Vatican announces trial of three Vatileaks sources, two journalists

Rome — The Vatican is criminally charging five people over the latest scandal of leaks of sensitive documents, in an extraordinary move that will see three Vatican employees and two Italian journalists stand trial for "procuring and revealing" confidential information.

The Vatican's press office announced the charges in a press release mid-day Saturday, saying the first hearing in the case will be held Tuesday. Should any of the five decide not to attend, the release says they will be tried in absentia.

That last notice could raise interesting questions and controversy, as one of the journalists has already refused to participate in a Vatican investigation of the matter, saying the city-state's legal process is based on norms from centuries ago and does not provide adequate protection for journalistic activity.

While Italy and the Vatican have an extradition agreement, it is unknown how that agreement would function should the journalist not participate in the trial and subsequently be found guilty.

The charges relate to books recently released by Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, titled Avarizia ("Greed") and Merchants in the Temple, respectively. Both books outline instances of questionable Vatican spending and financial practices, citing leaked documents.

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Spanish Msgr. Angel Vallego Balda and laywoman Francesca Chaouqui were arrested by Vatican officials earlier this month on suspicion of leaking documents in relation to the books. Chaouqui was released, but Vallejo Balda remains in Vatican custody.

The charges announced Saturday are made against all four of the above persons and add another Vatican employee, layperson Nicola Maio.

The Vatican says it is charging each of the five according to updates made to Vatican city-state law in July 2013, alleging they each "illegally procured and successively revealed news and documents ... that were in part used for the writing of two books that came out in Italy in November 2015."

The statement says the charges relate to "crimes committed" from March 2013 until Nov. 5, 2015. It says the first hearing on the matter will occur Tuesday morning and says there will be a panel of four judges hearing the case.

Nuzzi refused to take part in a Vatican investigatory interview this week regarding his book. Fittipaldi attended a similar interview but refused to speak.

Fittipaldi told Italy's ANSA news service he was shocked by the news.

"Maybe I'm naive but I believed they would investigate those I denounced for criminal activity, not the person that revealed the crimes," he said.

The trial will bring comparisons to one held in 2012 against Pope Benedict XVI's butler, who was charged in a series of leaks that detailed serious Vatican misspending and financial mismanagement. He was found guilty but later pardoned by the former pontiff.

Vallejo Balda had served as the secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See. Chaouqui is a former member of the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See. Maio is not listed  in the official pontifical yearbook, but is called a collaborator to the Spanish priest in the charges.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]


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