After one defendant in last year’s Vatileaks 2.0 trial published a book in January, Rome has been waiting for the other shoe to drop, this time a volume by the woman at the heart of it all: Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, an Italian PR consultant whose own new book is titled Nel Nome di Pietro (“In the name of Peter”).
The book went on sale last Tuesday, and if the interest one brings is
whether it offers new revelations about financial corruption in the
Vatican, then it’s more of a whimper than a bang.
To recap, Chaouqui, a Spanish cleric named Monsignor Lucio
Vallejo Balda and an Italian layman named Nicola Maio served on a
commission created by Pope Francis in 2013 to study reform of Vatican
finances. Later, all three would be charged along with two Italian
journalists with leaking and publishing confidential documents from that
Vatican prosecutors took them to trial, with the two journalists
eventually being acquitted for lack of jurisdiction (they’re Italian
citizens and not Vatican employees), Maio acquitted for “not having
committed the crime,” Chaouqui given a suspended sentence, and Balda
sentenced to 18 months (which was cut in half by Pope Francis in
For the record, Chaouqui has always insisted on her innocence. To add
yet another splash of melodrama, Chaouqui was pregnant during the trial
and gave birth to her first son, whom she named “Peter” in honor of the
To be sure, Chaouqui’s book covers many of the areas where the
Vatican’s money management over the years has been a perpetual source of
scandal and heartache - the high costs of sainthood procedures, misuse
of funds at Vatican-affiliated hospitals, the sumptuousness of
cardinals’ apartments, the Vatican’s dubious gas and tobacco sales,
management of its real estate, an under-funded pension system, a lack of
competitive bidding in awarding contracts, and more.
However, all of that has been painfully well known, even before COSEA
was created, and is basically why Francis felt the need to launch a
reform in the first place.
Reading more like a diary than an exposé, and one where it’s
sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction, the book’s aim seems to be
to recast Chaouqui’s image, away from the femme fatale to the
misunderstood idealist who got swept up in a series of internal
struggles and power games not of her own making.
She reports being dumbfounded at the scale of financial corruption
she discovered, describing the Vatican as a place where “everything is
possible, everything is permitted, and no one is innocent.”
In Chaouqui’s eyes, the early promise of reform has largely been
squandered, and naturally that raises the question of who’s to blame.
Her major candidate for the bad guy is Australian Cardinal George Pell,
Pope Francis’s choice for his new Secretary of the Economy, a figure who
started strong but who’s lost a series of internal battles since.
(Villifying Pell was also a key element of the book Lussuria
by the other Vatileaks 2.0 defendant to publish so far, journalist
Emiliano Fittipaldi. In both cases, the presentation is based on
well-documented charges Pell has already responded to multiple times,
and, in both cases, his side of the story isn’t told.)
As Chaouqui tells it, she had doubts about Pell from the beginning,
and once she discovered his record on clerical sexual abuse scandals in
Australia, she became convinced that he was a problem. She says he
brought the same modus operandi of seeking to protect and expand church
assets at the expense of justice to the Vatican, which doomed the sort
of reform Pope Francis desired.
In her eyes, Pell and his allies, including lay members of the new
Council for the Economy, were never primarily interested in the hands-on
task of cleaning up the mess. Instead they wanted to build new
financial structures to turn the Vatican into an investment and asset
management colossus, with close ties to multi-nationals and financial
Once they broke with Pell, she says, she and Balda had powerful
Vatican enemies, and in her eyes her indictment and eventual conviction
in the leaks trial were the natural end-game of a long-running effort to
marginalize and discredit her.
Of Balda, Chaouqui describes a cleric who was always a mix of zeal
for reform and personal self-interest, and who gradually cracked under
the strain of the circumstances in which he found himself. Some of the
exchanges she recounts with Balda in the book will be of prurient
interest, including alleged disclosures about his sexual life.
How seriously should we take all this?
Well, there’s some basis for caution. For instance, she claims to
have become scandalized by Pell’s background with the abuse scandals in
January 2014, and by the summer of 2014 to have clearly perceived him as
Yet I interviewed Chaouqui for the Boston Globe in June 2014,
and here’s what she said then: “I think [we’re at] an historical
turning point. In part that’s because of Pell, whom I support
Of course, people don’t always tell reporters what they really think,
but that doesn’t sound like the sort of caution one, who by then says
she saw Pell as a cancer, might be expected to use.
Without a doubt, Chaouqui’s book rightly laments the
often-dysfunctional and sometimes corrupt world of Vatican finance, and
the jury is still out on whether Francis will succeed in injecting real
transparency and accountability. Until we have significant prosecutions
of financial crimes, a convincing annual financial statement, and an
audit with teeth, reminders of the work left to be done are always
However, the book adds relatively few new pieces to the picture - and
as for Chaouqui’s attempt at rehabilitation, well, the jury’s probably
still out on that one too.