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Vatican arrests cleric, laywoman suspected of leaking secret documents

Vatican arrests cleric, laywoman suspected of leaking secret documents
In this photo released by the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano newspaper, Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessing to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, from the velvet-draped loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, during the "Urbi et Orbi" message, Latin for ''to the city and to the world", Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2007. The pontiff issued a Christmas Day appeal to political leaders around the globe to find the "wisdom and courage'' to end bloody conflicts in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Congo. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, HO)

Two members of a commission Pope Francis set up to study reforms, including a high-ranking Holy See official, have been arrested on suspicion of leaking confidential documents, the Vatican said on Monday.

It was one of the biggest internal scandals to hit Francis’ papacy so far and was reminiscent of the “Vatileaks” furor that preceded the resignation of former Pope Benedict in 2013.

Spanish Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, number two at the Vatican’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs, and Italian laywoman Francesca Chaouqui, a public relations expert, were arrested over the weekend, a Vatican statement said.

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

Chaouqui, 33, whose sexy photo of herself on her Facebook page raised Vatican eyebrows when she was appointed to the commission in 2013, was released on Monday after she agreed to cooperate with the investigation, it said.

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.

Both were members of a commission that Francis set up shortly after his election to advise him on economic and bureaucratic reforms in the Curia.

The committee completed its work last year and handed its report to the pope, who subsequently made some changes in Vatican administration, including the establishment of a new economic ministry.

The twin arrests 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.