Pope Francis has approved a secret million-euro operation to free a Colombian nun who was kidnapped for more than four years in Mali before she was released in 2021, a cardinal told a Vatican court on Thursday.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 73, the only prelate among the 10 accused in a corruption trial that began last July, also testified that he had no improper relations with an Italian woman who was an intermediary in the operation to free the nun.
Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez was kidnapped by the Macina Liberation Front, an al Qaeda-linked group in Mali, in February 2017.
Becciu testified that Cecilia Marogna, who is also charged at trial, put him in touch with a London-based intelligence and risk company in 2018 to find a way to seek his freedom.
The cardinal said he told the pontiff that the operation, including the establishment of a “network of contacts” and an eventual rescue, would cost a maximum of about one million euros.
“He passed. I must say that every phase of that operation was approved by the Holy Father,” Becciu testified.
Becciu, who was undersecretary of state from 2011 to 2018, is charged with embezzlement, abuse of authority and inducing perjury on a witness. He denies all charges.
Becciu said a special account for the operation was opened at the Vatican Secretariat of State and that payments were made to the accounts indicated by Marogna. He further maintained that the intelligence company established direct contact with the kidnappers, but did not say whether a ransom was paid.
The cardinal said the deal was kept secret even from the Vatican’s security chief at the time because any leak would have sparked international criticism and “endangered the lives and safety of other missionaries.”
Marogna is accused of embezzlement. She also denies wrongdoing.
The indictment issued in July said he had received about 575,000 euros in 2018-2019 from the Secretary of State. Prosecutors charged her in July with using much of it for “personal gain,” including buying luxury goods, incriminations she denied.
The pope fired Becciu from another vatican post in 2020, accusing him of nepotism on behalf of his brothers, an accusation he also denies.
Two months ago, Francis lifted Becciu’s oath of “pontifical secret” so he could answer questions related to Marogna and the nun’s abduction.
Becciu ran into trouble with the Italian media, which has dubbed Marogna “the cardinal’s lady.”
The cardinal told the tribunal that his relationship with Marogna had been “distorted, with offensive insinuations, of an infamous character, detrimental to my priestly dignity.”
The trial revolves mainly around the purchase by the Vatican Secretariat of State of a building in an elegant area of London with an investment of about 350 million euros from 2014.
But the deal went wrong and the Vatican lost 217 million euros. Vatican prosecutors charged two Italian brokers with extortion.
During Thursday’s seven-hour hearing, Vatican prosecutor Alessandro Diddi questioned Becciu about other aspects of the deal, the cardinal’s institutional relations with other Vatican officials and what banks the Vatican used.
Other defendants in the trial include former Vatican officials accused of embezzlement and several other financial crimes related to the real estate business. All have denied wrongdoing.