vatikan vatican.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Dennis Jarvis, used under CC BY-SA

Four of the five defendants on trial for leaking sensitive information about the Catholic Church's finances should be convicted and given jail terms ranging from one year to three years and nine months, Vatican prosecutors said Monday.

The so-called VatiLeaks 2 trial has exposed the Vatican to criticism that it is violating European rules on freedom of the press by going after investigative journalists and officials who allegedly passed classified information to them.

The heaviest sentencing requests were made for Italian PR consultant Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, to three years and nine months, and for Spanish priest Lucio Vallejo Balda, to three years and one month, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Chaouqui and Balda were members of a now-disbanded church reform committee whose dossiers were leaked. Prosecutors believe that the PR consultant was the chief instigator behind that illicit act, Lombardi said.

Chaouqui, who breastfed her 3-week-old son Pietro Elijah Antonio as she sat in the courtroom, dismissed the prosecution's demands as "absurd," the ANSA news agency reported.

Prosecutors also sought prison terms of 21 months for Nicola Maio, an Italian aide to Monsignor Balda.

The proposed punishment for the journalists in the dock was lighter: a one-year - suspended - sentence for Gianluigi Nuzzi, and an acquittal, for lack of evidence, for his colleague Emiliano Fittipaldi.

"I reject the basic principle behind this trial, because it does not target two specific journalists - anyone could have been in the place of Nuzzi and me - but the freedom of the press," Fittipaldi was quoted as saying by ANSA.

Defence lawyers should make their pleas on Tuesday and Wednesday, Lombardi said.

The trial is expected to wrap up by the end of the week, but its verdicts may be challenged before an appeals court and may not be immediately executed.

Court proceedings started in November, when Nuzzi's Merchants in the Temple and Fittipaldi's Avarice were published. The two books accused top prelates of living in outrageous luxury and resisting Pope Francis' efforts to clean up Vatican finances.

The scandal surrounding the books and their revelations has been dubbed VatiLeaks 2 because it was connected to the first VatiLeaks case, triggered in 2012 by another Nuzzi publication also based on leaked Vatican documents.

At that time the journalist was not tried, while his main informer Paolo Gabriele, a valet of then Pope Benedict XVI, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and pardoned shortly after.

The scandal allegedly contributed to the shock decision by Benedict to resign in early 2013, and led his successor to adopt a tough new law punishing the leaking of Vatican state secrets with up to eight years' imprisonment.

That legislation was used to indict the VatiLeaks 2 suspects. Fittipaldi said it was "illiberal" and called on Francis to "immediately" amend it, regardless of the verdict that may be reached.

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