Trial delayed as accused asks for more time

The controversial trial of five people involved in the latest Vatican leaks scandal was adjourned on Monday until next week, after one of the accused asked for more time to prepare her defence.

Trial delayed as accused asks for more time
PR expert Francesca Chaouqui with Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda in February 2014. Photo: Umberto Pizzi/AFP

Francesca Chaouqui, a PR expert who faces up to eight years in prison for leaking classified documents to journalists, asked for five days to study the prosecution case against her and possibly introduce new evidence after replacing her court-appointed lawyer with her own defence counsel.

The prosecution did not object and the presiding judge said the case would resume on December 7th, effectively dashing the hopes of Vatican officials that the high-profile case might be wrapped up before the official start of a Catholic Jubilee year the following day.

Chaouqui said she still had no idea of what she was supposed to have done.

“I don't understand anything,” she told reporters after Monday's brief hearing. “There is no proof against me. I need this extra time to understand why I am here.”

The Vatican has been widely criticised for pursuing the prosecution of two Italian journalists, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, over leaks which they used as the basis for books depicting irregularities and extravagance in the Holy See's spending.

Chaouqui had access to potentially embarrassing material after being asked to join a commission on economic reform set up by Pope Francis shortly after his election in 2013.

The secretary of the commission, Spanish priest Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, and his assistant Nicola Maio have also been charged under legislation the Vatican introduced in reaction to the first Vatileaks scandal, which involved former pope Benedict XVI's butler revealing the extraordinary scale of bitter infighting in the upper echelons of the Church's bureaucracy, the curia.

All five accused have been charged with obtaining and disclosing confidential papers “concerning the fundamental interests of the Vatican State”.

Vallejo Balda, who has been in detention since his November 2nd arrest, Chaouqui and Maio are additionally charged with organized criminal association in order to obtain the documents they allegedly leaked to the journalists.

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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.