Pope jokes about explicit details in ‘Vatileaks 2’ trial

Pope speaks at press conference on papal plane during return from six-day trip to Africa

Pope Francis arriving at the St Maria Maggiore cathedral upon his return to Rome on Monday. Photograph: AFP Photo/Filippo Monteforte

Pope Francis arriving at the St Maria Maggiore cathedral upon his return to Rome on Monday. Photograph: AFP Photo/Filippo Monteforte


Asked about the ongoing “Vatileaks 2” trial in the Vatican, Pope Francis on Monday joked that he was glad that 15th century femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia “is not around anymore”.

The pope was speaking during his customary post-visit press conference on the papal plane on the way back from a highly successful six-day trip to Africa during which he visited Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.

Inevitably the most difficult questions faced by Pope Francis did not concern Africa but the so-called Vatileaks 2 trial in which five people stand accused of having stolen confidential Holy See documents.

In recent days the trial has made headlines because of revelations about the intimate relations between the two major defendants, Spanish monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda and Vatican lay consultant Francesca Chaoqui, who both served on COSEA, a short -term Vatican economic reform commission which operated in 2013 and 2014.

Italian media have published a series of “hot” text messages between the pair, while on Monday the Rome daily La Repubblica carried details of a memorandum that Monsignor Balda (54) had written for his defence lawyers just days after his arrest in the Vatican early last month. In that memorandum, among other things, Monsignor Balda claims that he was seduced by Ms Chaoqui in Florence last Christmas .

Asked about the case, the Pope said: “I thank the Lord that Lucrezia Borgia is not around anymore. But we have to go on with the commission, the cardinals and the clean-up....”

Pope Francis went on to say that back in 2005, his predecessor Benedict XVI had been elected “because of the free way he spoke out” in a famous Via Crucis (Easter) homily in which he criticised all sorts of “filth” in the Catholic Church. Since then the Vatican has been openly trying to deal with its corruption problem.

“As for that [the appointment by Pope Francis of Monsignor Balda and Ms. Chaoqui to COSEA]...that was a mistake. Vallejo Balda was appointed because he was the secretary of the Prefecture of Economic Affairs. I am not sure how she got in...but I think she was introduced by Monsignor Balda as a woman who knew the commercial world.

“This [the Vatileaks affair] was not a surprise for me, and I haven’t lost any sleep over it because one thing it has highlighted is the work that has been initiated by the Commission of Nine Cardinals in an attempt to seek out corruption...”

Asked about the COP21 climate change conference in Paris, the pope had a very clear message.

“I am not certain, but what I can say is that it is either now or never...Every year the problems get worse...We are on the verge of suicide, to use a strong word, and I am certain that the people in Paris realise this and want to do something about it...The other day I read that in Greenland glaciers are losing mass at a rate of billions of tons...I trust these people will do something...I pray that they will.”

When asked about the tensions between Russia and Turkey, Pope Francis indicated that he might visit Armenia next year for the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide. “Last year I promised three patriarchs that I would go [to the 101st anniversary]. The promise remains...But then, regarding wars, these grow out of ambition...War is an industry, a business...I mean, do the terrorists make their own weapons? Who gives them their weapons? Behind these sales [of armaments] there is a whole network of interests, of money and power.”

The pope also expressed his gratitude for having been able to meet and pray with Muslims during the last day of his trip in the war-torn Central African Republic in a gesture of inter-religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

“We can speak to one another. He has his values and I have mine. Many common values – prayer, fasting. You cannot cancel out a whole religion because it contains some or many groups of fundamentalists at a certain historical moment...We [Christians] have to ask for forgiveness too. Remember it wasn’t the Muslims who sacked Rome, was it?”

Finally, the pope expressed his delight at having made his first ever visit to Africa. “The most memorable part of this trip were the crowds, all that joy, that celebratory spirit, the will to celebrate even on an empty stomach...For me Africa was a surprise, God always surprises us.”

As for future travel plans, the pope confirmed he would travel to Mexico next year at a date yet to be decided. That could be one of two or three overseas trips to be made by Pope Francis next year, with a visit to France and to the World Youth Day celebrations in Cracow, Poland, in July also scheduled.