Vatican prelate detained for stealing confidential papal papers

2015-11-02 18:05


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Vatican City - A Vatican official, who was snubbed for promotion last year, has been put in jail for leaking confidential papal papers to journalists, the Holy See said on Monday, adding that a second person was also detained and later released.

The development is likely to fuel fresh speculation over alleged intrigues within the Catholic Church against the pastoral and administrative reforms that Pope Francis is pursuing against conservative opposition.

Spanish-born Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, former secretary of a now disbanded committee that Pope Francis set up to advise economic and financial reforms of the Vatican's bureaucracy, the Roman Curia, was named as the chief suspect.

He was being detained in the same cell used three years ago to lock up Paolo Gabriele, a butler to former Pope Benedict XVI who was identified as the mole in a previous leak case, the ANSA news agency reported.

Known to be close to the conservative Catholic movement Opus Dei, Vallejo Balda was overlooked by Francis last year, when he did not make him a secretary of a new quasi-finance ministry structure that was set up as part of reform efforts.

The prelate was taken in for questioning at the weekend along with another member of the ex-panel, Francesca Chaoqui, following investigations by the Swiss Guards on the "theft and disclosure of confidential news and documents”, the Vatican said.

The pair was placed under arrest, but on Monday Chaoqui was set free, partly because she had cooperated with authorities.

Born in Italy from an Italian mother and a Moroccan father, Chaoqui is a former corporate PR expert who also sympathises with the Opus Dei. Veteran Vatican commentator Sandro Magister once described her as "good looking, enterprising and loose-lipped”.

Vatican authorities acted three days before the publication of two leak-based books purporting to shed light on anti-Francis machinations and church greed: Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi and Avarice by Emiliano Fittipaldi.

The Vatican dismissed them as "the fruit of a serious breach of the trust accorded by the Pope" and said it was considering legal action against the authors.

"Such publications do not contribute in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather to generate confusion and partial and biased interpretations. We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this could be a way to support the Pope's mission," it said.

Nuzzi published another tell-all book in 2012, containing documents that had been supplied to him by Gabriele, in what came to be known as the VatiLeaks scandal. It exposed alleged cronyism, graft and infighting within the Curia.

The butler was convicted of theft, sentenced to 18 months and later pardoned. After his case, a new law toughened prison terms for Vatican leakers from a minimum of 6 months to a maximum of 8 years, depending on the seriousness and maliciousness of the act.

VatiLeaks is believed to influenced Benedict's decision to resign in February 2013, a move no pope had taken in almost 600 years, and led to Francis being elected with a mandate to thoroughly clean up the Vatican's administration.

Read more on:    catholic church  |  vatican city  |  religion

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