Today a trial opened in the Vatican on the latest leaks scandal. Those officially on trial are journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, Mgr. Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda who was the number two of the Commission whose minutes and other documents were published, Francesca Chaouqui a member and a public relations expert, and Balda’s assistant Nicola Maio.

Earlier this month saw the publication of Fittipaldi’s book Avarice, and Nuzzi’s book Merchants in the Temple. The books allege greed, waste, corruption and mismanagement in the way things are done in the Vatican. Several high powered prelates were mentioned while information was given about the opposition Pope Francis was encountering in his attempts to clean things up.

At the beginning of the trial Fittipaldi, who like Nuzzi is an Italian and could have decided not to show up, read out a statement saying that he is not accused of publishing anything false or defamatory, merely news – “an activity that is protected and guaranteed by the Italian constitution, by the European Convention on Human Rights and by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.”

The Court refused Fittipardi’s plea.

As was to be expected the decision of the Vatican brought with it a general condemnation from the journalistic world.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, among others, have asked the Vatican to drop the charges against the investigative journalists. These organisations rightly assert that freedom of the press, which is a fundamental right, is on trial at the Vatican.

“Journalists must be free to report on issues of public interest and to protect their confidential sources,” argued OSCE spokesman Dunja Mijatovic.

The magazine Commonweal, to mention one of many examples. posted an article by Paul Moses calling the Vatican’s action “an effort to intimidate journalists from reporting the truth” and the “criminalising [of] investigative reporting”.

The best that one can say about the decision of the Vatican to proceed against the two journalists is that it is seriously ill-judged. In actual fact it is the Vatican which is now on trial. The focus of the reportage has now changed from the disloyalty of those who leaked the documents to the right, and duty of the press, to publish material which is in the public interest.

I skimmed through the two books and there is no doubt that the material published is in the public interest. I can’t think of a journalist who would not have felt obliged to go ahead with a publication on the subject even if not perhaps in exactly the same way as done by Fittipardi and Nuzzi.

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