Saturday 10 December 2016

Priest held in prison cell by Vatican in leaks trial

Nick Squires

Published 15/03/2016 | 02:30

Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Francesca Chaouqui, a PR expert accused of leaking classified documents to journalists, arrives in the Vatican yesterday for the ‘Vatileaks’ trial of two journalists and three former Vatican officials, including Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

A mobile phone hidden inside a religious book was smuggled to a Vatican prelate who is in detention for allegedly leaking confidential Holy See documents to investigative journalists, according to local media.

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Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda is one of five people accused of leaking and publishing classified Vatican documents, when their trial inside the walls of the tiny city state resumed late yesterday.

Since December, the Spanish prelate has been held in a building inside the Vatican under house arrest.

Barracks

But at the weekend the Vatican announced that he had been effectively re-arrested and returned to a cell inside the barracks of the Vatican Gendarmerie because he had "violated a ban on communicating with the outside world".

It had been one of the conditions by which he was kept under house arrest, said the Rev Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

A website devoted to Vatican affairs claimed that the Spanish monsignor had been caught calling friends and supporters with a mobile phone that was smuggled to him in a hollowed-out copy of 'The Writings of St Francis'.

The website, Infovaticana, obtained a photograph of what it said was the religious tome, with a neat square hole carved out of its pages.

It claimed that the prelate was deeply unhappy that he had not been able to choose his own lawyer but had been given one by the Vatican's judicial authorities.

The testimony in the case may be uncomfortable for the Holy See, given that details are expected about the once close friendship between Monsignor Balda and the lone woman on trial, Francesca Chaouqui,

Media rights groups from around the world, meanwhile, have denounced the prosecution of journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianlugi Nuzzi, who wrote blockbuster books last year detailing the resistance Pope Francis is facing in trying to clean up waste and corruption in the Vatican.

Fittipaldi's book 'Avarice' and Nuzzi's book 'Merchants in the Temple' detailed millions of euro in lost potential rents from the Vatican's real estate holdings, millions in missing inventory from the Vatican's tax-free stores, the exorbitant costs for getting someone declared a saint, and the greed of bishops and cardinals lusting after huge apartments.

Fittipaldi and Nuzzi's books were based on documents produced by the reform commission Pope Francis appointed in 2013 to get a handle on the Vatican's financial holdings and propose reforms so that more money could be devoted to the poor.

Balda was the commission's No. 2; Chaouqui was a member and outside public relations expert; and the fifth defendant, Nicola Maio, was Balda's assistant.

Pope Francis has already said Chaouqui's nomination to the reform committee was a mistake. Chaouqui, a tweeting, name-dropping media sensation, has portrayed herself as a martyr and insisted she's done nothing wrong. On Saturday, she posted a photo on her Facebook page of Giordano Bruno, the 16th-century friar who was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition and burned at the stake.

Irish Independent

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