Whistleblowers or schemers? Two senior Vatican officials arrested in new VatiLeaks scandal

© Alessandro Bianchi
The Vatican capped a months-long investigation into internal leaks to the media by arresting two high-profile officials over the weekend, just days before the publication of a pair of books promising incendiary revelations about the Holy See.

“The leaking of confidential information and documents is a crime,” said a communiqué from the Vatican, which has its own police force and legal system.

Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda © infovaticana.com

Monsignor Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, a member of the Curia, the Catholic Church’s de-facto central government, was arrested along with 33-year-old Francesca Chaouqui, a laywoman who had previously worked as a corporate lobbyist and public relations specialist. Vallejo Balda served as the secretary of COSEA, a special taskforce assembled by Pope Francis in 2013 to make the Vatican’s opaque financial practices more transparent, and Chaouqui had been invited to join the group by the Monsignor.

© @FrancescaChaouq

Chaouqui, who has previously attracted controversy for posting nude photos of herself and making anti-Vatican comments on social media, has since been released, with a communiqué saying there was no evidence with which to indict her, and that she had agreed to co-operate with the investigation. Vallejo Balda, a 54-year-old Spaniard, remains in custody.

READ MORE: Vatileaks scandal ends: Papal butler gets 18 months in jail

Two new exposés about the Vatican are due to come out on Thursday. One, called Merchants in the Temple, was written by Gianluigi Nuzzi, who collected documents from the previous Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele. The new book from Nuzzi, who is thought to be a friend of Chaouqui, will disclose more details concerning the final months of Pope Benedict’s reign, which may have ended, at least in part, due to pervasive allegations, smears, and exposes surrounding the Vatican.

Pope Francis (R) greets Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI © Tony Gentile

The second book, entitled Avarice, was written by Emiliano Fittipaldi, who claims it will bring to light corruption during the reign of Pope Francis.

The Vatican’s communiqué did not directly accuse the arrested insiders of contributing to the books, but specifically mentioned the new exposés, and hinted that they were “the result of a serious betrayal of trust of the Pope.”

“Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather to create confusion, partial and tendentious interpretations. We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope,” said the Vatican.

COSEA had full access to the financial records of the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican Bank, whose senior managers have previously been accused of having mafia links and being involved in money laundering and embezzlement.

The latest news comes during a difficult few weeks for Pope Francis, who has been praised by outsiders for reforming the Vatican Bank, but is now struggling to do the same at the Curia, traditionally beset by rivalry and intrigue.

Two weeks ago, a leading Italian newspaper published claims that the 78-year-old Pontiff has a brain tumor. The Vatican dismissed the story, saying it was “unfounded” and cooked up by his “enemies” in a bid to “manipulate” public opinion to discredit the Pope.

On the weekend, the Vatican also said it was investigating a hacking attempt into the computer of Libero Milone, the head of the audit office, which contained confidential financial information. It is not clear if the recent arrests were connected to that incident, either.