VATICAN CITY Two Italian journalists who wrote books detailing Vatican mismanagement faced trial Tuesday in a Vatican courtroom along with three people accused of leaking them the information, in a case that has drawn scorn from media watchdogs.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, among others, have all called on the Vatican to drop the charges against Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi. The two reporters face up to eight years in prison if convicted of charges they violated Vatican law by publishing news based on confidential Holy See documents.
In interviews Monday, Nuzzi and Fittipaldi both called the process “Kafka-esque.” With hours to go before the start of trial, neither they nor their lawyers had seen the court file detailing the accusations against them. Nuzzi spoke for the first time with his Vatican court-appointed lawyer only on Monday morning. They were indicted Friday.
Even though they technically risk arrest by stepping on Vatican soil, both arrived shortly before trial was set to begin, saying they want to understand the accusations and to report to the world what transpires.
“We are serene,” Nuzzi said, adding that the two would not be intimidated from doing their jobs. “There is evidently an interest in distracting from the embarrassing disclosures,” he said.
Fittipaldi said they did not yet understand what they were being accused of doing. “The only thing we did was publish the news, which was not denied, and documents that tell of scandals,” he said.
Neither expected the Vatican would detain them, given the diplomatic incident it would set off with Italy.
Since Fittipaldi and Nuzzi are Italian citizens, any sentence would presumably involve an extradition request. Both journalists said they believed no Italian judge would extradite them, given freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Italian constitution and that Italy would be loath to extradite two of its citizens to a state that doesn’t respect the same fundamental right as free expression.
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.
Much of both books was 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: Monsignor Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda was its No. 2; 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 organization 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.
The journalists deny the pressure accusation but acknowledge that they, like all journalists, obtained information and published it. Chaouqui has denied wrongdoing and was allowed to avoid detention after she co-operated with investigators. Balda, who is in Vatican detention, and Maio haven’t responded publicly to the accusations.
The Vatican in 2013 criminalized the leaking of confidential information and publishing news from that information after Nuzzi wrote a blockbuster book detailing the corruption, intrigue and petty turf battles that bedevil parts of the Vatican. Some say the scandal had a role in Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign.
The trial bears some resemblance to that of Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was convicted by the same Vatican tribunal of stealing the pope’s private papers and leaking them to Nuzzi. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison but Benedict eventually pardoned him.
Like that trial, this one will be open to a few journalists acting as “pool” reporters for the proceedings.
In a statement Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Vatican to drop the charges. “Journalists should be allowed to carry out their role as watchdog and investigate alleged wrongdoing without fear of repercussions,” said Nina Ognianova of the CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program.
OSCE media freedom representative, Dunja Mijatovic, echoed the call, saying “journalists must be allowed to report on issues of public interest and to protect their confidential sources.”
The Foreign Press Association in Rome recalled that some of the world’s fundamental conventions about human rights, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, list the freedom of religion “often invoked by the Catholic Church and Vatican” alongside freedom of expression.