VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Vatican trial into the theft of confidential Holy See documents was postponed on Monday until Dec. 7, dashing Church hopes of wrapping up the case before the start of the Roman Catholic Holy Year.
The trial of five defendants, including a senior Spanish priest and two Italian reporters, was due to hear the first testimony on Monday, with the court looking to reach verdicts before Dec. 8, when the Holy Year starts.
However, the panel of three judges agreed to adjourn the hearing because one of the accused, lay consultant Francesca Chaouqui, had changed her lawyer, who requested more time to prepare the defense.
Two defendants, journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, had books based on leaked documents published this month that depict a Vatican plagued by greed and graft and where Pope Francis faces stiff resistance to his reform agenda.
Vatican officials say the documents were handed to them by Chaouqui, Spanish Monsignor Angel Lucio Vallejo Balda and his assistant, Nicola Maio.
"The hearing has been postponed until December 7. So Holy Year or not, the trial will continue," Nuzzi told reporters. "It is a postponement that will allow us to fine tune our defense."
The Vatican made it a crime to disclose official documents in 2013 after a separate leaks scandal that preceded the resignation of Pope Benedict that year.
Balda, who was No. 2 at the Vatican's Prefecture for Economic Affairs, had been slated to give evidence on Monday.
Details of his turbulent relationship with Chaouqui have already been splashed across the media. "You are a worm, you’re crap," one of the messages Chaouqui sent Balda said, la Repubblica newspaper reported.
The newspaper also published what it said were extracts of a statement that Balda had given in which he detailed his close ties with Chaouqui. She promised to hit back.
"They have tried to play hard ball and now it is my turn," she told reporters on Monday.
The defendants risk jail sentences of up to eight years but legal experts said the two journalists were not likely to serve any time in the Vatican's small jail. Both Nuzzi and Fittipaldi have said they were simply fulfilling their professional duty.
Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Andrew Heavens