Editor's Note: This article was updated after its initial publication.
VATICAN CITY — A Spanish monsignor and an Italian public-relations consultant who served on a financial reform commission set up by Pope Francis were arrested Oct. 31, suspected of leaking confidential information and documents.
A Vatican statement issued Nov. 2 said that Vatican prosecutors upheld the arrests of Francesca Chaouqui, 33, and Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, 54.
The two had been arrested under a July 2013 Vatican law that prohibits the disclosure of information and confidential documents. Chaouqui was freed a day later because of her cooperation with the investigation, a Vatican spokesman said. As the Register went to press, Msgr. Vallejo was still being held in custody. If found guilty, he could be jailed for four to six years.
Both had served on a now-defunct Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA), a body Francis set up in 2013 to advise the Pope on reform of Vatican finances.
Msgr. Vallejo, a diocesan priest of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, which is associated with the personal prelature of Opus Dei, was continuing to work as a Vatican official at the time of his arrest.
The arrests came ahead of the publication of two books reportedly containing leaked information from the Vatican, one having been written by the same journalist connected with the Vatileaks scandal under Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
Entitled Avarice: The Papers That Reveal Wealth, Scandals and Secrets in the Church of Francis and Via Crucis, the books were written by Italian journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, respectively. They are expected to expose corruption in the Vatican, primarily of a financial nature.
Nuzzi obtained notoriety in 2012 through his connection with the leaking of confidential letters and memos from the previous pontificate, culminating with his publication of the stolen material in his book His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI.
According to an advanced copy of his new book, received by The Associated Press, Nuzzi cites emails, minutes of meetings, recorded private conversations and memos to paint a picture of a Vatican bureaucracy entrenched in a culture of mismanagement, waste and secrecy. The book’s allegations include rock-bottom rental rates for Vatican officials, canonization causes whose success is dependent on large donors and “out of control” personnel costs.
According to the AP, the book is “clearly written from the point of view of the commission members, sympathetic to their plight and setting up an ‘us against them’ narrative of the new reformers battling the Vatican's entrenched Old Guard, without addressing why the Old Guard might have had reason to distrust them.”
The Vatican’s statement said that, “in the context of judicial police investigations carried out by the Vatican gendarmerie, or police force, and begun several months ago because of the removal and lead of confidential information and documents, on Saturday and Sunday, [the] two persons were summoned to be interrogated on the basis of elements and evidence that had been gathered.”
The Vatican stressed the publication of illegally obtained confidential information constitutes a “serious betrayal of trust” with the Pope. It added: “Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establish clarity and truth, but, rather, to create confusion and partial and tendentious interpretations.”
The authors have claimed their revelations are geared towards helping the Pope clean up the Curia, but this was not the Vatican’s view. “We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope,” the Vatican statement said.
It added that the Prosecutor’s Office is looking into the possibility of taking legal and penal measures against the authors. The precise motives for leaking the information are not known.
The study commission COSEA was established in July 2013 by Pope Francis as part of his plan to reform the Vatican’s finances. Its task was to examine the accounts of all departments and suggest reforms, in order to reduce expenditure and generally improve management.
It was dissolved after completing its mandate and made way for the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, headed by Cardinal George Pell.
Msgr. Vallejo, ordained in 1987 at the age of 26, served as “custodian” of Vatican finances, investigating the functioning of 270 economic entities of the Holy See. Benedict XVI brought him to the Vatican on account of his experience handling finances for the large Diocese of Astorga in Spain and the economic affairs of World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011. He was recommended by the then-archbishop of Madrid, Antonio Ruoca Varela.
Informed sources have told the Register that the “power and influence got to him.” He lived in a large and elaborately furnished Vatican apartment, and his relationship with colleagues had allegedly deteriorated.
Others believe that his work in Vatican, being one of financial inspection, would have naturally drawn enemies.
In a statement, Opus Dei expressed its “surprise and sadness” at the arrest, and the order has distanced itself from the Spanish priest. “Opus Dei has no information on the case,” the statement said, adding that if the charges are confirmed, “it would be particularly painful for the damage done to the Church.” However, it noted, “until the judicial proceedings reach their conclusion, there is a presumption of innocence on the part of the accused.”
Chaouqui, who had worked with various PR and management-consulting firms such as Ernst & Young, wrote in the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica soon after her appointment in 2013 that her task was to convey to the business community that the atmosphere at the Vatican had changed.
Her job was to show that the “Vatican’s economic power is constructive, positive and transparent, not hidden, mysterious and uncontrollable,” she wrote, adding that, “like all other members of the committee, I have access to the most confidential documents.”
Sandro Magister’s Warning
Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister said that he had long been sounding the alarm about Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui. Writing on his blog Settimo Cielo, Nov. 2, Magister said “their untrustworthiness was already known ad abundantiam [in abundance]” by the time they were appointed.
In August 2013, he claimed Chaouqui, who had already been in trouble for publishing indiscreet tweets (she said her account had been hacked), was an informant on the Vatileaks scandal and had a “direct line” to Nuzzi. Chaouqui and her husband were both close friends with Msgr. Vallejo, and it’s thought he was instrumental in having her appointed.
Nuzzi told the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera Nov. 3 that the Vatican, not him, claimed Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui were his sources. “I’ll only say that my sources had free access to the documents, due to the positions held by them in the Vatican. And they wanted to share them with me to help Pope Francis, but not a card has been stolen or taken away,” he said. He alleges that 1.6 million euros of goods have “disappeared” from the government of Vatican city state over the past two years and that some Vatican properties are leased for just 6 euros a year. His book, he said, is a response to those who have asked for the truth.
Fittipaldi, whose book will debut Nov. 5, has said he “doesn’t fear censorship,” insists Italy has “freedom of the press” and contends that the Vatican is “terrified” by the book’s revelations, as, he believes, the two arrests suggest. In an interview Nov. 3 with Corriere della Sera, he alleged that 400 million euro was received in cash through “Peter’s Pence,” and “not a dime was spent on charity to the poor, but for things in the Curia.”
Sources have told the Register that Msgr. Vallejo promoted Cardinal Pell for the position of prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and that the Spanish priest hoped to become its secretary. Instead, due to an “incompatibility of functions,” that position went to Msgr. Alfred Xuereb, the former Maltese private secretary of Benedict XVI.
Some have seen this as a possible indirect attack on Cardinal Pell, whose financial reforms have drawn opposition, especially in parts of the Curia and the Italian media. But a spokesman for the cardinal insisted that was not the case. “The reforms are moving forward,” he told the Register, and the arrests are “the effect of the reforms that are being put in place.”
“The leaking of documents isn’t acceptable in any government, and it’s not acceptable here,” he said. “The Church is getting its house in order.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.