Vatican PR ‘vowed to destroy priest’ over leaks

Francesca Chaouqui, the PR consultant at the centre of the Vatican's controversial leaks trial, threatened to "destroy" a Spanish priest she worked with, a Holy See court heard on Tuesday.

Vatican PR 'vowed to destroy priest' over leaks
PR expert Francesca Chaouqui with Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda in February 2014. Photo: Umberto Pizzi/AFP

“I will destroy you in the press and you know I can do it,” Choauqui allegedly wrote in a WhatsAPP message to Spanish monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda that was cited by the prosecution in the case against two journalists and three Vatican employees.

Vallejo Balda has admitted leaking classified documents to the two journalists, who have written books on the mismanagement of Vatican finances.

But he says he only did so under pressure from Chaouqui, with whom he claims to have had a “compromising” relationship.

Chaouqui, a former PR consultant to the Vatican who is married and six months pregnant, denies any sexual contact between her former colleague in an economic reform panel set up by Pope Francis.

Vallejo Balda reiterated his claim to have been effectively blackmailed by a woman he believed to have links to Italian secret services and other contacts in a “dangerous world”.

“She boasted about having lots of details about my private life, my assets and my problems with the tax authorities,” he said, claiming he had subsequently been encouraged by journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi to “make peace” with his colleague.

“I felt they knew things about me,” he added.

Chaouqui took particular exception to a suggestion in the Spanish cleric's testimony on Monday that she had claimed to have contacts in the mafia.

Arriving at court for Tuesday's hearing, she showed a university legal thesis which she had dedicated to the slain anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

“Accusing me of being connected to the mafia, as someone from (mafia-infested southern region) Calabria – it is the worst attack that could be made on me,” she told reporters.

At the end of Tuesday's session, Chaouqui jumped up suddenly and rushed out of the room holding her hand over her mouth. Doctors and police were called but she appeared again shortly afterwards, the malaise apparently having passed.

Her lawyer said Chaouqui may need to go into hospital for a procedure related to her pregnancy. The presiding judge said that subject to the appropriate certification that could lead to a further delay in the trial, which is due to resume on Friday.

Chaouqui is accused of conspiring with Vallejo Balda and his assistant Nicola Maio to leak data and documents they had access to as members of a commission appointed by Pope Francis to spearhead a financial clean-up shortly after his election in 2013.

The two journalists on trial, Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, have published books based on the documents.

All five accused have been prosecuted under draconian anti-leaks legislation, which could see them receive prison terms of between four and eight years.

The law was rushed onto the Vatican statue book in 2013 as a result of the fallout from the first Vatileaks scandal, which centred on secrets divulged by the butler of now-retired Pope Benedict XVI.

The Vatican has been criticised by press freedom groups for pursuing the prosecution of the two journalists, who say they were only doing their jobs.

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Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post

Pope Francis has broken with Catholic tradition to appoint a woman as an undersecretary of the synod of bishops, the first to hold the post with voting rights in a body that studies major questions of doctrine.

Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post
Pope Francis has appointed Nathalie Becquart as undersecretary of the synod of bishops. She is the first woman to hold the post. Photo: AFP

Frenchwoman Nathalie Becquart is one of the two new undersecretaries named on Saturday to the synod, where she has been a consultant since 2019.

The appointment signals the pontiff's desire “for a greater participation of women in the process of discernment and decision-making in the church”, said Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary-general of the synod.

“During the previous synods, the number of women participating as experts and listeners has increased,” he said.

“With the nomination of Sister Nathalie Becquart and her possibility of participating in voting, a door has opened.”

The synod is led by bishops and cardinals who have voting rights and also comprises experts who cannot vote, with the next gathering scheduled for autumn 2022.

A special synod on the Amazon in 2019 saw 35 female “auditors” invited to the assembly, but none could vote.

The Argentinian-born pope has signalled his wish to reform the synod and have women and laypeople play a greater role in the church.

He named Spaniard Luis Marin de San Martin as the other under undersecretary in the synod of bishops.

Becquart, 52, a member of the France-based Xaviere Sisters, has a master's degree in management from the prestigious HEC business school in Paris and studied in Boston before joining the order.