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Vatican makes two arrests for document leaks

November 02, 2015

The Vatican has arrested two people—a Spanish priest and an Italian lay woman—in connection with leaked confidential documents.

Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, the secretary of the Vatican’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs, and Francesca Chaouqui, a publicist who has served as a Vatican consultant, were arrested after what the Vatican described as “criminal investigations… which have been underway for several months, regarding the unauthorized removal and sharing of confidential documents.”

Chaouqui was reportedly released after she agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Msgr. Vallejo remains in custody at the Vatican.

The arrests come as the Vatican braces for the publication of two new books that will reportedly expose corruption and conflicts inside the Vatican. The Italian publishers of both books have said that the works are based on leaks of confidential information.

Msgr. Vallejo and Francesca Chaouqui were members of a special commission appointed by Pope Francis in July 2013 to recommend changes in the Vatican’s economic affairs. (Msgr. Vallejo was secretary of the commission, and recommended Chaouqui’s appointment.) That commission was dissolved after making its report. When the Secretariat for the Economy was created—in part as a result of the commission’s report—Msgr. Vallejo was not chosen for an assignment in the powerful new Vatican office.

The two books scheduled for publication this week-- Merchants in the Temple, by Gianluigi Nuzzi; and Avarice, by Emiliano Fittipaldi—reportedly contain damaging new information about the Vatican’s economic affairs. Investigators evidently have concluded that Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui were sources for the authors.

In an official statement released on November 2, the Vatican press office made it clear that the arrests were related to the forthcoming books. The statement said:

As for the books announced for the next few days it should be said clearly once again on this occasion as in the past, that they are the result of a serious betrayal of the trust placed in certain individuals by the Pope, and, as far as the authors are concerned, of an operation to draw advantage from a gravely unlawful act…

Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to the establishment of clarity and truth, but rather to the creation of confusion and partial and tendentious interpretations. We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope.

The release of confidential Vatican documents raises unhappy memories of the “Vatileaks” scandal that broke during the final months of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Gianluigi Nuzzi, the author of one of the books to be published this week, was also the conduit for the most damaging “Vatileaks” revelations. The Vatican has attributed the “Vatileaks” scandal to the former Pontiff’s valet, Paolo Gabriele, saying that he acted alone. But some Vatican observers remain convinced that others were involved. Indeed the veteran Vatican journalist Sandro Magister charged in 2013 that Francesca Chaouqui was involved with the release of “Vatileaks” documents.

Chaouqui was the focus of controversy around the Vatican in 2013, when Vatican journalists called attention to Twitter and Facebook comments in which she had described the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as corrupt; said that Pope-emeritus Benedict has terminal leukemia; and charged that a prominent Italian politician is homosexual. She later said that she has not made those comments—that her social-media accounts had been hacked.

Chaouqui and Msgr. Vallejo also came under scrutiny in April 2014, when they organized a lavish dinner for VIPs attending the canonization ceremonies for Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Pope Francis was reportedly outraged by the event, which cost over $25,000.

 


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