An Italian cardinal investigated for fraud taped the pope without his consent during a telephone conversation in which he tried to get him to confirm that he had approved confidential financial transactions, Italian media reported on Friday.
Made by Cardinal Angelo Becciu on July 24, 2021, the recording took place three days before the start of his trial and when Pope Francis had just undergone a major colonic operation.
The audio has not been made public, but a Vatican court hearing on Thursday revealed its existence.
Becciu, 74, is a former close adviser to the pope but was removed from office and stripped of his privileges as a cardinal in September 2020 in the wake of a scandal over a property deal in London. He claims innocence.
Several people have gone through the Vatican Criminal Court since July 2021 on charges of fraud, embezzlement, abuse of power, money laundering, corruption and extortion.
Among them is Cecilia Marogna, an intermediary hired by Becciu as a security consultant. She is accused of having spent €575,000 from the Vatican on luxury hotels and products.
According to prosecutors, the funds given to Marogna – known as “the cardinal’s lady” in the Italian press – should have been used to help free priests and nuns held hostage abroad.
In the phone call with the pope, Cardinal Becciu asks the pontiff to confirm that he has approved the release of funds to free a Colombian nun held by a group linked to Al-Qaeda in Mali.
“Did you or did you not give me authorization to start operations to free the nun?” asks Bishop Becciu. “We had set the ransom at 500,000 euros, no more than that, because we thought it was immoral to give more money to the […] terrorists. […] I think I already informed you about all this… Do you remember?”, continues.
According to the transcript, published, among other vehicles, by the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, the pope replies that he remembers “vaguely”.
The Argentine pontiff then asks Becciu to ask him the question in writing.
The call was recorded in Becciu’s apartment by someone close to her, according to the court.
The trial, the first for such a high-ranking cardinal, continues on Friday, with hearings of key witnesses.