Vatican Arrests 2 on Suspicion of Leaking Confidential Documents to Journalists

Gianluigi Nuzzi
Gianluigi Nuzzi

The Vatican announced Monday that two members of a commission set up by Pope Francis to study financial operations at the Holy See had been arrested on suspicion of leaking confidential documents to journalists.

The arrests added to the intrigue and infighting that appear to be intensifying around Francis, whose push to liberalize certain aspects of the Roman Catholic Church and to shake up the Vatican’s administrative body, or Curia, has met with stiff resistance from traditionalists and vested interests inside the Vatican and beyond.

The arrests came days before the publication of two books — “Avarizia,” or “Avarice,” by Emiliano Fittipaldi, and “Merchants in the Temple,” by Gianluigi Nuzzi — purporting to raise the lid on old and new scandals at the Vatican.

Both books claim to offer glimpses of the turmoil surrounding Francis as he pursues his reforms of Vatican finances, the operations of the Curia and the Vatican bank. Those institutions had long been plagued by scandal and corruption that contributed to the resignation in 2013 of Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years.

The problems were bequeathed to Francis, who shortly after his election set up a commission to examine the Vatican’s financial holdings and economic structures.

The two people arrested — Msgr. Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda and Francesca Chaouqui, a laywoman — were members of that commission, which was dissolved last year after completing its mandate.

Monsignor Vallejo Balda holds one of the top posts at the Vatican’s prefecture for economic affairs. Ms. Chaouqui is a public relations specialist. They were taken into custody by the Vatican police over the weekend, the Vatican said in a statement. Ms. Chaouqui was released Monday after she agreed to cooperate with the investigation, the Vatican said.

Divulging confidential documents has been considered a crime in the Vatican since July 2013, after the leak of a cache of Vatican documents, including personal papers belonging to Benedict, which Mr. Nuzzi published in a best seller, “Sua Santità,” or “His Holiness.”

After the publication of that book, the pope’s personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested on charges of leaking the documents to Mr. Nuzzi. Mr. Gabriele was tried and was sentenced in October 2012 to 18 months in prison. He was pardoned two months later by Benedict.

The revelations of widespread infighting and power struggles at the Vatican are considered to have helped precipitate Benedict’s resignation. Echoes of that scandal, called “VatiLeaks” by the news media, reverberated last month when an Italian newspaper announced that Pope Francis had a treatable brain tumor, a report that the Vatican denied and called an attempt to undermine him.

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SOURCE NY Times, Elisabetta Povoledo