Vatican drops journalist charges

Vatican drops journalist charges

The revelations and its botched prosecution have weakened the Vatican. Source: Wikimedia

A Vatican court has ruled that it had no jurisdiction to prosecute two journalists who wrote books based in part on confidential documents exposing greed, mismanagement and corruption at the heart of the Catholic Church.

However, the court did convict a Vatican monsignor and an Italian press officer for having conspired to leak the papers but cleared them of criminal association. A fifth defendant, the monsignor’s secretary, was cleared.

The verdicts concluded an eight-month trial that featured lurid testimony, while also highlighting the challenges that Pope Francis faces in reforming the Vatican’s bureaucracy and controlling its media coverage.

The verdict proves an embarrassment to the Holy See’s legal team, who had accused journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi of pressurising the three other defendants to get the leak. Prosecutors accused the three of forming a sinister criminal association to reveal Vatican secrets.

Lead judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre said freedom of the press was enshrined in the Vatican legal code and that freedom of thought was “guaranteed by divine law”.

Fittipaldi and Nuzzi wrote bestselling books in 2015 based on Vatican papers exposing the greed of cardinals looking for big apartments, the cost of picking a saint and the loss of millions in rental income because of undervalued properties.

The documentation had been compiled on the orders of Pope Francis to gather information about the Vatican’s finances to increase transparency and efficiency.

Spanish Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda admitted giving Nuzzi 85 passwords to access the documents.

The court sentenced Balda to 18 months in prison and found PR guru Francesca Chaouqu guilty of conspiring with Vallejo and sentenced her to a 10-month suspended term.

Publishing confidential information is a Catholic crime, punishable by up to eight years in jail.

The journalists are Italians and challenged church’s jurisdiction to prosecute them. As the alleged crime did not take place within the tiny state, the court ruled that it did not have the authority to prosecute.

“Their trial cast a chilling effect on covering the Vatican,” said Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“By writing these books, we repeated that they just exercised their right to provide information in the public interest and should not have been treated as criminals in a state that supposedly respects media freedom,” said Pauline Adès-Mével of Reporters Without Borders.

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