Judgement nears in trial that has shamed the Vatican

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Francesca Chaouqui (L) has depicted her onetime friend, Spanish monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda, as a "delusional homosexual". Photo: AFP
07:50 CEST+02:00
Final hearings in the Vatican's controversial leaks trial of journalists and others will be held next month in a finale to over nine months of courtroom drama that has embarrassed the Holy See.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Tuesday that final arguments and sentencing requests would be made July 4th-6th.

A panel of judges will then have to decide if any of the five defendants should face prison sentences for their role in exposing waste and financial mismanagement at the top of the Church based on leaked classified documents.

The Vatican also announced that Spanish monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda, who has been held in a police cell for much of the trial, had been released from custody on Saturday and was now in a state of "semi-liberty."

Balda admitted earlier in the trial to leaking classified documents to journalists but claimed he did so under pressure from a female former colleague after she made advances to him culminating in a "compromising" encounter in a hotel room.

The colleague, Francesca Chaouqui, has dismissed the suggestion as unfounded and depicted her onetime friend Balda as a delusional homosexual.

The lurid nature of much of the evidence has led some Vatican insiders to question the wisdom of having pursued the leaks prosecution under draconian legislation rushed onto the Holy See statute book after the first Vatileaks scandal, which centred on revelations by former pope Benedict XVI's butler.

Pope Francis has come under fire from press freedom groups for giving his blessing to the prosecution of two Italian investigative journalists, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, who both published books based on leaked documents.

The spectacle of Chaouqui giving evidence while heavily pregnant has also been seen as damaging. By coincidence, she gave birth to a baby boy on Tuesday, prompting the Vatican's Lombardi to send "best wishes to him and his parents."

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In theory, all five defendants could be sentenced to jail terms but in practice only Balda seems at risk of ending up behind bars.

The two journalists, Chaouqui and and Balda's assistant Nicola Maio are all Italian citizens and guilty verdicts will, at most, only signal the start of complex extradition procedures.

Legal experts say it is unlikely Italy could extradite either of the journalists given the country's constitutional protection of press freedom.

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