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2 Vatican Officials Arrested In Probe Of Leaked Documents


The Vatican has arrested two of its employees. One is a monsignor, a high-level priest. The other is a public relations specialist. They're both suspected of leaking confidential information to the media. And they were taken into custody just before the publication of two books that promised to reveal scandal within the Holy See. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is covering this story from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.


INSKEEP: What did these two allegedly leak?

POGGIOLI: Well, we don't know. There's no official charge yet. But the presumption is that this is a preemptive strike on the part of the Vatican before the release of these two books that have been getting a lot of attention in the media here.

INSKEEP: OK, so whatever's in those books, they're suspected of having something to do with it. Who are these two suspects then?

POGGIOLI: Well, one is a Spanish priest, Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda. He's the number two at the Vatican's Prefecture for Economic Affairs. The woman is Francesca Chaouqui. Both were members of a commission that Pope Francis set up shortly after he became pope to analyze the Vatican's economic departments and suggest reform.

INSKEEP: OK, so it's economic information of some kind that they would have had access to. Were these particularly prominent employees of the Vatican, Sylvia?

POGGIOLI: Well, first of all, Chaouqui was very well known. There had been a lot of talk in the media about her when she raised eyebrows by posting racy photos of herself on Facebook. But basically, they were both expected to be named to important positions in the economic structures created after their report. But they were left out in the cold. And they were very strongly criticized for organizing a flashy party for Vatican VIPs and European jetsetters during last year's canonization ceremony of John Paul II and John XXIII. Francis, who we know is a champion of poor church for the poor, was apparently very annoyed about the party.

INSKEEP: Well, what triggered the investigation of these two particular people?

POGGIOLI: Well, it apparently began in May after some documents of their now-defunct commission were leaked to the Italian media. Just last week, there were reports that Vatican police were investigating the hacking of a computer of the Holy See auditor general. And that's a new key position that can control financial accounts of all the Vatican departments. And the auditor general also reported a theft from his office. And according to the Italian media, the priest, Balda, worked in that same office.

INSKEEP: Hasn't the Vatican had trouble keeping secrets before?

POGGIOLI: Yes, indeed. And one of the authors of the book is a link between the two of them. In 2012 - his name is Gianluigi Nuzzi - he published a best-seller that contained many confidential documents that reveal corruption and waste inside the Vatican. Pope Benedict's butler was arrested. He was tried. And he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. But then the pope pardoned him two months later. Now, I don't know anyone who follows the Vatican closely who believes the butler acted on his own. But in any case, what came to be known as Vatileaks is believed to have triggered Pope Benedict's resignation in February, 2013.

INSKEEP: So these two suspects who've been arrested, where are they now?

POGGIOLI: Well, the woman, Chaouqui, she was released, the Vatican said, because she's cooperating with investigators. But she's still technically under investigation. The priest is in a Vatican jail cell. I think they only have one, actually.

INSKEEP: One jail cell, and it's filled to capacity. I want to understand, Sylvia, what is the law when it comes to the Vatican and the release of information? I'm thinking about the United States, where there are all sorts of rules having to do with classifications of information and many debates about them in recent years. What's the rule of the Vatican?

POGGIOLI: Well, in fact, after that first scandal in 2012, the first book, the Vatican law for leaking confidential documents was made much tougher. The fact is there's a problem. The Vatican's a different state. These are Italian journalists. They're going to have to go through the Italian judicial system if they want to try to get the books suspended - you know, not published or whatever. So it becomes an international intrigue in some ways also.

INSKEEP: I wonder if that also makes it harder to prosecute someone within the Vatican because it would be difficult to drag witnesses over to the Vatican.

POGGIOLI: Well, the priest and this woman, Chaouqui, can be certainly tried. But the authors of the two books, I think it'll be very difficult to get them in.

INSKEEP: Sylvia, thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.