A second high-ranking Holy See official told a Vatican court on Friday that Pope Francis had authorised spending hundreds of thousands of euros in ransom payments to try to free a nun who was kidnapped by al-Qaida-linked militants in Mali.
Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, the Holy See’s the third most senior Vatican figure, told the tribunal that he had sought, and received Francis’ approval to wire the money soon after he took up his duties as the “substitute” in the secretariat of state in late 2018.
Pena Parra was answering questions for a second day Friday after being called by defense attorneys representing the ten people on trial for a host of alleged financial crimes.
One tangent of the Vatican trial concerns €575,000 wired from the Vatican’s Swiss Bank account to a Slovenian-based front company owned by Cecilia Marogna, a self-styled security analyst who was hired in 2016 by Pena Parra’s predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, as an outside consultant.
Becciu told the court last year that he had sought Marogna’s advice in 2017 following the kidnapping of Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which has bankrolled its insurgency by kidnapping Westerners. During her captivity in Mali, the group periodically showed Narvaez on video asking for the Vatican’s help.
Becciu told the court that Francis had authorized spending up to 1 million euros to free the Colombian nun. Becciu said he and Marogna had travelled to London to meet with, and subsequently hire, the British security firm Inkerman to find Narvaez and secure her freedom. She was ultimately released in October 2021.
In their indictment request, prosecutors alleged a double payment: They said some £500,000 British pounds, or the then-equivalent of €575,000, had been sent to Inkerman’s Barklays Bank account for the operation. Separately, they listed nine payments from the Vatican’s Swiss Bank account totaling €575,000 sent to Marogna’s Logsic DOO company from 20 December 2018 to 8 July 2019.
Citing Slovenian bank records, prosecutors allege that Marogna used the money to buy high-end luxury items and go on vacation.
Both Becciu and Marogna are accused of embezzlement, charges they both deny.