Latest on the ‘Vatileaks 2’ Trial

Spanish monsignor says journalists didn't threaten him to obtain information; questions raised over why the Vatican is prosecuting Italian assistant.

Statue of a saint on the top of the colonnade in St. Peter's Square.
Statue of a saint on the top of the colonnade in St. Peter's Square. (photo: EMP Photos/

UPDATE: Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters March 17 that the trial has been adjourned after Francesca Chaouqui's lawyer presented medical documentation showing that, following a hospital visit, Chaouqui, who is pregnant, should take "absolute rest in bed" for a period of 20 days. The next hearing is scheduled to take place in the morning of April 6.

On the second day of testimony on Tuesday in the trial of five people accused of leaking confidential Vatican documents, a former Vatican official said he felt pressured to divulge the information after receiving threats from a colleague.

Spanish Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda told the Vatican court that Francesca Chaouqui, a PR consultant who is also one of the accused, threatened Msgr. Vallejo in a WhatsApp message.

"I will destroy you in all the newspapers and you know I can do it," she wrote to the monsignor in the message which was read out in court.

During the hearing the day before, Msgr. Vallejo told the court he had been romantically involved with Chaouqui, whom he later believed was working for the Italian security services. Despite being friends, Msgr. Vallejo's relationship with Chaouqui, who testifies on Friday, turned sour. 

Regarding the two journalists, Msgr. Vallejo said Tuesday he never felt threatened by them. Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, who are also being tried at the same hearing, published some of the information Msgr. Vallejo leaked to them in two books they wrote last year about mismanagement and waste in the Curia.

Under new laws introduced by Pope Francis in 2013, the journalists face up to eight years in prison if found guilty of forcibly obtaining classified information from Vatican officials.

In his defense, Fittipaldi said he received only 20 pages from Msgr. Vallejo and used them for just seven lines in his book. He said the information was of “little journalistic value” and that by the time he met the Vatican official, the book was nearly finished.

Msgr. Vallejo, Chaouqui and Nicola Maio, an assistant in the Vatican financial watchdog commission where the two worked, are accused of forming a criminal organization and leaking the documents.

But Msgr. Vallejo told the court on Tuesday that Maio did not know Nuzzi and Fittipaldi while he worked at the commission. He said the assistant had resigned in December 2014, six months before Msgr. Vallejo passed the documents to the journalists, and that Maio was unaware of the leak. The first time Maio met the two journalists was at the first court appearance last year. Fittipaldi also spoke of Maio’s innocence, telling reporters Wednesday that he seems to be the “wrong man”.

Msgr. Vallejo also said he instructed Maio and others in a non-institutionalized group to monitor the news and background of people and situations related to the new course being taken in Vatican finance. They undertook the work on the understanding that the orders came from the Pope and Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló, president of a cardinal commission overseeing the “Vatican bank.”

Coupled with the protestations by the two journalists, that they were simply doing their job and did not coerce Vatican officials to receive confidential information (international organizations including the OSCE have also spoken in their defense), it’s becoming less and less clear why they and Maio are being prosecuted in the first place.

One likely reason is over-zealousness and heavy-handedness on the part of the Vatican which is keen to implement reforms and stamp out unauthorized leaks following the first Vatileaks incident in 2012.

It’s widely thought that the stealing of classified information from the papal household, which was also published by Nuzzi in an earlier book, partly helped precipitate Benedict XVI’s resignation a year later. 

Further hearings are scheduled on Friday afternoon, Monday 21 and Tuesday 22. After Easter, hearings will be held from March 30 to April 2. 

Nuzzi was unable to attend the first two days of the hearing this week as he was being tried in a court in Milan. The judge found him guilty of defamation and gave him a ten month suspended sentence.