* Journalists groups condemn trial as violation of press
* OSCE urges Vatican to drop charges against journalists
* Pair wrote books alleging mismanagement and greed in the
* Journalist dubs trial "Kafkaesque"
(Adds background on Vatican legal system, more from trial,
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Nov 24 Five people, including two
Italian reporters, went on trial in the Vatican on Tuesday, to
outrage from rights groups, on charges arising from publication
of books in which the Holy See was portrayed as mired in
mismanagement and corruption.
At the first session, dominated by procedural issues and
dubbed "Kafkaesque" by one of the defendants, journalists
Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi said they had done
nothing wrong and had simply fulfilled their professional duty.
"I am incredulous in finding myself here as a defendant in a
country that is not mine," Fittipaldi told the court, adding
that publishing news was protected by the Italian constitution
as well as European conventions and universal declarations on
The trial, being heard by three non-clerical judges in the
sovereign city-state, stems from publication of two books which
depict a Vatican plagued by mismanagement, greed and corruption
and where Pope Francis faces stiff resistance from the old guard
to his reform agenda.
While the Vatican follows a 19th-century Italian criminal
code that is no longer used in Italy, the fundamental approach
to criminal trials is similar to the Italian legal system of
magistrates and prosecutors. Unlike Italy, the Vatican does not
have jury trials.
A criminal law making it illegal to leak documents was
introduced in 2013 after another leaks scandal that preceded the
resignation of Pope Benedict that year.
That scandal, in which Benedict's butler was arrested for
stealing documents from the pope's desk and leaking them to
Nuzzi, came to be known as "Vatileaks". The Italian media has
dubbed the latest episodes "Vatileaks II".
The defendants risk jail sentences of up to eight years but
legal experts said the two journalists were not likely to serve
any time in the Vatican's small jail, which is rarely used, and
would probably receive suspended sentences, if any.
VATICAN SAYS NOT AGAINST PRESS FREEDOM
A Vatican prosecutor told the court that the Holy See did
not intend to muzzle freedom of the press and that the
defendants were bring tried for the way the documents were
leaked by the officials and obtained by the journalists.
Two of the officials indicted, Spanish Monsignor Angel Lucio
Vallejo Balda, who was number two at the Vatican's Prefecture
for Economic Affairs, and Italian laywoman Francesca Chaouqui, a
public relations expert, were arrested earlier this month.
Balda and Chaouqui were both members of a now-defunct
commission Francis set up in 2013 to study economic and
administrative reforms. Vatican employee Nicola Maio, Balda's
assistant, also went on trial.
In their indictment, prosecutors said Balda, Chaouqui and
Maio formed "an organised criminal association" with the aim of
"divulging information and documents concerning the fundamental
interests of the Holy See and the State".
Nuzzi and Fittipaldi wrote books based on the leaks. Their
indictment said both solicited and applied pressure, especially
on Vallejo Balda, to obtain secret documents and information.
Asked at a news conference how the trial could affect
Francis's image as a man of mercy, Nuzzi suggested that it was
fomented by other Vatican officials bent on protecting their
privileges and status.
"This trial against journalists is a trial against
transparency. In it, I see no evidence of the clear message of a
sweet revolution the pope espouses every day ... unfortunately,
there are various personalities in the Church (and) when you
talk about the privileges of a caste, the caste is not happy,"
PARTIAL AND TENDENTIOUS
The Vatican has said "Merchants in the Temple" by Nuzzi and
"Avarice" by Fittipaldi, give a "partial and tendentious"
version of events and has accused the writers of trying to reap
financial advantages from receiving stolen documents. The books
were published earlier this month.
Both journalists complained they had been forced to accept
court-appointed lawyers and had been given documents needed for
their defence only days, or hours, before the trial started.
Fittipaldi told reporters that he had not met his lawyer
until the trial was about to start. The court ruled that a
senior Vatican judge would have to decide if outside lawyers
could represent the two but that judge was out of Rome.
The next session was set for Monday.
Nuzzle told reporters during a break that the trial was
"absurd and Kafkaesque" but it would not stop him from
publishing more books.
The human rights watchdog, the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), urged the Vatican on Monday to
withdraw the charges.
"Journalists must be free to report on issues of public
interests and to protect their confidential sources," the OSCE's
representative on freedom of the media, Dunham Mijatovic, said.
"I call on the authorities not to proceed with the charges
and protect journalists' rights in accordance with OSCE
commitments," she said.
The Italian journalists' federation, Italy's foreign press
Association and AIGAV, the association of reporters accredited
to the Vatican, also condemned the indictment of the
"We have to stress that publishing news is precisely our
job," AIGAV said, calling the trial "unacceptable".
(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer and Isla Binnie; Editing
by Richard Balmforth and Giles Elgood)