By Andrea Gagliarducci
As a Vatican City trial over the leaking of private documents continues, the director of the Holy See Press Office has defended the trial and the judicial systems of the Vatican City State after the defendants criticized the process.
Father Federico Lombardi’s message, published Dec. 7, follows a hearing in the trial. The tribunal heard motions by the lawyers and discussed the approval of witnesses for the defense.
All of the witnesses were accepted. Included among them will be Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State. Another witness will be Cardinal Santos Avril y Castello, Archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica and president of the commission of cardinals of the Institute for Religious Works, informally known as the Vatican Bank.
Fr. Lombardi’s note addressed some of the criticisms of the Vatican trial and tribunal. He emphasized that Vatican judicial system has “all the procedural guarantees characteristic of the most advanced contemporary legal systems.”
In his note, Fr. Lombardi said that the Vatican City State has “its own legal order, entirely autonomous and separate from the Italian legal system, and has its own judicial bodies for the various levels of judgments and the necessary legislation in terms of criminal matters and procedures.”
Five people have been indicted for the alleged dissemination of private financial documents that concern fundamental interests of the Holy See and the Vatican City State. The accused include two former members of a Holy See commission and two journalists.
Gianluigi Nuzzi, one of the journalists on trial, has made many interviews describing the trial as “Kafkaesque.” He lamented that he could not hire his customary lawyer for his defense at trial. He has also charged that the Vatican City State follows “an old law, belonging to times when Italy was a kingdom.”
Francesca Chaouqui, a public relations expert, also faces charges, as does Spanish Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo, a former secretary of the Vatican Prefecture for the Economic Affairs. Both Chaouqui and Msgr. Vallejo are former members of the now-dissolved Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic Administrative Structure of the Holy See, which was part of the reform of Vatican finances.
Chaouqui was released soon after her arrest in exchange for her cooperation in the investigation. She has also complained that she was not given the opportunity to have assistance from her personal lawyer.
Emiliano Fittipaldi, the other journalist on trial, made spontaneous remarks Nov. 25 at the end of the first hearing. He voiced his “incredulity to be charged by judges who are not the judges of my countries.” He said in Italy the charges “would have no penal relevance.”
The Vatican City State was established in 1929, as a consequence of the Lateran Pacts. After its establishment, the Vatican City State needed a juridical framework. It adopted the Italian penal code and the Italian code of penal procedure.
In 1933, Italy adopted a new penal code, called the “Rocco code” after the name of the Minister of Justice who signed it. However, the Holy See kept the previous code as the fundamental law of the Vatican City State.
The Vatican penal code was then updated by Pope Francis with a reform issued July 13, 2013, which also criminalized the unauthorized disclosure of information and confidential documents.
Father Lombardi listed the various justice guarantees of the Vatican City trial and tribunal. He underscored that “all the fundamental principles are established and fully implemented.”
These principles include “an independent and impartial tribunal constituted by law; the presumption of innocence; the right to a technical defense and the freedom of the judicial college to form an opinion on the basis of evidence in public hearing and in debate between the prosecution and the defense.”
This tribunal is intended to lead to “the issuance of a sentence able to be substantiated and with the possibility of being contested by appeal and ultimately annulled,” the director of the Holy See Press Office explained.
Father Lombardi that all those engaged in judicial roles are not recruited “by way of a public selection procedure open to the citizens of the State, as normally occurs in other States.” However, he emphasized that they are “selected from among professionals of the highest level, with sound experience and recognized reputation.”
The director of the Holy See Press Office also addressed the complaints that the accused were not able to be assisted by their personal lawyers.
“The current Vatican legislation is perfectly in line with procedural law in the majority of jurisdictions throughout the world, where a specific qualification is required for admission to practice in the courts,” Fr. Lombardi stressed.
He then maintained that “it is therefore unsurprising that a lawyer able to practice in Italy may not be able to do so in Vatican City State, just as he or she would not be able to practice in Germany or France.”
These conditions are not limitations of the Vatican’s legal order. Rather, they are “a further confirmation of its autonomy and completeness.”
Fr. Lombardi explained that all lawyers are enrolled in “an easily consulted professional register of lawyers with right of audience before the Vatican City State tribunal.” He said ex officio or private lawyers may be selected from the professionals on this register.
This is the reason why the Vatican could not admit the lawyers presented by Gianluigi Nuzzi, Emiliano Fittipaldi and Francesca Chaouqui.