope on hostage fees

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican tribunal weighing a financial fraud case heard from an unusual witness Thursday, when a secret recording of Pope Francis was played to the court about the Holy See’s payments to free a nun held hostage by al-Qaida-linked militants.

The broadcast of the pope’s own voice in the courtroom marked a surreal new chapter in a trial that has already seen plenty of twists as Vatican judges try to determine who, if anyone, is criminally responsible for losing tens of millions of euros in Holy See assets.

Vatican prosecutors introduced the recording into evidence Thursday, saying it was part of a trove of material recently obtained from Italian financial police who are investigating a Sardinian charity linked to Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a onetime close Francis collaborator who is one of the 10 defendants in the Vatican trial.

Vatican prosecutors revealed that the Sardinian evidence has also been added to a new Vatican investigation in which Becciu is under investigation for alleged criminal conspiracy.

According to Prosecutor Angelo Diddi, Becciu and a family associate secretly recorded Francis on July 24, 2021, three days before the Vatican trial opened, when Becciu spoke to him by phone from his Vatican apartment. While most of the defendants are facing charges related to the Vatican’s 350-million-euro investment in a London property, Becciu is on trial for alleged abuse of office and embezzlement in relation to his dealings with the Sardinian charity and with a self-styled security analyst who is also on trial, Cecilia Marogna.

In the recording, Becciu asks Francis to essentially confirm that the pope had authorized the payments to a British firm that Marogna had identified to negotiate the freedom of a Colombian nun who was kidnapped in 2017 in Mali. Francis, who had just been released from a 10-day hospital stay, was familiar with the case and essentially concurred, according to several lawyers who heard the recording. The tribunal president ordered journalists to leave the courtroom during the playback of the recording, on the grounds that it hadn’t yet been formally admitted into evidence.

Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez was kidnapped in Mali in February 2017 by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which had bankrolled its insurgency by kidnapping Westerners. During her captivity, the group periodically showed Narvaez on video asking for the Vatican’s help.

Becciu had told the court on May 5 that he had raised her plight with…

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