Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Edward is the author of “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family”, published by Ignatius Press. Follow him on Twitter @edwardpentin
A former Vatican official admitted today to leaking confidential Holy See documents to journalists, but said he was not “fully lucid” when he committed the offense.
Msgr. Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda told a Vatican court: “I sent documents to journalists, I handed over a list of five pages with 87 passwords.”
He also said he passed the information onto the journalists, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, after becoming certain his email had been intercepted, and that Nuzzi had already obtained the documents. Both Nuzzi and Fittipaldi are also being tried for allegedly obtaining the information from Vatican officials by force.
Since 2013, under a new law instituted by Pope Francis, the leaking of confidential Vatican documents has been a criminal offence.
The Spanish Vatican official, who at the time was number two at a short-term commission (COSEA) to reform Holy See finances, said he had not been "fully lucid" when he leaked the classified information, and had since been treated by a psychiatrist for depression and stress.
Msgr. Vallejo, who was the first to testify in the resumption of the so-called “Vatileaks” trial, said he was being emotionally blackmailed by a female colleague, Francesca Chaouqui, with whom he was romantically entangled. “I was convinced I was in a situation without exit,” he said, according to the AP.
He said he feared for his life after his friendship with Chaouqui, who was working for the commission as a PR expert, turned sour, and he felt increasingly terrorized by her. Chaouqui is also being tried for leaking confidential Vatican information.
Fittipaldi’s book “Avarice,” and Nuzzi’s book “Merchants in the Temple,” detailed financial mismanagement at the Vatican including allegations of rock-bottom rental rates for Vatican officials, canonization causes whose success is dependent on large donors and “out of control” personnel costs. Much of the information in the books was based on classified, leaked information held by COSEA.
Msgr. Vallejo, 54, was the commission’s No. 2 at the time; Chaouqui was a commission member. The fifth defendant, Nicola Maio, was an assistant to the commission but not Msgr. Vallejo’s personal secretary as some are erroneously reporting.
The Spanish official, who said Chaouqui seduced him in Florence at Christmas 2014, said he was "ashamed of what I had done with her, and when I was leaking the documents, I kept on thinking of the scandal if it all came to light.” He added that she had told him she worked for Italian secret services and that her marriage “was simply a cover.” Msgr. Vallejo said he was certain Chaouqui mingled in a “dangerous world” of Italian power brokers and had ulterior interests.
He became especially suspicious in Christmas 2014 when Chaouqui asked him to organize a Vatican concert with the Spanish non-profit organization Messengers of Peace . “At that time I opened my eyes and realized that she was exploiting me,” he said. He added that he had “suffered a lot from what happened” and that for a “normal person it was a very compromising situation, and I felt very uncomfortable as a priest."
Msgr. Vallejo said when he decided to cut her off, “I felt as if my physical safety was in danger.”
Chaouqui, who is now pregnant, appeared highly agitated when listening to Msgr. Vallejo’s testimony, according to AFP, and repeatedly whispered to her lawyer from her seat on the accused bench.
In a Vatican statement issued this evening, Holy See spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Nuzzi had defaulted by not appearing at the hearing today. Nuzzi’s lawyer issued a plea of “lawful impediment” on the grounds that Nuzzi had to appear in a criminal court in Milan. The Vatican said Nuzzi was notified on March 7 that was to appear at the Vatican court and so rejected the plea.
Father Lombardi also said the court had acquired a letter Chaouqui had written to Pope Francis, asking to be relieved of the “pontifical secrecy” she agreed to as a member of COSEA in order to be able to properly defend herself. Father Lombardi said the court had not yet authorized it.
Writing on her Facebook page March 12, Chaouqui said: “We’ll see each other in court. Everyone with me, without fear, for the truth, for the Church, for Francis.” She said she won’t be talking with the press during this time but is “writing a book.”
Today’s hearing lasted three hours and will continue tomorrow morning and afternoon. Further hearings are scheduled on Friday afternoon, Monday 21 and Tuesday 22. The Vatican is understood to be hoping the trial will conclude by Easter.