ROME (RNS) — At a session of the Vatican’s corruption trial on Thursday (March 9), the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, presented the court with an extraordinary exchange of letters between Pope Francis and Cardinal Angelo Becciu, one of the trial’s 10 defendants, in which the cardinal pleaded with the pontiff to back his version of events and drop charges of financial malfeasance against him.
Becciu asked the pope to confirm that he had endorsed the 2014 purchase and later sale of a London real estate property that resulted in the Vatican losing millions of euros.
In a letter dated July 21, 2021, Francis expressed “surprise,” writing that Becciu’s request “immediately seemed strange to me because of the content, forms and timing.”
Since “I had no other elements of evaluation, I suggested that we proceed to a preliminary consultation with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and with Father Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, prefect of the (Vatican Secretariat for the Economy).”
The pope’s letter was in response to a July 20 missive sent by Becciu, sent two weeks after the cardinal was indicted, in which he also asked the pope to confirm that the cardinal’s dealings with Cecilia Marogna, a self-styled security analyst who is also on trial, were bound under “pontifical secret.”
Marogna, who is charged with embezzlement, was paid exorbitantly for advising Becciu, and used the payments to buy expensive designer bags and furniture, according to prosecutors.
Becciu and his lawyers have argued that the payments made to Marogna were made to negotiate the freedom of a Colombian nun who was kidnapped in Mali in 2017. In November 2022, the Vatican court heard a recording of a phone call between Francis and Becciu, in which Becciu again asked the pope to confirm that he had authorized the payment to Marogna.
The telephone recording, obtained by Italian investigators who were looking into a charity linked to Becciu, was made without the pope’s knowledge or consent.
In a letter dated July 24, 2021, Becciu thanked the pope for his call and once again asked the pope to confirm his authorization. “I should cite you as a witness in the trial, but I would not allow myself to do so,” the cardinal wrote.
Nevertheless, Becciu asked the pope for two statements “confirming how the events took place” regarding the London property and the payments made to Marogna.
The pope responded two days later, writing that he believed that he “had clarified, in a spirit of truth, my negative position on the declarations you intend to have me sign.”
“Evidently and surprisingly, I have been misunderstood by you,” he wrote.
Furthermore, Francis said the payments made to Marogna could not be protected under pontifical secret due to “the opaque aspects” of Becciu’s actions that were being scrutinized by Vatican investigators.
The court also heard testimony Thursday from Gianluca Gauzzi Broccoletti, commander of the Vatican Gendarmerie, and Vatican Police Commissioner Stefano De Santis.
Gauzzi told the Vatican judges that he and De Santis met with Becciu in October 2020 to discuss allegations that the cardinal had provided financial support to the accusers of the late Cardinal George Pell, who was convicted of child abuse charges in Australia before being acquitted on appeal.
Initially aloof, Gauzzi said, when presented with evidence of the purchases Marogna had made, Becciu “bent down on his knees and putting his hands over his face, he said, ‘If this thing comes out, it will be a serious damage for me and for my family members.’”
He also said that Becciu told the two law enforcement officers that he was willing to pay back the money spent by Marogna to the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank.
In a statement released Thursday, Becciu said the commander had assured him the meeting would be confidential and had assured Becciu that he was “the one being cheated.”
Becciu called Gauzzi’s testimony “yet another wound” he has suffered in the trial.