[Austen Ivereigh] Two former Vatican officials were arrested this morning ahead of the publication later this week of new books that their publishers claim will detail financial mismanagement and wrongdoing in the Curia. News of the arrests were made in a Vatican statement that strongly deplored the betrayal of the Pope’s trust by officials leaking documents for money.
The officials, Mgr Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda and Francesca Chaouqui, served on the financial reform commission set up by Pope Francis soon after his election in 2013 to suggest reforms of the Church’s financial structures. The so-called Pontifical Commission of Reference for the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structures of the Holy See, or COSEA, later dissolved after the creation of the Secretariat of the Economy and its oversight body, the Council for the Economy.
Mgr Vallejo, a Spanish priest who belongs to the Opus Dei-affiliated Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, was COSEA’s secretary, while Chaouqui, a Moroccan-Italian PR consultant, served as a member. Neither was given a post after the Commission was dissolved.
Both were arrested over the weekend, according to today’s statement. Chaouqui was set free after cooperating, while Mgr Vallejo, who is a Vatican employee, remains in custody in a Vatican jail at the discretion of the Promoter of Justice, the Vatican’s attorney-general.
The divulging of confidential information is a crime under Article 10 of the revised 2013 Vatican state law.
The documents have made their way to two authors bringing out books on Thursday. Gianluigi Nuzzi’s Via Crucis, translated as Merchants in the Temple, follows his 2012 His Holiness which published papal correspondence detailing corruption and political intrigue in the Vatican passed to the journalist by Pope Benedict XVI’s butler. Merchants in the Temple will be published in many different languages next week.
The other book is also by an Italian journalist, Emiliano Fittipaldi, and is called Avarice: Documents Revealing Wealth, Scandals and Secrets of Francis’ Church. Fittipaldi writes for the L’Espresso newsweekly, the home of Sandro Magister, who has been responsible for some of the most high-profile leaked stories of this pontificate, including the so-called ‘Letter of the 13’ during the synod.
Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said today:
As for the books announced for publication in the next few days, let it be clearly stated at this time, as in the past, that such actions are a serious betrayal of trust granted by the Pope and with regard to the authors, an operation that takes advantage of a gravely unlawful delivery of confidential documents – an operation whose legal implications and possibly penalties are under study by the Office of the Promoter of Justice in view of possible further measures that will involve international cooperation if necessary. Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather to create confusion and partial and tendentious interpretations. We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope.
(See John Allen’s analysis here.)
The documents are expected to shed light on mismanagement of property, the improper charging of fees, as well as a culture of entitlement. But they are likely to shed very little new light on issues that have been raked over in the past, while in general highlighting the continued need of reforms such as those being carried out by Cardinal George Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy.
It is the third time this year that Vatican documents have been leaked. In June an early draft of the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ was leaked before publication, and last month a private letter to the Pope from 13 senior churchmen complaining about the synod. In both cases, the website publishing the leaks was L’Espresso.
However, the arrests over the weekend may suggest that the Vatican clampdown is beginning to succeed. The gendarmerie were alerted to the thefts by the Vatican’s chief auditor, Libero Milone, appointed by Pope Francis in June.