ROME — An Italian journalist who is under criminal investigation by the Vatican for publishing a book about scandals at the Holy See said Tuesday he refused to answer the Vatican prosecutor’s questions during an interrogation this week, citing his right under Italian law to protect his sources.
Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of the new book “Avarice,” based on leaked Vatican documents, said he agreed to go to the Vatican on Monday after being formally summoned because he wanted to understand exactly what he was accused of.
But he told reporters Tuesday that he refused to answer the prosecutors’ questions, citing the protections journalists enjoy in Italy to shield their sources — protections which don’t exist in the Vatican legal code.
“I’d rather go to jail than reveal one of Avarice’s sources,” he said.
Meanwhile, another Italian journalist who also wrote a book based partly on leaked Vatican private financial documents didn’t even show up for his Vatican interrogation, saying he refuses to recognize the authority of a state that treats reporting news as a crime.
On his personal blog, Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of Via Crucis (released in English as “Merchants in the Temple”), said he received an email Friday from the office of the Vatican’s prosecutor asking him to appear Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. to be interrogated “in the guise of a suspect.”
He was to be questioned as part of a case against Monsignor Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, a former member of a papal study commission suspected of passing documents to journalists. Both Vallejo and Italian laywoman Francesca Chaouqui were briefly arrested, with Chaouqui released while Vallejo remains under Vatican detention.
Last week, the Vatican announced that it is considering criminal charges against not only those suspected of leaking the documents, but also the journalists who published them.
Nuzzi accused the Vatican of punishing journalists and criminalizing the reporting of news.
“For them, whoever writes news stories has to be punished,” Nuzzi said Monday.
This is not Nuzzi’s first brush with the Vatican over leaks: In 2012, he was the reporter who published private documents belonging to Pope Benedict XVI, whose former butler, Paolo Gabriele, was tried and later pardoned for having leaked them.
Nuzzi said he is refusing to talk to Vatican investigators because the Holy See, unlike Italy, has no rules that allow journalists to protect their sources.
“[For the Vatican], the disclosure of secret information by journalists is not [worthy of] a prize, as it is for the press throughout the democratic world, but it’s seen as a crime,” Nuzzi said.
According to a Vatican law revised by Pope Francis in 2013, stealing private documents is a felony punishable by up to eight years in prison, under the heading of “crimes against the security of the state.”
In his blog post, Nuzzi said his refusal to appear before Vatican authorities is also based on the fact that the Vatican has not told him why he’s being investigated, or how and when the alleged felony was committed.
Knowing that the Vatican has an extradition treaty with the Italian government and could ask Italy to prosecute him, Nuzzi said if that should that happen, he’d have to consider testifying and decide what to reveal.
“If, ultimately, the Vatican intends to investigate those who recount wrong-doings, trying to prosecute a journalist who does his job without investigating that which he denounces,” that’s the Church’s choice, Nuzzi said.
“I, for my part, will continue to do my job as a reporter, a journalist, and a witness of that which [the Vatican] doesn’t want to be told,” he said.
If the Vatican tribunal goes ahead and charges the two journalists and ultimately convicts them, it will come down to a political question as to whether the Holy See will request their extradition from Italy — and if Italy will oblige.
Fittipaldi said Tuesday he expected prosecutors would shelve the case, but that regardless he didn’t think Italy would turn over two Italian journalists to face Vatican justice, given that the Italian constitution guarantees freedom of the press.
Fittipaldi said the Vatican prosecutor told him he was facing the stiffest possible prison sentence — four to eight years — because the Vatican considers the publication of the information to have been a crime against the state. According to the 2013 law, the Vatican asserts jurisdiction over foreign citizens even when the alleged crime occurs outside the Vatican if the crime is considered to be against the Vatican itself, and if the potential penalty is more than three years.
“I’m really shocked, because reading my book, I would have thought that once the news was out there would have been investigations about other things inside the Vatican — not the publication of the news,” Fittipaldi said.
Vatican law is extremely strict by Western standards, with disproportionate penalties, and shows a very Old World view of government that assumes that transparency is a bad thing, said Peter Noorlander, chief executive of the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative, which defends independent media against legal challenges around the world.
He noted that the European Court of Human Rights has significant case law saying that journalists shouldn’t be held liable for the publication of information “even when that information has come into their hands by questionable means, if it’s in the public interest.”
Nuzzi and Fittipaldi are two of several figures being investigated by the Vatican’s police force, known as “gendarmeria,” for the leak of documents on financial matters, recordings of private conversations between the pope and his staff, and other confidential material.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.