VATICAN CITY — A lawyer for an Italian journalist on trial in the Vatican for publishing classified Holy See information insisted Wednesday on the right of the press to report the news, saying: “Since when is asking questions a crime?”
Attorney Roberto Palombi made his closing arguments in the case that has drawn scorn from media watchdog groups. Two journalists, as well as three people affiliated with a papal reform commission, are accused of conspiring to publish confidential information.
A verdict is expected Thursday. The defendants face up to eight years in prison though Vatican prosecutors asked for a maximum of three years and nine months for one of the commission members.
Journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi wrote books last year based in part on confidential Vatican documents exposing greed, mismanagement and corruption in the Holy See.
Palombi, Nuzzi’s attorney, challenged the Vatican tribunal’s jurisdiction to even hear the case since the alleged crime occurred in Italy, not on Vatican territory.
Citing papal documents throughout history about the duty of journalists to inform, Palombi said Nuzzi had an obligation to publish the news and that if he hadn’t done so, another journalist would have.
“Since when is asking questions a crime?” he asked.
Palombi also noted that prosecutors appeared to have changed their line of accusation over the course of the trial, initially indicting the journalists on a conspiracy charge even though they had never met before the trial began and were in fact competitors.
After the key defendant denied that the journalists pressured him into turning over the documents, prosecutors in their closing statements accused the journalists instead of being part of a “moral conspiracy based on psychologically reinforcing the will of those who passed them documents.”
Palombi noted that the revised accusation is essentially instigation — which wasn’t part of the original indictment.
“We risk having a verdict that is different from the original accusation,” he said.
Prosecutor Roberto Zannotti insisted in his final response that the freedom of the press wasn’t on trial. The Vatican in 2013 criminalized the publishing of “reserved” information after Nuzzi published a book of confidential papal documents.
“The accusation is conspiracy, and on this the tribunal will decide,” he said.