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Former Vatican official begins prison sentence for leaking confidential documents

From left, pictured sitting during the trial: Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, who were both acquitted, Francesca Chaouqui, who was given a 10-month suspended sentence, and Monsignor Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda, who is now serving an 18-month sentence. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

A Spanish monsignor found guilty of leaking confidential documents about the Vatican’s financial reform has begun serving his 18-month prison sentence at the Vatican.

Mgr Lucio Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, was found guilty of stealing and passing on documents to Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi in a court ruling in July.

He was subsequently allowed limited freedom of movement within the confines of Vatican City State. However, he was formally arrested on August 22 and placed in a prison cell to begin his sentence.

In accordance with Vatican law, the prosecution had 40 days to contest the sentence, which had been considerably reduced from its original request.

Greg Burke, a Vatican spokesman, confirmed to the Catholic News Service that Mgr Vallejo Balda is allowed visitation, but declined to comment further on the conditions of his imprisonment.

The cell is located in the building of the Gendarme Corps of Vatican City State, as the Vatican police force is formally known. It is presumed to be the same cell prepared for Paolo Gabriele, the former papal butler who leaked reserved papal correspondence in 2012. Gabriele was pardoned by Pope Benedict XVI after serving less than three months of an 18-month sentence.

The information leaked by Mgr Vallejo Balda was published in Nuzzi’s book, “Merchants in the Temple,” and Fittipaldi’s book, “Avarice.” Both books focused on the irregularities uncovered by the commission Pope Francis established to study the financial activity of Vatican offices.

Citing freedom of the press, Judge Giuseppe Della Torre, head of the tribunal of the Vatican City State, acquitted Nuzzi and Fittipaldi, declaring that the court had no legitimate jurisdiction over the journalists.

Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, was given a 10-month suspended sentence for her role in encouraging the leaks while Nicola Maio, Mgr Vallejo Balda’s former assistant, was found not guilty and acquitted of all charges.

Chaouqui, who has continued to comment on the case on her various social media accounts, posted pictures of a Facebook account she claims Mgr Vallejo Balda opened after the trial.

His alleged Facebook account, Chaouqui wrote, is an attempt to “convey information in order to rehabilitate his destroyed image as a priest and a human being.” She also issued a warning to those who engaged in conversations with him.

“Be clear that at the first breeze, smell or breath that my name turns up in your conversations, I will launch such a legal battle that you will have to sell the corneas (from your eyes) to pay me back,” she wrote.

During the trial, Mgr Vallejo Balda was briefly under house arrest before he was remanded back to a Vatican jail cell in March after it was discovered he violated the terms of his house arrest by communicating with the outside world.

The Vatican declined to comment on Chaouqui’s claims or on the terms of Mgr Vallejo Balda’s internet access while he serves his sentence.