Vatican City, Jul 7, 2016 / 10:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After an eight-month trial weighing the guilt of five individuals in the leaking and disseminating of confidential financial documents, the Vatican has reached a verdict, sentencing a Vatican official and a laywoman for the crime.
The defendants in question were Spanish Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, Italian PR woman Francesca Chaouqui, Nicola Maio (Vallejo’s secretary), and journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.
On July 7, Msgr. Vallejo was found guilty of leaking the documents and sentenced to 18 months in prison. However, since he has already been in prison for 8 months, his sentence could be cut to 10 months. After his initial arrest Nov. 2, 2015, he was transferred to the Vatican’s Collegio dei Penitenzieri, a residence run by Conventional Franciscans, on house arrest. However, after violating the terms, he was moved back to the cells of the Vatican Gendarme, before eventually returning to the Collegio dei Penitenzieri.
Chaouqui was found guilty of conspiring in the crime, but was not charged with the actual leak of the documents given a lack of evidence. She was sentenced to 10 months in prison for her role, however, the sentence was suspended for 5 years, meaning that she is free to go, but should she commit another crime within 5 years of her original sentence, she would have to go to prison not only for the new crime, but would also have to serve the 10 months of her initial charges. Both she and Vallejo will be required to pay for the cost of the trial.
Chaouqui had given birth to a son, Pietro, on June 14. Maio, for his part, pled not guilty and was fully absolved of all charges “for having not committed the crime.” As for the journalists, it was ruled that the Holy See could not indict them since what they are accused of falls outside of Vatican jurisdiction. Each of the defendants have three days to make an appeal.
Since Vallejo confessed to his crime in court, it’s possible that his original 18-month sentence could be cut in half, leaving him more or less free to go should his 8 months in prison be considered time-served. The sentences were read aloud by Giuseppe Dalla Torre, President of the Vatican tribunal. The rest of the court consisted of Judges Piero Antonio Bonnet and Paolo Papanti-Pelletier, as well as Alternate judge Venerando Marano. The prosecution, the Office of the Promoter of Justice, was represented by Promoter of Justice Gian Piero Milano and Adjutant-promoter Roberto Zannotti.
The unprecedented trial marks the first time the Vatican’s new laws have been tested after the leaking of documents was officially criminalized in 2013, after Nuzzi published a book containing confidential information given to him by Pope Benedict XVI’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, in what came to be known as the first “Vatileaks” scandal.
While Benedict XVI, often depicted in the media as the more severe pontiff, pardoned his butler of the crime, thus relieving him of any prison time, it has yet to be seen if his successor will do the same. However, given previous statements by Francis, frequently dubbed the “Pope of Mercy,” as well as the fact that it was he who criminalized the leaking of documents in the Vatican, a pardon doesn’t seem likely.
Shortly after the initial accusations were made, Pope Francis in a Sunday Angelus address called the theft and publication of the documents a “mistake” and “a deplorable act that does not help” with ongoing reform efforts. However, he said the “sad fact” of the situation wouldn’t deter him from moving forward with his collaborators in the continued restructuring of the Roman Curia.
Both Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui are former members of the Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA). The commission was established by the Pope July 18, 2013, as part of his plan to reform the Vatican’s finances, and was dissolved after completing its mandate.
They were arrested Nov. 2, 2015, in relation to the theft and dissemination of the documents. Chaouqui was released after spending one night in jail in exchange for her cooperation with investigations, while Msgr. Vallejo has remained in custody.
On Nov. 21, 2015, Msgr. Vallejo, Chaouqui, and Maio were accused of working together to form “an organized criminal association” with the intention of “disclosing information and documents concerning the fundamental interests of the Holy See and the (Vatican City) State.” They were accused of acquiring the confidential documents and passing them on to Nuzzi and Fittipaldi, who published separate books on the information. Nuzzi and Fittipaldi were themselves accused of “urging and exerting pressure, particularly on Msgr. Vallejo,” to obtain the private documents and then publish books on the content.
After the initial accusations were made, the trial process began Nov. 24, and concluded July 7 after both the prosecution and the defense presented their final arguments. When the prosecution presented their closing arguments July 4, they originally asked that Msgr. Vallejo serve a three year and one month prison sentence, and that Chaouqui, whom they held to be the “inspirer and the one responsible for the alleged conduct,” serve a three year and nine month sentence. Due to Maio’s “limited role” in the affair, the prosecution asked that he be given a sentence of one year and nine months in prison. They requested that Fittipaldi be acquitted due to “a lack of evidence” of his participation in the crime, while Nuzzi be condemned to a one year suspended sentence.
Their actual sentences, then, show a softer approach. However, while the Vatican’s final ruling might be considered by some as a slap on the wrist, the trial is still proof that they take the issue seriously, and won’t back down from a legal fight should one be necessary again in the future.
At a July 7 news briefing on the trial’s conclusion, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ said the process was necessary in order to demonstrate the will to combat “the incorrect manifestations and consequences of the tensions and polemics inside the Vatican.”
For too long these tensions have shed “an ambiguous and negative” on internal discussions and interactions, and have had negative consequences on public opinion via the “indiscretions or filtrations of documents to the media,” he said.
The spokesman insisted that the public has the right “to objective and serene information,” calling the trend of leaking documents “a disease to be fought with determination.”