Two Holy See officials held over ‘removal’ of confidential documents

Development comes ahead of publication of books containing secret Vatican information

Rumours and speculation concerning a new “Vatileaks” scandal have been flying around the Vatican for days. The development suggests resistance remains in the Holy See curia to the reform process of Pope Francis (above). Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters.

Rumours and speculation concerning a new “Vatileaks” scandal have been flying around the Vatican for days. The development suggests resistance remains in the Holy See curia to the reform process of Pope Francis (above). Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters.

 

Vatican police on Monday arrested two senior Holy See figures, one lay and one clerical, in connection with allegations concerning “the removal and dissemination” of confidential economic documents.

It comes three years after the arrest and subsequent conviction on similar charges of Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele. The development suggests resistance remains in the Holy See curia to the pope’s reform process.

Rumours and speculation concerning a new “Vatileaks” scandal have been flying around the Vatican for day. Insiders had confirmed an ongoing investigation into the alleged hacking of the computer of Libero Milone, a former Deloitte Touche consultant who now works as a sort of Holy See financial controller.

In a statement on Monday, the Vatican confirmed both the investigation and the arrests of Spanish Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallegjo Balda and lay person Francesca Chaouqui.

“As part of criminal investigations carried out by the Vatican Gendarmerie that have been underway for several months involving the removal and dissemination of news and confidential documents, last Saturday and Sunday two individuals (Vallegjo Balda and Francesca Chaouqui) were called in for questioning on the basis of the evidence gathered,” it said.

Dr Chaouqui, whom the Vatican said cooperated with the investigation, has been released.

Both of those arrested, significantly, served on COSEA, a commission established by Pope Francis in July 2013 to rationalise the “economic-administrative” structure of the Holy See.

After completing its mandate it was dissolved and two organisations - the Council For The Economy and the Secretariat for the Economy (led by Australian Cardinal George Pell0 emerged.

The arrests come in a week when two books, Avarizia (or Greed) by Emiliano Fittipaldi, and The Via Crucis by Gianluigi Nuzzi (dealing with the ongoing “Vatileaks 2”) are to be released. Both books are expected to contain confidential Vatican documents and wire taps of phone calls made by Pope Francis.

The Holy See issued a strong condemnation of both books, describing them as “a serious betrayal of trust granted by the Pope and with regard to the authors, (this is) an operation that takes advantage of a serioiusly unlawful act, the unlawful delivery of confidential documents”.

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. We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope.”

Mr Nuzzi, whose book is due to be published in 23 countries and seven languages, is the author of His Holiness, the 2012 book of Vatican revelations based on information supplied to him by Papal butler Gabriele. Those revelations and the subsequent scandal prompted by the conviction of Gabriele were major factors in Pope Benedict’s decision to resign the papacy in February 2013.

Whilst some Vatican commentators argue that “Vatileaks” 2 is not as damaging as those in 2012, in that there has been no “breach” of the papal office, others argue that in fact this scandal is even more serious given that this time a senior Vatican prelate and not a lay person has been arrested.

Both Monsignor Balda (54), who is currently listed as a senior official at the Holy See’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs, and Ms Chaouqui (33), who works for EY, are believed to be “close” to the influential lay movement, Opus Dei.

Whilst Ms Chaouqui has been released, Monsignor Balda is reported to be still in custody inside the Vatican, presumably in the same cell in which Gabriele, was held.

Ms Chaouqui has raised many eyebrows in the Holy See because of her Twitter account on which she has been critical of former Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as well as enthusiastic about Mr Nuzzi’s His Holiness book.

Most Vatican observers argue that Pope Francis, who was elected on a curial reform mandate two and a half years ago, is unlikely to be stopped in his tracks by this latest scandal.