Five people, including two journalists, who are accused of leaking and publishing Vatican secret documents revealing mismanagement in the Holy See, are set to go on trial.
The journalists, Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, who cited the documents in two books will face the tribunal, along with two members of a papal commission and an assistant.
If convicted, they could be jailed for up to eight years.
Media groups have condemned the trial. One of the journalists charged called it “an attack on press freedom”.
Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi carried allegations of the misuse of charitable and other funds in their books Merchants in the Temple and Avarice.
The allegations included the lavish refurbishment of apartments for cardinals and others.
The three accused of leaking the documents are a Spanish priest and an Italian public relations expert who sat on a commission which advised the Pope on economic reform, along with the priest’s secretary.
Media groups have urged the Vatican to drop the charges.
Nina Ognianova, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said: “Journalists should be allowed to carry out their role as watchdog and investigate alleged wrongdoing without fear of repercussions.”
The journalists involved called the trial “Kafka-esque”, saying neither they or their lawyers had seen details of the charges.
Emilian Fittipaldi said: “This is a trial against freedom of the press. In no other part of the world, at least in the part of the world that considers itself democratic, is there a crime of a scoop, a crime of publishing news.”
The three accused of leaking the documents are Monsignor Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda and his assistant Nicola Maio, along with PR expert Francesca Chaouqui.
The special reform commission they were serving was set up by Pope Francis to tackle the Vatican’s financial holdings and propose reforms to improve cash flow to the poor.
Five people, including two journalists and a top priest or monsignor, have been charged by the Vatican over the leaking and publication of secret documents.
The leaked documents were cited in two books, by journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, alleging misspending and corruption at the Vatican.
The journalists deny claims that they exerted pressure to obtain information.
Two members of a papal commission advising on economic reform, and an assistant, were also charged.
Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda, and fellow commission member, public relations expert Francesca Chaouqui, were arrested early in November.
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi and Avarice by Emiliano Fittipaldi, included details of alleged corruption, theft and uncontrolled spending in the Vatican.
In a statement, the Holy See said magistrates “notified the accused and their lawyers of the charges filed… for the unlawful disclosure of information and confidential documents”.
Francesca Chaouqui was released shortly after her arrest after pledging to co-operate with authorities. Monsignor Lucio Valejo Balda remains in a Vatican cell.
Both, along with assistant Nicola Maio, are accused of forming “a brotherhood of crime” and stealing documents, the Vatican said.
The two journalists have been charged with exerting pressure to obtain the information.
Emiliano Fittipaldi told local media he was “stunned” by the decision.
“Maybe I’m naive but I believed they would investigate those I denounced for criminal activity, not the person that revealed the crimes,” he said.
“I understand they are seriously embarrassed in the Vatican over the things in my book, especially because they could not deny any of it. But I didn’t expect a criminal trial.”
Gianluigi Nuzzi told Reuters he had “never applied pressure on anyone”. He will discuss whether to attend a November 24 hearing with his lawyers.
Reporters without Borders issued a statement saying the journalists had “just exercised their right to provide information in the public interest and should not be treated as criminals in a country that supposedly respects media freedom”.
If convicted, all five could be jailed for up to eight years.
Pope Francis celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass since becoming pontiff St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
The pontiff once again preached the importance of acceptance and humility, qualities he has demonstrated continually in his first nine months as head of the Catholic Church.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” Pope Francis began, quoting from Isaiah, a book of the Bible that includes prophesies foretelling the birth of Jesus.
Pope Francis has sought to change the image of the Catholic Church as a judgmental, lavish, inflexible institution since his election in March.
On Monday, he made a Christmas visit to Pope Emeritus Benedict and asked him to pray for him.
In Christmas Eve’s Mass, Pope Francis reiterated the importance of reaching out to the downtrodden, using the shepherds who were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth as an example.
“They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast,” he said.
“We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable,” he said in thanks to God and also a clear indication of the humility he encourages his flock to emulate.
Before Christmas Eve Mass, Pope Francis personally placed a baby Jesus doll in a replica of a manger, a custom usually performed by an aid
In his address to Vatican administrators on Saturday, Pope Francis said holiness was a practice of “deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers,” as he urged the cardinals, bishops and priests to avoid gossip.
Before the Mass, Pope Francis further inspired meekness, when he personally placed a baby Jesus doll in a replica of a manger, a custom usually performed by an aid.
The 2 1/2-hour Mass was the first of many services Pope Francis will lead during the holidays. On Christmas Day, he will deliver a “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message from the basilica’s balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis will also hold mass on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and another on January 6, for the feast of the Epiphany or “Three Kings’ Day”, celebrating the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus.
In a recent interview, Pope Francis said he is not a Marxist but that even Marxists can be good people.
Pope Francis was responding to conservative criticisms that his economic and social ideas smack of communism.
He also denied reports that he would name a woman cardinal, said there was good progress in cleaning up Vatican finances and confirmed that he would visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next year, Italian newspaper La Stampa reported.
Last month, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who has a huge following in the US, railed against Pope Francis for written comments made on the world economy.
Rush Limbaugh, who is not Catholic, said that parts of the document were “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope” and suggested that someone else had written the papal document for him. He also accused the Pope of going “beyond Catholicism” and being “purely political”.
Asked about the accusations, which sparked a debate in the media and blogosphere last month, Pope Francis, a member of the all-male Jesuit order associated with progressive social policies, said: “Marxist ideology is wrong. But in my life I have known many Marxists who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
He has also been criticized by other conservatives.
Rush Limbaugh railed against Pope Francis for written comments made on the world economy
In last month’s document, seen as a platform for his papacy, Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny” said an “economy of exclusion and inequality” had proven to be deadly for many people around the world.
In his response to the critics, Pope Francis said he was not speaking “as a technician but according to the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and this does not mean being Marxist”. He said he was just trying to present a “snapshot of what is happening” in the world today.
In another document last week, Pope Francis said huge salaries and bonuses were symptoms of an economy based on greed and called again for nations to narrow the wealth gap.
Conservatives in the 1.2 billion member Church have expressed concern and disappointment about some of the pope’s pronouncements, such as when he said he was not in a position to judge gays who are people of good will sincerely seeking God.
Asked about speculation that a woman could be among the new cardinals he will appoint early next year, Pope Francis said: “I don’t know where that idea comes from. Women in the Church should be valued, not <<clericalized>>.”
In other parts of the interview, Francis also said a committee of eight cardinals from around the world who are advising him on changes to the Vatican structure would make its first formal recommendations to him in February but that reform would be a “lengthy task”.
He said that reform of the Vatican’s sometimes murky finances was “on the right path” and expressed satisfaction that last week a Council of Europe committee called Moneyval gave the Vatican a good evaluation of its efforts to abide by international financial standards.
Pope Francis said he had not yet decided what to do about the Vatican bank, which has been touched by scandals over the decades. In the past he has not ruled out closing it.
He said he was “getting ready” to go to the Holy Land next year to mark the 50th anniversary of when Pope Paul VI became the first pope in modern times to visit there.
Pope Francis has been invited by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to make a visit, which is expected to take place in May or June.