At Vatican trial, official says he felt threatened to release documents

IMAGE: CNS/Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

CITY (CNS) — The secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the
Holy See testified in a Vatican court that he felt he was being threatened and
had little choice but to give confidential documents to two Italian reporters.

questioning by his co-defendants’ lawyers, Spanish Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda
cited a Whatsapp conversation in which Francesca Chaouqui told him: “I
will destroy you in all the newspapers and you know that I can do it.”

that isn’t a concrete threat, (I don’t know what is),” Msgr. Vallejo Balda
told the court March 15, his second day of testimony. The day before, he had
admitted leaking confidential Vatican documents.

Vallejo Balda is on trial with Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical
Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative
Structure of the Holy See; Nicola Maio, the monsignor’s former assistant; and
the journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of “Merchants in the Temple,”
and Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of “Avarice.”

monsignor, Chaouqui and Maio were accused of “committing several illegal
acts of divulging news and documents concerning fundamental interests of the
Holy See and (Vatican City) State.” Nuzzi and Fittipaldi were accused of
“soliciting and exercising pressure, especially on (Msgr.) Vallejo Balda,
in order to obtain confidential documents and news.”

his testimony, Msgr. Vallejo Balda said he knew that Chaouqui and Nuzzi knew
each other well and so he gave documents to Nuzzi in order to win his trust and
stave off any threat Chaouqui posed to him. “For me, giving those
documents was a way to pay for my freedom,” he said.

monsignor also told the court that Maio, his personal assistant, resigned in
December 2014, six months before he passed along the documents; the assistant,
he said, was unaware of the leak.

day’s court session ended with Fittipaldi being called to the stand. The
Italian journalist testified that by the time Msgr. Vallejo Balda gave him the documents,
he had nearly completed writing his book and that he used only two of the
leaked documents: a semi-official budget of the Institute for the Works of
Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank, and a letter signed by Cardinal
George Pell, prefect of the Vatican
Secretariat for the Economy.

other documents, he said, “were of little journalistic value.”

the trial’s first day of testimony, March 14, Msgr. Vallejo Balda testified he
passed along several documents to both Nuzzi and Fittipaldi. He also admitted
to giving Nuzzi five pages containing passwords to private emails and
password-protected documents.

monsignor had told the court he grew increasingly suspicious of Chaouqui,
saying she told him she was “the number two in the Italian secret
service” and testified that he suspected she had ties with the Mafia.

a break in the trial March 15, Fittipaldi told journalists Msgr. Vallejo Balda
contradicted his own testimony the previous day that he was pressured to leak
the documents.

the Vatican prosecution’s case asserts the confidential documents were
illegally obtained, both journalists defended their right to freedom of the
press. Fittipaldi told journalists they were being tried “for simply
asking questions.”

America, the journalists of the Boston Globe asked questions and were awarded a
Pulitzer Prize for uncovering important information on pedophilia (in the
church) in the Spotlight case and their story becomes an Oscar-winning
movie,” he said. “In Italy, journalists who ask questions, who
investigate very important questions on an economic structure riddled with
corruption end up being tried and risk four to eight years in prison. For the
simple fact of asking questions.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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