Vatican arrests 2 in leaked document probe

The Vatican says it has arrested a high-ranking monsignor and a woman in the latest probe of leaks of confidential documents at the Holy See.

Spanish monsignor believed to be highest-ranking member of Vatican's central bureaucracy ever arrested

Pope Francis delivers his blessing at the Vatican on Sunday. Leaks of confidential documents belonging to his predecessor — retired Pope Benedict XVI — in 2012 prompted an investigation. (Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press)

The Vatican said Monday it has arrested a high-ranking monsignor and a woman in the latest probe of leaks of confidential documents, days before two authors are due to release books that promise new evidence of scandals at the Holy See.

The arrests mark one of the biggest internal debacles to hit Francis' papacy so far and are reminiscent of the "Vatileaks" furore that preceded the resignation of former Pope Benedict in 2013.

The Vatican said in a statement that the two had been interrogated over the weekend, and that Holy See prosecutors upheld the arrests.

The woman was identified as public relations expert Francesca Chaouqui and the monsignor as Spanish Rev. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda. The monsignor is a Vatican employee and serves as No. 2 at the Vatican's Prefecture for Economic Affairs, while Chaouqui had served on a commission set up by Pope Francis in 2013 as part of his drive to reform the Holy See's finances.

Vallejo Balda, 54, is believed to be the highest-ranking member of the Vatican's central bureaucracy, known as the Curia, ever to have been arrested.

A Vatican spokesman said Vallejo Balda was being held in a jail cell in Vatican City, and that Chaouqui was allowed to go free because she co-operated in the probe.

The Vatican said the leaks represented a "serious betrayal of the trust bestowed by the Pope," without providing any details. There was no immediate comment from Vallejo Balda and Chaouqui, or their lawyers.

Exposés expected within days

Monday's announcement was the latest confirmation that scandal and intrigue still swirl in the largely closed world of the Vatican's administrative bureaucracy.

Leaks of confidential documents from retired Pope Benedict XVI's papers in 2012 led to the arrest, trial and conviction of a papal butler and a Vatican computer technician.

Those leaks included letters to the then-pope from Vatican officials complaining to Benedict about alleged corruption in the Holy See.

Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict's butler, was arrested and convicted in 2012 in the leaked documents case. A Vatican computer technician was also found guilty.

 2013 Vatican law made it a crime to leak confidential documents and information.

Last week, Italian news reports said the Vatican's gendarmeria, or police force, were investigating to see who had tampered with the computer of a top Vatican prelate who deals with financial matters.

The Vatican on Monday confirmed that there was an investigation into the tampering, but declined to say if that incident was related to the two arrests.

The twin arrests over the weekend came just days before two Italian authors were due to release books that their publishers say will reveal new evidence of scandals in the Vatican and alleged conspiracies by the old guard to undermine Francis's reform efforts.

With files from Reuters