A Vatican tribunal on Tuesday 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 in part on confidential Holy See documents. Alongside them in the courtroom Tuesday 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 against the reporters, on the grounds that 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 photo of Pope Francis facing the defendants and a crucifix behind the bench. A small group of journalists was admitted inside as “pool” reporters.
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, much less put on trial.
He noted that he’s 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 Francis appointed to get a handle on 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: Mgr Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda was its number two; 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,” according to prosecutors.
In his statement, Fittpaldi said the accusations against him were so vague that he couldn’t defend himself against them, noting that prosecutors haven’t even spelled out which documents he’s alleged to have obtained illicitly.
His lawyer, Lucia Musso, issued a formal motion to dismiss the charges against him on those grounds.
Contesting Fittipaldi’s motion, Assistant Prosecutor Roberto Zannotti said freedom of the press wasn’t on trial but rather the “illicit behavior” of the journalists in obtaining information.
After some 45 minutes of deliberations, the president of the tribunal, Judge Giuseppe Della Torre, rejected Fittipaldi’s motion. The trial resumes on Monday with testimony from the defendants.