Vatican prelate admits leaks; says woman ‘spy’ and former colleague on Vatican commission, Francesca Chaouqui, ‘intimidated’ him
Chaouqui, who is expected to give evidence next week, has denied leaking documents
[Will it come down to a case of “He said, she said”?]
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A Vatican prelate on Monday admitted in court he had leaked confidential documents to the media and said he had been manipulated into it by a woman co-defendant who claimed she was a spy.
After an adjournment of more than three months, Spanish Monsignor Angel Lucio Vallejo Balda was questioned at the resumption of the so-called “Vatileaks II” trial.
Vallejo and four other people are on trial in the case, which centers on the publication last year of two books based on leaked documents that depict a Vatican plagued by graft and where Pope Francis faces stiff resistance to his agenda.
Pressed by the prosecution and the court president on whether he had leaked documents, Vallejo said “yes”. He also said he had given the author of one of the books some 85 passwords to access electronic documents and email accounts in the Vatican.
Most of the three hours of the questioning of Vallejo, a 54-year-old Spaniard, revolved around his relationship with Francesca Chaouqui, 35, a married public relations consultant.
Both were members of a now-defunct commission appointed by Pope Francis to advise him on economic and bureaucratic reform.
He told the court that his relationship with Chaouqui had been “clearly for me as a priest compromising,” recounting how she once entered his room in a Florence hotel.
Vallejo accused her of intimidating and manipulating him in order to get a permanent job in the Vatican after the commission’s work was done. He also said he had received threatening messages from Chaouqui’s husband, who worked as an information technology expert for the Vatican commission.
He said he felt trapped “in a situation with no way out”.
Vallejo said Chaouqui told him she was a high-ranking member of Italy’s secret services and once offered to use her connections to get him a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited the Vatican in 2014.
The monsignor was returned to the Vatican’s jail a few days ago after investigators discovered he had violated the terms of his house arrest by communicating with reporters by phone.
Chaouqui, who is in late pregnancy, attended Monday’s hearing and her facial expressions suggested she disputed Vallejo’s claims.
The Vatican made it a crime to disclose official documents
in 2013 after a separate leaks scandal, which the media dubbed “Vatileaks” and which preceded the resignation of Pope Benedict that year.
Journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi last year published books based on documents which Vatican officials say they received from Chaouqui, Vallejo and his assistant, Nicola Maio.
The journalists are accused of putting pressure on Vallejo and Chaouqui to get the documents. The defendants face up to eight years in prison if convicted.
[Addendum from Vatican priest claims emotional blackmail behind leaks (Agence France-Presse on Mar 14, 2016)]
Msgr Vallejo’s claim that his actions were the result of a combination of sexual tension and blackmail will only confirm the view of those inside the Vatican who regard the entire case as a public relations own goal by the Church hierarchy.
As well as putting the spotlight on out-of-control spending at the top of the Catholic Church, the trial also has the potential to put some of Pope Francis’s closest associates on the stand.
In December, Chaouqui was granted the right to call as witnesses Vatican number two Cardinal Pietro Parolin and two Francis confidantes, charity supremo Archbishop Konrad Krajewski and Cardinal Santo Abril y Castello, who heads a panel overseeing the scandal-hit Vatican bank.