An Italian journalist who is under criminal investigation by the Vatican for publishing a book about scandals at the Holy See said this week he refused to answer the Vatican prosecutor’s questions during an interrogation, citing a journalist’s right under Italian law to protect sources.
Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of the new book “Avarice,” based on leaked Vatican documents, said he agreed to go to the Vatican on Monday after being formally summoned because he wanted to understand exactly what he was accused of.
But he told reporters Tuesday that he refused to answer the prosecutor’s questions, citing the protections journalists enjoy in Italy to shield their sources — protections that don’t exist in the Vatican legal code.
“I’d rather go to jail than reveal one of Avarice’s sources,” he said.
Another Italian journalist who wrote a second book about Vatican mismanagement and is also under investigation by the Vatican refused to appear for questioning this week. Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of “Merchants in the Temple,” also cited the utter lack of protections for journalists in the Vatican legal code, and the fact that the Italian constitution guarantees freedom of the press.
Both books detailed the waste, mismanagement and greed at the Vatican and the resistance Pope Francis is running into in trying to clean it up. Two people who had access to the documents cited by the books have been arrested in the case; one remains in a Vatican jail cell.
Nuzzi’s 2012 book on Vatican waste and wrongdoing, also based on leaked documents, sparked a scandal that helped persuade Pope Benedict XVI to resign. It also prompted the Vatican to pass a law punishing anyone who leaks or publishes confidential information with up to eight years in prison.
If the Vatican tribunal goes ahead and charges the two journalists and ultimately convicts them, it will come down to a political question as to whether the Holy See will request their extradition from Italy — and whether Italy will oblige.
Fittipaldi said Tuesday he expected prosecutors would shelve the case, but that he didn’t think Italy would turn over Italian journalists to face Vatican justice given that the Italian constitutional guarantees freedom of the press.
Fittipaldi said the prosecutor told him he was facing the stiffest possible prison sentence — from four to eight years — because the Vatican considers the publication of the information to have been a crime against the state. According to the 2013 law, the Vatican asserts jurisdiction over foreign citizens even when the alleged crime occurs outside the Vatican if the crime is considered to be against the Vatican itself, and if the potential penalty is over three years.
“I’m really shocked, because reading my book, I would have thought that once the news was out, there would have been investigations about other things inside the Vatican — not the publication of the news,” Fittipaldi said.
Vatican law is extremely strict by Western standards, with disproportionate penalties, and shows a very Old World view of government that assumes that transparency is a bad thing, said Peter Noorlander, chief executive of the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative, which defends independent media against legal challenges around the world.
He noted that the European Court of Human Rights has significant case law saying that journalists shouldn’t be held liable for the publication of information “even when that information has come into their hands by questionable means, if it’s in the public interest.”