Journalists go on trial over Vatican ‘leaks’

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A Vatican tribunal has rejected a journalist’s request to have charges against him of publishing confidential documents dropped as a trial opened in the Holy See’s latest leaks scandal.

Journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi are accused of having published books about Vatican waste, greed and mismanagement that were based on confidential documents.

Alongside them in the courtroom yesterday were three people, including a high-ranking Vatican monsignor, accused of leaking them the information.

The trial opened amid appeals by media watchdog groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the OSCE, for the Vatican to drop the charges on the grounds a free press is a fundamental human right.

The hearing was held in the intimate courtroom of the Vatican’s criminal tribunal, decorated with a photograph of Pope Francis facing the defendants and a crucifix behind the bench. A small group of journalists was admitted inside.

After the charges were read out, Fittipaldi asked to approach the bench and read out a statement to the four judges, saying he decided to show up out of respect for the court even though in Italy he would never have been accused of the charges he faces.

He noted that he is not accused of publishing anything false or defamatory, merely news – “an activity that is protected and guaranteed by the Italian constitution, by the European Convention on Human Rights and by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights”.

Fittipaldi’s book “Avarice,” and Nuzzi’s book “Merchants in the Temple,” both published earlier this month, detail waste and mismanagement in the Vatican administration, the greed of some cardinals and bishops and the resistance Pope Francis is facing in trying to clean it up.

Both books were based on documents produced by a reform commission Pope Francis appointed to get to grips with the Vatican’s financial holdings and propose reforms so that more money could be given to the poor.

The three other people on trial were affiliated with the commission: Monsignor Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda was its second in charge; Francesca Chaouqui was a member and outside public relations expert; and Nicola Maio was Balda’s assistant.

All three are accused of forming a criminal organisation and of procuring and leaking confidential documents. Nuzzi and Fittipaldi are accused of publishing those documents and of “soliciting and exercising pressure, above all on Vallejo Balda, to obtain the documents and other reserved news.”

Fittpaldi said the accusations against him were so vague that he could not defend himself against them.

After some 45 minutes of deliberations, the president of the tribunal rejected Fittipaldi’s motion. The trial resumes on Monday.