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Vatileaks verdicts: two convicted; journalists cleared

July 07, 2016

A Vatican tribunal has convicted two former Vatican officials, but cleared two Italian journalists, in the "Vatileaks II" trial.

The Vatican announced on July 7 that:

  • Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, the former secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, was convicted of leaking confidential Vatican documents to reporters. The court sentenced him to eighteen months in prison. 
  • Francesca Chaouqui, who had been described by prosecutors as the instigator of the leaks, was found guilty of conspiracy. However, because the court found no conclusive evidence that she had actually given documents to reporters, she was given only a ten-month sentence-- to be suspended for five years. Thus Chaouqui, who recently gave birth to a son, will avoid prison time.
  • Nicola Maio, a former assistant to Msgr. Vallejo Balda, was found innocent of involvement in the conspiracy.
  • Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, the two Italian journalists who published books based on the leaked documents, were acquitted, on the grounds that since they were Italian citizens acting outside the Vatican, the court did not have jurisdiction over them. 

The court's sentences were considerably lighter than the prosecution had requested. Prosecutors had suggested a sentence of three years and nine months for Chaouqui, and three years and one month for Msgr. Vallejo Balda. Even the eighteen-month sentence for Msgr. Vallejo Balda could be reduced considerably, because he has already been detained for months leading up to the trial, and because he admitted to his involvement in releasing the secret documents.

The court's decision exposed weaknesses in the prosecution's case. Although Chaouqui was seen as the central figure in the case-- and the judges were persuaded of her involvement-- the court did not hear convincing evidence that she participated in the leaks. Maio's innocence appeared evident; until the trial, he had never met with the journalists who received the stolen documents, and the leaks occurred after he left his job with Msgr. Vallejo Balda. And the fact that the court lacked jurisdiction over Nuzzi and Fittipaldi, the prosecutors may have wasted their time presenting the cases against them.

Nevertheless the Vatican's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that the prosecution was necessary in order to demonstrate the resolve of the Vatican to crack down on leaks. The only option, he said, "was to courageously tackle the issue and understand what was the effective responsibility of journalists, notwithstanding predictable polemical comments regarding press-freedom issues."

Chaouqui, who had vowed that she would serve any prison sentence despite her protestations of innocence, said that the court's decision ended "the most painful part of my life." She claimed that the verdict should persuade Pope Francis that "I never betrayed him."

For Nuzzi and Fittipaldi-- and for journalists who had supported them-- the decision was a vindication of their work as reporters. The journalists' lawyers had argued that their clients only sought to publish the truth about Vatican economic affairs, and that they used material that had been made available to them. "Since when is asking questions a crime?" Nuzzi's lawyer asked the Vatican tribunal in his final statement.

The defendants will now have three days to appeal the court's decision.

 
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