VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Vatican monsignor admitted in court Monday that he passed confidential Holy See documents on to journalists but said he did so at a time when he feared for his life after a friendship with a woman turned sour.
Monsignor Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda, a former high-ranking official in the Vatican's finance office, was the first defendant called to testify in the Vatican's controversial trial over leaked documents. In addition to Vallejo, the two journalists, the woman and Vallejo's secretary are on trial.
Under repeated questioning from the chief prosecutor and the tribunal president, Vallejo confessed that he passed documents to journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.
"Yes, I passed documents," he said. "I did it spontaneously, probably not fully lucid."
"I was convinced I was in a situation without exit," he said.
Fittipaldi's book "Avarice," and Nuzzi's book "Merchants in the Temple," detailed millions of euros in lost potential rental income from the Vatican's real estate holdings, millions in missing inventory from the Vatican's tax-free stores, the exorbitant costs for getting someone declared a saint and the greed of bishops and cardinals lusting after huge apartments.
The books were based on documents produced by a reform commission Pope Francis appointed in 2013 to get a handle on the Vatican's financial holdings and propose reforms so that more money could be devoted to the poor. Vallejo was the commission's No. 2; Francesca Chaouqui was a member and outside public relations expert; and the fifth defendant, Nicola Maio, was Vallejo's assistant.
Vallejo admitted that he gave Nuzzi a five-page list of some 87 passwords to access the reform commission's password-protected emails. But he said he did so after becoming certain that his email account had already been entered and that Nuzzi had already obtained the documents.
He also admitted to exchanging text messages with Fittipaldi about providing him with other documents.
Chaouqui introduced him to both journalists, he said.
Vallejo acknowledged that he had somewhat fallen for Chaouqui, saying he felt "compromised" as a priest after one evening when she entered his hotel room in Florence. Vallejo's lawyer said Chaouqui had a "seductive personality."
But over three hours of testimony in his native Spanish, Vallejo explained how he increasingly became terrorized by Chaouqui, saying she and her husband sent increasingly aggressive and threatening text messages especially after the reform commission wrapped up in 2015 and Chaouqui was left without work.
Vallejo said he ascertained with "moral certainty" that Chaouqui mingled in a "dangerous world" of Italian power brokers and had ulterior interests. He testified that she repeatedly told him she worked for Italy's secret services and once claimed to be arranging a meeting for a visiting U.S. President Barack Obama.
Vallejo said when he decided to cut her off, "I felt as if my physical safety was in danger."
Chaouqui is now pregnant, and attended the court session sitting against a fluffy pillow and frequently getting up to stretch.
Nuzzi and Fittipaldi face up to eight years in prison if convicted of putting pressure on Vallejo to obtain the documents and publish them. Vallejo, Chaouqui and Maio are accused of forming a criminal organization and providing the documents.
The questioning continues Tuesday.