As the “Vatileaks 2.0” trial nears its end, the Vatican on Monday announced the penalties its chief prosecutors are seeking for the five defendants charged with stealing secret documents related to Vatican finances and making them public.
Those defendants include three former members or aides to a papal commission that studied financial reform of the Vatican in 2013-2014, and two Italian journalists who published books based on the leaked documents from that commission, known by its Italian acronym COSEA.
The former Vatican officials were charged with the offense of “criminal association” under the laws of the Vatican City State in November 2015, while the journalists were charged with the illegal dissemination of confidential information, and their trial has been underway in on-and-off fashion ever since.
According to a statement on Monday from the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the two prosecutors in the case, Giampiero Milano and Roberto Zannotti, believe that Italian laywoman and PR expert Francesca Chaouqui was the “inspirer and responsible party for the contested conduct,” and are recommending she face a prison sentence of three years and nine months.
That’s the harshest recommendation for any of the five defendants. Under a law approved by Pope Francis regarding the leaking of secret documents, the defendants theoretically could have faced up to eight years behind bars.
For Spanish Monsignor Angel Lucio Vallejo Balda, the former secretary of the commission, the prosecutors are recommending three years and one month of prison time.
For Italian layman Nicola Maio, Vallejo Balda’s assistant – who, according to prosecutors, had a “limited role in the affair” – the recommendation is one year and nine months.
Prosecutors also recommended distinguishing between the two journalists who published the documents, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi. In essence, they’re suggesting that Fittipalid be acquitted for “absence of proof,” while Nuzzi be given a suspended sentence of one year.
Many observers believed all along that any sentence imposed on either Fittipaldi or Nuzzi would be largely symbolic, since they are Italian citizens not subject to the Vatican’s criminal jurisdiction, and it’s considered unlikely in this case that Italy would choose to execute a Vatican jail term.
In theory the same point applies to Chaouqui, who is also an Italian citizen and not a Vatican employee. However, in a January interview with Crux, Chaouqui – who gave birth to her son, Peter Elijah, during the trial – insisted that despite her claims of innocence, she will serve whatever prison term the Vatican court imposes.
“If you’re going to take someone and destroy their public image, the Vatican must have the dignity to enforce its penalties,” she said. “If I have to put up with this suffering … and then they just call me ‘guilty but pardoned,’ or ‘guilty with a suspended sentence,’ I won’t accept it.”
On Tuesday, the Vatican court will hear presentations by attorneys for the defendants. Monday’s statement did not indicate when the court plans to reach a decision about guilt or innocence and which sentences, if any, to impose.