March 29, 2023

A secret audio tape of Pope Francis added another twist to a trial concerning financial corruption in the Vatican.

On Thursday, the Vatican tribunal investigating financial fraud allegations heard an audio recording of Francis speaking about payments to free a nun held by Islamist militants, The Associated Press reported.

The recording captured a meeting between the pope and the main defendant in the trial, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, on July 24, 2021. Prosecutor Angelo Diddi said the cardinal and a family associate secretly recorded Francis.

Becciu is facing charges of embezzlement and abuse of office.

In the recording, the cardinal asked Francis to confirm that he had authorized a payment to a British firm identified by co-defendant Cecilia Maronga, a self-styled security analyst, to negotiate the release of Sister Silvia Narvaez, a Columbian nun who was kidnapped in Mali by al-Qaida militants in 2017.

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According to Reuters, lawyers in the courtroom said the pope seemed perplexed by the request and repeatedly asked Becciu to send him a written note.

Francis had no idea that he was being recorded at the time, according to the report.

In 2018, Becciu hired Maronga to negotiate the nun’s release, and he sent her nearly $600,000 from the Vatican Secretariat of State. According to police, however, she used much of the money for personal use, including on luxury clothes and visits to a spa.

Maronga, like the cardinal, now faces charges of embezzlement.

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The secret audio recording doesn’t show Francis guilty of wrongdoing in this case. However, it does corroborate claims by Becciu and others that the pope was familiar with the expenditures and approved some of them, the AP said.

It also shows he put his trust in the wrong person, as Becciu seemed to act out of concern for his own interests and violated Francis’ trust by secretly recording the pontiff.

This illustrates that all humans, even those who are in the service of God, are fallible creatures and prone to error.

The Catholic Church has been no stranger to this, with the clergy sex abuse scandal and the cover-up by bishops proving how even men of God can commit evil acts.

Yet we need not just look at the church today. The Bible is full of examples of men in the service of God who were guilty of grave sins.

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Take Peter, for instance, whom the Catholic Church regards as the first pontiff. He was appointed to be one of the leaders of the apostles, but during the passion he denied Christ three times (Luke 22:54-62). Peter repented, and Christ forgave him after his resurrection (John 21:15-19).

Then there is David in the Old Testament, Israel’s first great king. Despite all the good he did, he committed a grave act of adultery with Bathsheba and even had her husband killed so he could have her (Samuel 11:1-27). David atoned for his sin, and God still allowed his son to come from the line of David.

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was made to save all people from sin and damnation. We are all fallen creatures in need of salvation; no one, whether an ordinary person or someone in the service of the church, is exempt from this.