ROME — Pope Francis on Sunday referred for the first time in his own voice to the recent publication of secret documents on Vatican finances leaked to Italian journalists, calling it a “crime” and a “deplorable act,” but vowing that his reform effort has “started to bear fruit.”

“First of all, let me tell you that stealing those documents was a crime,” Francis said after his weekly Angelus prayer at midday Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. “It’s a deplorable act that doesn’t help.”

The pontiff was referring to confidential documents regarding Vatican finances passed to two Italian journalists, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, each of whom used those documents for new books: “Via Crucis” by Nuzzi (in English, “Merchants in the Temple”) and “Avarizia” (“Avarice”) by Fittipaldi.

The documents represent the findings of a study commission created by Francis in summer 2013 to lay the groundwork for his reform efforts. Nuzzi also obtained an audio recording of a meeting with the pontiff and senior cardinals discussing income estimates for some Vatican operations.

Francis said Sunday he was well aware of what the commission, known by its Italian acronym COSEA, had found.

“I myself had asked for this study to be done, and my advisers and I knew those documents well,” Francis said to the thousands gathered in the square.

“Steps have been taken that have started to bear fruit, some of them even visible,” he said.

“I want to say also that this sad fact certainly doesn’t distract me from the work of reform we are carrying out with my advisers and with the support of all of you,” after which the square erupted in cheers.

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Although no charges have been filed, last Monday the Vatican announced the arrest of a cleric and a laywoman, former COSEA members who had access to the documents.

Spanish Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda and Italian Francesca Chaouqui both served on the now-defunct financial reform commission, and were identified by Vatican investigators as potential sources of the leaks.

Vallejo remains under custody within Vatican grounds, although his lawyer, Spaniard Carmen Rosales, has told journalists that he’s not behind bars, but in a residence “in accordance with his rank,” awaiting for charges to be pressed.

Chaouqui was released after her interrogation for cooperating with the probe.

“I thank you and ask you to continue to pray for the pope and the Church, without getting upset or troubled but proceeding with faith and hope,” Francis concluded on Sunday.