Vatican PR expert: Never gave documents to journalists

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2016 2:39 PM

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A communications expert testified in a Vatican court Wednesday that she never gave confidential documents to journalists. But she said a Vatican monsignor did after he was turned down for a promotion, began hanging out with an astrologer and confessed his sexual secrets to her.

Francesca Chaouqui took the stand Wednesday to defend herself against charges she passed confidential Vatican information to two journalists whose blockbuster books exposed waste, greed and mismanagement in the Holy See.

"Never, never," Chaouqui testified. "I can assure you that no reserved documents ever passed from my hands." She said she only ever gave journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi an invitation to a Vatican reception and a collection of newspaper clippings.

Chaouqui, Monsignor Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda, a former high-ranking official in the Vatican's finance office, and Vallejo's secretary are on trial in the Vatican's criminal court, accused of forming a criminal organization that provided top-secret documents to Nuzzi and journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi.

The two journalists are on trial too, accused of exerting pressure on Vallejo and publishing the material, which is a crime under Vatican City State law.

Chaouqui and Vallejo were members of a papal reform commission named in 2013 to gather information about the Vatican's finances and propose ways to make the Holy See's administration more efficient and transparent.

Chaouqui, who is eight months pregnant, testified that Vallejo "spontaneously" gave Nuzzi the password to his email account in hopes Nuzzi could help him improve his reputation after he was passed over for a job. Prosecutors say that password gave Nuzzi access to a wealth of confidential documentation.

Chaouqui said neither she nor Nuzzi nor Fittipaldi threatened Vallejo or pressured him to turn over the information.

"It was (Vallejo) Balda who had this need to explain how important his work was," she testified. "Balda was never in any way forced by a journalist as far as I know."

She said Vallejo began acting strangely after one night in Florence where he confessed details of his sex life to her. She added that after that, he began hanging out with an astrologer she had introduced him to and acting bizarrely, getting drunk and taking trips with journalists.

The astrologer, she said, provided Vallejo with a cellphone hidden in a cake while he was under house arrest — an infraction that landed him in a Vatican jail cell earlier this year.

Vatican prosecutors have accused the journalists of illegally "soliciting and exerting pressure" on Vallejo to obtain the documents and of publishing them. They face up to eight years in prison if convicted.

They have denied they exerted pressure on anyone to get the information, have asserted their rights as journalists to publish news and say they only were doing their jobs.

Media rights groups around the world have condemned the Vatican for prosecuting the journalists and called for the charges to be dropped.

The trial continues Monday.