The Vatican has threatened legal action against an Italian television station for using “questionable journalistic methods” in a program that alleged a former senior Vatican official had been transferred against his will after complaining about internal financial mismanagement.

The program, called The Untouchables and broadcast on the channel La 7 on Jan. 25, showed several letters that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, then-deputy governor of Vatican City and now apostolic nuncio to the United States, sent to superiors, including Pope Benedict XVI, last year.

In one letter to the Holy Father, Archbishop Viganò, who was responsible for maintaining much of the city state’s infrastructure, claims he is a victim of a smear campaign launched by other Vatican officials after he had made extensive efforts to save the Vatican money by cleaning up its procedures. He also resisted efforts to transfer him, citing his efforts to root out malpractice.

“Holy Father, my transfer right now would provoke much disorientation and discouragement in those who have believed it was possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and abuse of power that have been rooted in the management of so many departments,” the archbishop wrote in a letter to the Pope on March 27, 2011.

In another letter to the Holy Father on April 4 last year, Archbishop Viganò singled out for criticism two funds managed by a committee of Italian bankers who “looked after their own interests more than ours.” He also said that when he took up his position in 2009, he discovered a web of corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to outside companies at inflated prices, according to a Jan. 26 Reuters report.

In other correspondence, Archbishop Viganò highlighted that previous incompetence at the Vatican had caused officials to rack up losses of “50%-60%,” and referred to one single financial transaction in December 2009 in which “they made us lose two and a half million dollars.”

In a statement released Jan. 26, the Vatican implied the letters were authentic by expressing “disappointment at the revelation of reserved documents,” but added that it was considering taking legal action “to protect the honor of morally upright and highly professional people who serve the Church, the Pope and the common good.”

According to Catholic News Agency, spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the information in the program stretched “well beyond reality,” adding that “the general situation of the government is not as negative as they want to make people believe.”

He said it has become “all too familiar” to find biased reporting about the Catholic Church and stressed that governing the city state is very complex. He said that the situation was presented in “a partial and banal way” so as to exalt “the negative aspects.”

The statement said the work of the archbishop “had many positive aspects, as he contributed to the efforts being made to ensure administrative rigor, economization and the improvement of what was a difficult overall economic situation.” But it added that the program should have made a “fairer evaluation” that would have taken account of the “trends of the market, the investment criteria adopted over recent years, and other important circumstances.”

The Vatican said that the criteria of correctness and transparency that inspired the archbishop “certainly continue to guide the current directors of the governorate” and added that this was in keeping with the Holy See’s commitment to “increasing transparency and attentively monitoring of economic activities.”

On the day this story broke, the Vatican announced it was ratifying three U.N. conventions intended to curb corrupt financial transactions: the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the U.N. Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

It also added that the program presented the complexities of the governorate “in a superficial and biased manner, highlighting the evidently negative aspects with the simplistic result of presenting the structures of government in the Church as being not so much affected by human frailty (which would be easily understandable) as profoundly characterized by arguments, divisions and power struggles.”

“All this disinformation will certainly not obscure the daily and serene efforts towards increasing transparency in all Vatican institutions,” the statement continued. “In this context, it must be decisively affirmed that entrusting Archbishop Viganò with the role of apostolic nuncio to the United States — one of the most important roles in Vatican diplomacy, given the importance of the country and of the Catholic Church there — is proof of unquestionable respect and trust.”

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.