How Common Is Vatican Wiretapping?

(photo: EP)

Vatican police made two arrests in early November following “searches and wiretaps” of suspects, according to Vatican Insider, an online publication with close links to the Vatican authorities and Casa Santa Marta, the papal residence.

The website reported Nov. 13 that the arrests of Spanish Msgr. Luis Angel Vallejo Balda and laywoman Francesca Chaouqui, both accused of leaking confidential Vatican documents, were carried out after “searches and wiretaps that had been conducted for months, in complete confidentiality, by the Vatican Gendarmerie led by Domenico Giani.”

The investigations also included those of two journalists, Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, who reported on the leaks in two books.

The article also quoted a prelate close to Msgr. Vallejo who said the Spanish monsignor “recently lived in a state of near-paranoia.”

“He felt spied on,” the prelate said. “He told everyone that his computer was monitored from the outside. He was convinced that, in his office alone, there were 25 bugs and he didn’t talk about confidential matters even in the elevator of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs.”

Msgr. Vallejo’s fears may well have been exaggerated, but to monitor such a suspect would not be unusual in most countries and given the gravity of the alleged offence, even to be commended. And yet in today's Vatican, Msgr. Vallejo's attitude is by no means unusual.

Over recent years, and especially since the Vatileaks scandal of 2012 when wiretapping was widely used in investigations, one has often heard middle to low-ranking officials voicing suspicions that their phones, computers and offices are being bugged.

The growing sense of unease has become noticeably more widespread and, although it’s often passed off as a joke, the anxieties can be real, especially in dicasteries dealing with more sensitive material. 

To take a few recent examples: an official told me recently he preferred only to send emails from home as he did not trust the Vatican service provider. Another insisted on leaving his mobile phone outside a meeting to discuss sensitive information because he felt sure it might be being used as a bugging device.

One dicastery is particularly wary of interceptions: its staff prefer to meet people in person rather than call them and generally shun email for non-routine messages.

Staff in other dicasteries with reputations for secrecy are also particularly sensitive to possible monitoring by the Vatican police. "There are always rumors of such things," said one official.

Vatican IT staff openly admit to having the capability to monitor curial computers, but stress they have to ask a user’s permission first. The Vatican Gendarmerie, on the other hand, are unlikely to need such authorization.

That is not a problem if the monitoring is carried out appropriately. But if the Vatican authorities were gravely abusing rights to privacy, it would be very hard to tell.

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