VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Vatican prelate on Monday admitted in court he had leaked confidential documents to the media and said he had been manipulated into it by a woman co-defendant who claimed she was a spy.
After an adjournment of more than three months, Spanish Monsignor Angel Lucio Vallejo Balda was questioned at the resumption of the so-called “Vatileaks II” trial.
Vallejo and four other people are on trial in the case, which centers on the publication last year of two books based on leaked documents that depict a Vatican plagued by graft and where Pope Francis faces stiff resistance to his agenda.
Pressed by the prosecution and the court president on whether he had leaked documents, Vallejo said “yes”. He also said he had given the author of one of the books some 85 passwords to access electronic documents and email accounts in the Vatican.
Most of the three hours of the questioning of Vallejo, a 54-year-old Spaniard, revolved around his relationship with Francesca Chaouqui, 35, a married public relations consultant.
Both were members of a now-defunct commission appointed by Pope Francis to advise him on economic and bureaucratic reform.
He told the court that his relationship with Chaouqui had been “clearly for me as a priest compromising,” recounting how she once entered his room in a Florence hotel.
Vallejo accused her of intimidating and manipulating him in order to get a permanent job in the Vatican after the commission’s work was done. He also said he had received threatening messages from Chaouqui’s husband, who worked as an information technology expert for the Vatican commission.
He said he felt trapped “in a situation with no way out”.
Vallejo said Chaouqui told him she was a high-ranking member of Italy’s secret services and once offered to use her connections to get him a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited the Vatican in 2014.
The monsignor was returned to the Vatican’s jail a few days ago after investigators discovered he had violated the terms of his house arrest by communicating with reporters by phone.
Chaouqui, who is in late pregnancy, attended Monday’s hearing and her facial expressions suggested she disputed Vallejo’s claims.
The Vatican made it a crime to disclose official documents
in 2013 after a separate leaks scandal, which the media dubbed
“Vatileaks” and which preceded the resignation of Pope Benedict
Journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi last year published books based on documents which Vatican officials say they received from Chaouqui, Vallejo and his assistant, Nicola Maio.
The journalists are accused of putting pressure on Vallejo and Chaouqui to get the documents. The defendants face up to eight years in prison if convicted.
Chaouqui, who is expected to give evidence next week, has denied leaking documents.
Of the five accused, only Vallejo is a Vatican resident, the others being Italian citizens. The trial resumes on Tuesday with Vallejo still on the stand.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Andrew Roche