Tony Gentile / Reuters

Vatican arrests ex-members of Francis’ reform body over alleged leaks

Arrest of monsignor and female member of commission comes as scandal and intrigue continues to swirl around the Vatican

A monsignor and a woman who had served on a financial reform commission set up by Pope Francis have been arrested in the probe of yet another leak of confidential information and documents, the Vatican said Monday.

A statement from the Holy See's press office said that Vatican prosecutors on Monday upheld the arrests of the two, who were interrogated over the weekend. It identified the woman as Francesca Chaouqui and the monsignor as the Rev. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda. The monsignor is still a Vatican employee; Chaouqui served on a now defunct commission set up by Francis in 2013 as part of his drive to reform the Vatican's finances. Vallejo Balda also served on the commission.

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Vallejo Balda was being held in a jail cell in Vatican City. Chaouqui was allowed to go free because she cooperated in the probe, the Vatican said.

"As part of criminal investigations carried out by the Vatican Gendarmerie, which have been underway for several months, regarding the unauthorized removal and sharing of confidential documents, two people were summoned for questioning this past Saturday and Sunday on the basis of the evidence gathered and the indications thereof." the Vatican statement said.

While Francis is intent on modernizing the Vatican and making its finances more transparent, the arrests were the latest confirmation that scandal and intrigue still swirl, as they have for centuries, through the largely closed world of the Vatican bureaucracy.

Current and past papal efforts to clean house at the Vatican have sparked resentment and found resistance in the Holy See's entrenched bureaucracy, a perfect combination of factors to foster leaks.

Leaks of confidential documents from Pope Benedict XVI's papers in 2012 led to the arrest and trial of a papal butler and a Vatican computer technician.

"One must keep in mind that the leaking of confidential information and documents is a crime" under a law enacted in the first months of Francis' papacy, the Vatican statement said.

Last week Italian news reports said the Vatican police were investigating to see who had tampered with the computer of the top Vatican auditor, Libero Milone, who was appointed a few months ago by Francis.

The Vatican confirmed that there was an investigation into the tampering but declined to say if that incident was related to the two arrests.

Later this week, two expose books by Italian journalists about the Vatican's long-murky world of finances are being published, and the Vatican contended that such publications only hamper Francis' cleanup drive.

"Publications of this nature do not help in any way to establish clarity and truth but rather generate confusion and partial and tendentious conclusions," the Vatican said. "One must absolutely avoid the misunderstanding of thinking that's a way to help the pope's mission."

The Vatican described the soon-to-be published books as "fruit of a grave betrayal of the trust given by the pope and, as far as the authors go, of an operation to take advantage of a gravely illicit act of handing over confidential documentation," the Vatican said.

Without specifying if the latest arrests were linked to those books, the Vatican said its prosecutors are weighing "further measures, involving, if it is the case, international cooperation."

Some Vatican watchers have theorized that Benedict decided to be the first pope in hundreds of centuries to resign largely because he was morally dismayed by the leaks and intrigue behind the Vatican's closed doors and felt that in his advancing years, he wouldn't be up to the task of grappling with the scandals.

The Associated Press

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