July 25, 2016
JUNNO AROCHO ESTEVES
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

VATICAN CITY - A Vatican court acquitted two journalists who published confidential documents while their source, a Spanish monsignor, was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.

Judge Giuseppe Della Torre, head of the tribunal of the Vatican City State, delivered his ruling July 7, declaring that the court had no legitimate jurisdiction over Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.

The court found Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, and Francesca Chaouqui, a member of a former Vatican commission on its economic-administrative structure, guilty of having roles in leaking confidential documents about Vatican finances.

The judges found the monsignor guilty of stealing and passing on secret documents, but ruled Chaouqui's role was one of encouraging the leak; they gave her a 10-month suspended sentence.

Nicola Maio, Vallejo Balda's former assistant, was acquitted of all charges.

Shortly after the court's ruling, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, released a statement saying that despite criticisms of the proceedings, the trial was "necessary" to ensure Vatican law regarding the leaking of private documents is respected.

Nuzzi's book, Merchants in the Temple, and Fittipaldi's book, Avarice, focused on irregularities uncovered by the commission Pope Francis set up to study the financial activity of Vatican offices.

Vallejo Balda, Chaouqui and Maio were accused of forming an "organized criminal association" with the aim of "committing several illegal acts" of leaking confidential documents.

Under the Vatican criminal code, it is a crime to take, distribute and publish confidential documents.

Fittipaldi and Nuzzi faced charges of "soliciting and exercising pressure, especially on Vallejo Balda, in order to obtain confidential documents and news," which they used for their books.

Before the judges began their deliberations, the defendants were given an opportunity to deliver a final statement.

EMOTIONAL PLEA

Chaouqui alone chose to address the court, delivering an emotional plea and apologizing for the outbursts she made throughout the trial.

She argued the prosecution did little to prove her alleged threats led the monsignor to leak the documents.

Chaouqui noted that a profanity-laced message to Vallejo Balda read in court July 5 was sent several months after he had already given Nuzzi the documents.

Breaking down in tears, Chaouqui said the accusations against her were false and that her "personal and professional image as a woman and a mother" was destroyed.

Lawyers for Maio, Nuzzi and Fittipaldi gave their closing arguments July 6.

ASKING QUESTIONS

Roberto Palombi, Nuzzi's lawyer, said the charge unjustly criminalized journalists for "asking questions."

"We are defending an Italian citizen who exercised his right to freedom of the press; we are talking about here a new kind of crime – a criminal association of the press," Palombi said.

Vatican co-prosecutor Roberto Zanotti responded that the charges were not "against freedom of the press" but rather relate to the questionable methods used to obtain the information.