Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Vallejo and Chaouqui: the odd couple and old power intrigues
Luis Angel Vallejo Balda and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui: the Pope had previously tried to clip the wings of this ambitious and unscrupulous duo ANDREA TORNIELLI Vatican Insider November 3, 2015 After what was a very intense month for the life of the Church and the Synod of bishops, albeit marked by negative moments such as the false news about the Pope’s supposed illness, the Vatileaks scandal exploded once again. Or rather one final last-ditch effort in the old Vatileaks scandal. It exploded again with the scandalous arrests of Spanish monsignor, Luis Angel Vallejo Balda, Secretary of the Vatican audit office and PR woman Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui. The two have been accused of leaking the content of letters on the Vatican’s finances, which they swore to keep secret, content which is to appear in two books that are soon to be published. They are also accused of providing recordings of Francis’ conversations with his collaborators. But behind these accusations is a story that began one sultry July two years ago. The two individuals responsible for leaking the documents, claim they acted in order “to help the Pope”, to “win the war” against cliques that opposed change and transparency. But Francis can’t have been overjoyed by their generous help, given that he gave his personal approval for the arrests of this odd couple, whose involvement in the whole affair did not surprise many in the Vatican. In July 2013, Vallejo managed to get Chaouqui appointed to the commission that was to handle the most confidential of documents on Vatican finances. The two have very close ties: he presented himself as “the Pope’s treasurer”, she as “the Pope’s commissioner”. The incarnation of a new course, made of transparency and many friendships with people who matter in the economic, media and political spheres. Now, the Vatican Gendarmerie is keeping a close eye on the 54-year-old Spanish monsignor with links to the Opus Dei, who aspired to become the Holy See’s key figure in the economic sphere, who is being held in a cell in the Vatican. He holds his head in his hands and is concerned about his elderly mother with whom he – an only son – lived up until three days ago in Rome. Meanwhile, 33-year-old, Francesca Immacolata, from San Sosti in Italy’s Calabria region, a young and ambitious woman capable of opening the doors of the Vatican to international consulting firms and VIP acquaintances, was held in a Salesian nuns’ residence in the Vatican for one night before being released. Investigators say the two provided all the material for “Avarizia” and “Via Crucis”, two books written by Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi respectively. The two authors also say they are convinced that the publication of these texts “will help the Pope”. A Pope who by now has to deal with these kinds of “helpers” on a daily basis. There are two dates that point to the origin of this last ditch effort linked to the old Vatileaks scandal. Even back then, in a series of anonymous newspaper interviews, Francesca Chaouqui backed the “poison pen letter writers”, corroborating the importance of the letters leaked by the former Pope’s butler. The first is 18 July 2013. Francis published a motu proprio for the establishment of the commission on economic and administrative problems of the Holy See (COSEA): Vallejo was appointed secretary and to the surprise of the team in charge of screening accounts and management problems in Vatican offices and dicasteries, Chaouqui was also nominated thanks to her friend, the monsignor. Her appointment was immediately seen as too convenient: the young woman wrote a series of insolent tweets against Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and former minister Tremonti (she would later deny having written hem, claiming hackers had got into her account, only to then delete them after they had been online for months). She made no attempt to keep her links with gossip website Dagospia a secret and made completely unfounded conjectures about Benedict XVI allegedly having “leukaemia”. In an interview published on the online version of Italian news magazine L’Espresso, she announced she had access to “confidential” Vatican “papers” and that she was a good friend of Nuzzi’s. But controversies soon died down and due to the nature of her role, Chaouqui was able to freely come and go from Saint Martha’s House. The second date is 3 March 2014. On this day, having established the Secretariat for the Economy and nominated Australian cardinal George Pell as the new Prefect, Francis announced the name of the dicastery’s number two man. Instead of appointing Vallejo Balda, as Pell had requested and believed to be certain, right up until the last moment, the Pope surprised everyone by choosing Alfred Xuereb. This came as a big blow to the Vallejo-Chaouqui duo. The Spanish prelate was convinced the position was in the bag. He had even imprudently confirmed it on a Spanish radio programme. No appointments for “commissioner” Francesca Immacolata either: while five COSEA members took up their positions in a new Vatican body, the Council for the Economy, she was left empty-handed. From this moment on, the PR woman and her tunic-clad talent scout felt they were “at war” and identified Pell as their great enemy. The friction between the Secretariat for the Economy, the Secretariat of State and the other dicasteries of the Holy See was no figment of the imagination. Francis himself intervened on a number of occasions to cut back certain powers and clearly outline duties. But for this odd couple “at war”, this was not enough. In April last year, during the ceremony for the canonization of Popes John and John Paul, Vallejo and Chaouqui committed yet another faux pas that bothered the Pope in no small measure. They organised a buffet with a view for highly select group of 150 VIPs on the terrace of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs, unbeknownst to Vallejo’s direct superior. The documents Fittipaldi and Nuzzi used to write their books – documents about the management of the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital in Rome, the expenses of Bertone’s apartment, some strange IOR accounts and Vatican house rents – are backed up by recordings that were apparently obtained during COSEA meetings the Pope was present at. The gendarmes led by Domenico Giani had been investigating the document leak for some time. This time, they were convinced they had solved the case before the contents reached the bookstores.