Pope Francis, in a surprise move, on Thursday granted an official private audience to Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the once-powerful Vatican prelate who is on trial for corruption and embezzlement.
While the pope and Becciu have met on an unofficial basis since Francis dismissed him in 2020, it was the first time since then that the cardinal had been on the pontiff's public list of official audiences in the Apostolic Palace.
Giving the audience such an official and solemn nature gave rise to speculation in some Catholic media that a rapprochement between the two or a rehabilitation of the cardinal may be in the offing.
Becciu is one of 10 defendants at the corruption trial, which revolves around the purchase of a building in London by the Secretariat of State. It began in July 2020.
All of the defendants, who include Vatican employees and Italian middlemen who the prosecution says extorted the Vatican, have denied wrongdoing.
Pope Francis fired Becciu from another senior clerical post in 2020 for alleged nepotism, an accusation he also denies.
At the time of Becciu's firing from that post, he was also stripped of what the Vatican then said were his "rights associated with being a cardinal".
This included the right to enter a secret conclave to elect the next pope after Francis's death or resignation.
Before he was fired, Becciu was one of the most powerful men in the Vatican. He was deputy secretary of state from 2011-2018 and then head of the Vatican department that studies potential candidates for sainthood from 2018 to his dismissal in 2020.
In one of the most recent hearings of the trial, last November, the court heard a secretly recorded telephone call between Becciu and the pope.