More leaks at Vatican? Authorities arrest two in latest probe
A Spanish priest and an Italian laywoman hired as economic advisors by Pope Francis have been arrested by the Vatican on suspicion of leaking secret documents, days ahead of the publication of two books that promise to lift the lid on financial scandals at the Holy See.
Father Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, 54, the No. 2 at the Vatican’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs, and Francesca Chaouqui, a controversial 33-year-old public relations consultant, were arrested by Vatican police at the weekend, the Holy See said Monday. The arrests followed a months-long probe into the theft and leaking of private documents.
Both were appointed in 2013 by Francis to a short-lived commission advising on economic reform at the Vatican.
In a statement, the Vatican said that the alleged crimes were covered by a 2013 church law passed to crack down on leaks. Violation of the law could carry a prison term of as many as eight years.
The alleged thefts were one of the most serious scandals to hit the Vatican since 2012, when former Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was jailed for leaking private correspondence addressed to Benedict that discussed alleged corruption within the Vatican.
The letters leaked by the butler, which some believe prompted Benedict’s resignation, were published by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who will this week publish a follow-up, “Merchants in the Temple,” which is expected to detail skulduggery in the Vatican’s finances.
A second book by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, also due out, promises to reveal luxurious living and overspending at the Vatican.
The Vatican did not directly link the arrests to the books, but referred to them in its statement, saying that “once again, as in the past, [the books] are the fruit of a serious betrayal of the pope’s trust.”
The two authors risked prosecution by the Vatican, added the statement, saying that “international cooperation” was not excluded, suggesting the Vatican could seek the help of Italian magistrates. The Vatican is an independent state with its own police force and judiciary.
“Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather to create confusion, and partial and tendentious interpretations,” the Vatican said. “We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the pope.”
The two people arrested were taken into custody over the weekend after being summoned by Vatican investigators. Chaouqui reportedly was released from custody after she agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Her appointment to the Vatican commission in 2013 was considered controversial after she allegedly published a sexy photo of herself on Facebook.
Chaouqui is being defended by Giulia Buongiorno, the noted Italian lawyer who secured acquittal for Raffaele Sollecito, the Italian accused alongside U.S. student Amanda Knox in the killing of Meredith Kercher in Italy in 2007.
Vallejo Balda, who belongs to a priestly society linked to Opus Dei, remained in custody Monday.
The arrests follow a series of leaks at the Vatican in recent months, including the release of the pope’s encyclical on climate change before its official publication date and of an alleged letter to Francis from conservative cardinals criticizing his management of a synod last month.
More seriously, Italian media reported last week that Vatican police suspected that the computer of the Vatican’s top auditor, Libero Milone, had been tampered with.
Kington is a special correspondent.
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