Three years after Pope Benedict’s butler was put on trial for stealing documents from the Pope’s desk, a second “Vatileaks” trial has opened in the Vatican City of Pope Francis. Five people have been charged, two of them journalists, following the publication of two new books in Italy
Five people, including two investigative journalists and a Spanish priest, have gone on trial in the Vatican over the leaking and publication of secret documents.
The journalists, who recently published books about financial waste and wrongdoing at the Vatican, accused the Holy See of attacking press freedom. If convicted, all five could be jailed for up to eight years.
The Vatican says the writers tried to put pressure on its staff.
Spanish priest Msgr. Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda and public relations expert Francesca Chaouqui were part of a special reform commission set up by Pope Francis to tackle the Vatican’s financial holdings and propose reforms to improve cash flow to the poor.
The priest’s secretary Nicola Maio has also been accused.
The journalists, Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, bitterly criticized the Vatican’s decision to put them on trial for publishing their books, Avarice and Merchants in the Temple.
Mr. Nuzzi condemned the trial as “Kafkaesque and absurd,” complaining that he had not been given a chance to read the indictment and had only met his court-appointed lawyer shortly before the proceedings began. The court rejected an attempt by Mr. Fittipaldi to have the case thrown out on the grounds that the case against him was unclear.
What he was accused of doing would not be considered criminal in Italy, Mr. Nuzzi argued. “Publishing news is protected by the Italian constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and the universal declaration of human rights,” he said.
Much of Vatican criminal law dates back to an 1889 Italian penal code, but a law criminalizing the leaking of documents was introduced in 2013 in the wake of an earlier scandal, dubbed “Vatileaks,” involving Pope Emeritus Benedict’s butler.
Media groups, along with the international security body OSCE, have urged the Vatican to drop the charges.
However, the Vatican prosecutor said it was not freedom that was on trial but the journalists’ “illicit behavior.”
The Vatican says the two books give a “partial and tendentious” version of events.
In Avarice, Emiliano Fittipaldi says “crazy” sums were spent on business class flights and furniture. Gianluigi Nuzzi’s Merchants in the Temple describes a pattern of financial mismanagement and greed at the heart of the Vatican.
Nina Ognianova, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said: “Journalists should be allowed to carry out their role as watchdog and investigate alleged wrongdoing without fear of repercussions.”
Pope Francis has acknowledged criticism that the Vatican’s trial over the leaked documents has been rushed, saying the defendants and their lawyers must have time to mount a proper defense. Francis spoke to reporters en route home from Africa after a Vatican judge on Tuesday adjourned the trial until December 7 to give one of the defendants time to prepare after she engaged a new attorney late last week.
Several of the suspects had complained that they hadn’t had time to find lawyers, much less study the case file before the trial began November 24.
Acknowledging his involvement in the process, Francis said he had wanted the trial to be finished before the December 8 start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“But I think this can’t be done now, because I want all the defense lawyers to have time to defend, that there is the freedom of defense,” he said. Francis said that journalists have an important role to play in uncovering injustice and corruption. “It’s a beautiful work,” he said. “Because if there is corruption there, then those responsible must do something, make a judgment or hold a trial.”
But he also insisted that journalists must be professional, and not fall into what he called the common “sins” of the media: disinformation in telling only one part of the story, and defamation.