Pope Francis authorized spending up to around $1 million to free a Colombian nun kidnapped by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali, a cardinal testified Thursday, revealing previously secret papal approval to hire a British security firm to find the nun and secure her freedom. Cardinal Angelo Becciu's bombshell testimony could pose serious security implications for the Vatican and Catholic Church, since he provided evidence that the pope was apparently willing to pay ransom to Islamic militants to free a nun, who was eventually let go last year. Ransom payments are rarely if ever confirmed, precisely to dissuade future kidnappings. It's not known how much—if any—Vatican money actually ended up in the hands of the militants, per the AP. Prosecutors have accused a Becciu co-defendant of embezzling around half that amount on high-end luxury items for herself.
Becciu said he turned to Italian self-styled intelligence specialist Cecilia Marogna for help following the February 2017 kidnapping of a Colombian nun, Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, in Mali. She'd been kidnapped by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has bankrolled its insurgency by kidnapping Westerners. Narvaez was released in October 2021, after more than four years in captivity. Soon after, she met with Francis at the Vatican. Becciu, who was once one of Francis' top advisers as the No. 2 in the Vatican secretariat of state, had withheld his testimony from the Vatican tribunal for nearly two years as a matter of state and pontifical secret.
But he spoke freely Thursday in his own defense after Francis released him from the confidentiality requirement, providing the most anticipated testimony of the yearlong trial to date. Becciu is one of 10 people accused in the Vatican's sprawling financial-fraud trial, which originated in the Holy See's $370 million investment in a London property and expanded to cover other alleged crimes. Prosecutors have accused the defendants of a host of crimes for allegedly fleecing the Holy See of millions of dollars in fees, commissions, and bad investments. Becciu, the lone cardinal on trial, is accused of embezzlement, abuse of office, and witness tampering, all of which he denies. (Much more here on Becciu's testimony.)