Sparks may fly this week with the first testimony in the Vatican’s controversial trial over leaks of confidential documents that revealed waste, mismanagement and greed in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy.
Two journalists face up to eight years in prison if convicted of putting pressure on a Vatican monsignor to obtain the documents and publish them. The monsignor and two other people affiliated with a papal reform commission are also on trial, accused of giving the journalists the information.
The trial resumes on Monday after a three-month delay to give the defense time to prepare and experts time to go through text message and other evidence. Earlier, the Vatican had come under sharp criticism that it was rushing the trial and that the defendants weren’t getting a fair shake.
During the hearings on Monday and Tuesday, the first of the five defendants is expected to be questioned by Vatican prosecutors. The testimony may be uncomfortable for the Holy See, given that details are expected about the onetime close friendship between Monsignor Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda and the lone woman on trial, Francesca Chaouqui, who is now pregnant.
Media rights groups from around the world, meanwhile, have denounced the prosecution of journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianlugi Nuzzi, who wrote blockbuster books last year detailing the resistance Pope Francis is facing in trying to clean up waste and corruption in the Vatican.
Fittipaldi’s book “Avarice,” and Nuzzi’s book “Merchants in the Temple,” detailed millions of euros in lost potential rental income from the Vatican’s real estate holdings, millions in missing inventory from the Vatican’s tax-free stores, the exorbitant costs for getting someone declared a saint, and the greed of bishops and cardinals lusting after huge apartments.
After a technical, closed-door hearing on Saturday, Fittipaldi noted that the Vatican and its officials have already taken action to make amends.
Just last week, Francis imposed new transparency rules on the Vatican’s saint-making machine to prevent the types of abuses revealed in the books. A few weeks before that, Francis’ top financial adviser admitted under oath that he should have done more to report priestly sex abusers in his native Australia. And finally, the Vatican’s retired No. 2 recently paid back 150,000 euros ($167,000) to the Vatican’s pediatric hospital after Fittipaldi revealed that it had paid for his house renovations.
“In the US, the investigative journalists of ‘Spotlight’ won the Pulitzer (Prize) and their story got an Oscar,” Fittipaldi tweeted recently. “In Italy and the Vatican, they’re put on trial.”
Fittipaldi and Nuzzi’s books were based on documents produced by the reform commission Francis appointed in 2013 to get a handle on the Vatican’s financial holdings and propose reforms so that more money could be devoted to the poor. Balda was the commission’s No. 2; Chaouqui was a member and outside public relations expert; and the fifth defendant, Nicola Maio, was Balda’s assistant.
Francis has already said Chaouqui’s nomination to the reform committee was a mistake. Chaouqui, a tweeting, name-dropping media sensation, has portrayed herself as a martyr and insisted she’s done nothing wrong. On Saturday, she posted a photo on her Facebook page of Giordano Bruno, the 16th-century friar who was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition and burned at the stake.
The Spanish-born Balda back in a Vatican jail cell after violating the terms of his house arrest. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Opus Dei-affiliated Balda had had communications with the outside world and was sent back last week to the Vatican cell where he spent the first months of his detention.
Nuzzi and Fittipaldi remain free and are expected to appear in court. They are Italian citizens and any sentence would presumably involve an extradition request. Both have said they believed no Italian judge would extradite them given the free-speech protections journalists enjoy in Italy.