Sunday, November 22, 2015

Five indicted in leak of confidential Vatican documents

Elisabetta Polovedo
New York Times
November 21, 2015

Vatican prosecutors on Saturday formally indicted five people in connection with the theft of confidential documents used to write two tell-all books describing purported mismanagement in the Roman Catholic Church’s bureaucracy.

The five defendants were charged with “illegally procuring and successively revealing information and documents concerning the fundamental interests of the Holy See and the state,” the Vatican said in a statement issued Saturday.

Msgr. Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, and Francesca Chaouqui, a laywoman, were part of a commission set up by Pope Francis to examine the Vatican’s financial holdings and affairs. They were also charged with criminal conspiracy, as was Monsignor Vallejo Balda’s assistant, Nicola Maio.

The authors of the two books — Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi — are accused of “demanding and exercising pressures, above all on Vallejo Balda, to obtain confidential documents and information, that in part they used to draft two books,” according to the statement. The books, Mr. Nuzzi’s “Merchants in the Temple” and Mr. Fittipaldi’s “Avarice,” were published this month.

Disclosing confidential documents has been considered a crime in the Vatican since July 2013, after a similar episode involving the personal butler of Pope Benedict XVI, Paolo Gabriele, who transferred a cache of Vatican letters to Mr. Nuzzi. Mr. Gabriele was imprisoned, tried and in October 2012 sentenced to 18 months in prison, only to be pardoned by Benedict two months later. Mr. Nuzzi used the papers to write the 2012 best-seller “Sua Santità,” or “His Holiness,” which detailed infighting and power struggles at the Vatican.

Those revelations are considered to have had an impact on Benedict’s decision to resign.

If that scandal, which the media called “VatiLeaks,” caught the Vatican unprepared, in the case of the fresh disclosures, officials acted quickly. Monsignor Vallejo Balda and Ms. Chaouqui were arrested a few days before the books were published. He remains detained, and she was released after cooperating with investigators.

The trial is to begin on Tuesday, and the defendants could face up to eight years in prison if convicted.

Both Mr. Fittipaldi and Mr. Nuzzi say that they have not committed any crimes, but have only done what any investigative journalist would do: uncover and expose corruption and mismanagement in places of power.

They also point out that the documents they divulged were hardly closely held state secrets, the “fundamental interests of the Holy See,” as the Vatican contends in the indictment.

Reached by telephone on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Fittipaldi said he was “incredulous” that the Vatican was putting him on trial. “I didn’t reveal anything that put the life of the pope at risk,” he said. “Instead, the documents recount the financial scandals of the curia, crazy investments, greed. It seems strange that they would investigate the teller of those misdeeds rather than those who carried them out.”

Putting journalists on trial is a chilling message from the Vatican, the writers said. “They want to show that they are a state with laws that have to be respected even if we don’t like them,” even if they are undemocratic, Mr. Fittipaldi said. “They want to make an example of this. It’s going to be more difficult for scandals of this type to emerge in the future,” because those who might want to expose corruption and mismanagement will be more wary.

Mr. Nuzzi remained defiant. “I am proud to have published information that was not supposed to get out, as any journalist would have done,” he said. “I didn’t reveal state secrets” involving internal military or security or intelligence issues, “but instances of dishonesty and abuse, and I will continue to do so.”

Questions of conflicting laws are likely to arise if the court convicts the two journalists and then asks for their extradition from Italy to begin serving their sentences, Mr. Fittipaldi said. Italy has laws protecting freedom of the press, even if the Vatican does not. Both men said they were not certain that they would attend the hearings.

Mr. Nuzzi also complained that with the trial date three days away, he would not have enough time to prepare his defense. “I haven’t had access to the charges or investigative acts, I haven’t spoken to my Vatican court-appointed lawyer, and I am still not sure what I’m being accused of,” he said. In light of the pope’s increasing appeals to the faithful to be more merciful in the holy year that begins on Dec. 8, “this trial would appear like a contradiction,” he said.

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