Vatican trial of five over leaks gets under way

Monsignor and two writers among those accused of confidential document theft

For the second time in three years, the Holy See this morning sees the opening of a Vatican City trial investigating the internal theft of confidential documents. The so-called Vatileaks 2 trial sees five people indicted – Spanish monsignor Lucio Angel Vallegjo Balda, his Italian lay assistant Nicola Maio, lay consultant Francesca Chaouqui and writers Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.

The pair both published books this month – Merchants in the Temple by Nuzzi and Greed by Fittipaldi – which outlined not only the mismanagement of the Holy See's finances but also the resistance of elements in the Roman Curia (and elsewhere) to the reform process instigated by Pope Francis.

Summer investigation

The investigation into these thefts began this summer, while Msgr Balda and Ms Chaoqui were both first arrested and questioned on November 2nd. Msgr Balda, an official at the Vatican’s prefecture for economic affairs, has been held in the Vatican since then while Ms Chaoqui was released after questioning.

Many commentators believe the haste with which this trial is being conducted is because Pope Francis wants the affair resolved as soon as possible so it will not drag on into celebrations for the Holy Year of Mercy. Some observers argue the trial may be over before the Holy Year starts on December 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception.


Criminal conspiracy

Essentially all five defendants are accused of being part of a criminal conspiracy which involved them in “illegally procuring and successively revealing information and documents concerning the fundamental interests of the Holy See”. All five are charged under section IX of the Vatican’s Crimes against the Security of the State, a law strengthened by the pope in the wake of the 2012 Vatileaks 1 case which saw Pope Benedict’s butler,

Paolo Gabriele

, convicted and eventually pardoned for having stolen confidential documents from the papal apartment. If found guilty, the defendants could face an eight-year prison sentence.

Both authors argue the Vatican legislation under which they will be tried is totally anti-democratic in that it does not recognise basic freedom of opinion but rather intends to punish those who “procure” confidential Vatican documents.