July 11, 2016

Italian journalists acquitted in Vatileaks trial

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The_Sistine_Hall_of_the_Vatican_Library_(2994335291)

Hmmm…don’t see any leaks here.

Vatileaks,” which sounds like Count von Count inquiring about a plumbing emergency but is in fact a very interesting set of scandals within the Vatican (though not including this one), just wrapped up a major chapter.

Concluding an eight-month trial following the publication of a set of leaks (aka “Vatileaks 2”) that revealed financial skulduggery within the Vatican, a four-judge tribunal has found the prosecution of journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi was outside the Vatican’s jurisdiction—though they also found the journalists’ source, as well as a member of a papal oversight commission, guilty of conspiracy. Elisbetta Povoledo reports for the New York Times:

Speaking to a hushed courtroom in the somber building that houses the Holy See’s judicial offices, Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre gave Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, a public relations specialist, a 10-month sentence, then suspended it. Frequently outspoken during months of trial testimony, Ms. Chaouqui merely smiled as the verdict was read.

Msgr. Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, the former secretary of the Vatican’s now defunct prefecture for economic affairs, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. His secretary, Nicola Maio, who had been accused of being part of a secretive association with Ms. Chaouqui and Monsignor Vallejo Balda that conspired to leak the documents, was found not guilty after the court ruled that this organization did not exist.

The court did not rule on the merit of the charges against the journalists, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, who wrote separate exposés on supposed mismanagement and corruption at the Vatican, declaring that as the two were not Vatican officials it did not have jurisdiction to try them. But the ruling specified that freedom of the press was guaranteed by Vatican law, which the two journalists interpreted positively.

“This trial confirms that there is the right for a journalist to inform, even in this state,” Mr. Nuzzi, visibly relieved, said shortly after the sentences were read. “They have recognized one of our rights, the right to publish information and be protected. It is a great moment today.”

The first Vatileaks trial involved Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict’s personal butler, who in 2012 was convicted of stealing classified documents that he is alleged to have leaked to Nuzzi; the Pope pardoned him later that year. This first set of documents alleged significant financial corruption, and a three-cardinal commission convened to investigate the allegations uncovered even more bizarre allegations, including those of a secret network of gay prelates and accusations of blackmail. Pope Benedict resigned shortly after this commission concluded its investigation, and extremely stringent anti-leaking laws were quickly put into effect.

Vatileaks 2 concerned the findings of the Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA), which was formed by Pope Francis in 2013 to clean up the Vatican’s finances. Lawyers for Fittipaldi and Nuzzi, who subsequently authored separate exposés of COSEA’s findings, argued that the journalists could not be prosecuted by the Vatican as neither is a citizen of Vatican City, and the alleged exchange of documents took place in Italy, outside the Vatican’s jurisdiction.

Vallejo Balda, meanwhile, argued that he did violate the anti-leaking laws, but was coerced into doing so:

Vallejo Balda had admitted to leaking the classified papers but said he had done so under pressure from Chaouqui, with whom he claimed to have a “compromising” relationship. The PR consultant had allegedly threatened to “destroy” him.

He also claimed he had been blackmailed by a woman he believed to have links to Italian secret services and other contacts in a “dangerous world”.

Sexy sexy Vatican scandals being what they are, I doubt this is the last leak; such are the dangers of operating a seat of ancient, global, infallible power in a place that perfectly meets the definition of a small town.

 

 

Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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