Defendants face prison for revealing charity money had been spent on the houses of cardinals and Vatican bank had sheltered suspected criminals. Evidence is based on leaked transcripts of Pope Francis's conversations.
A Vatican judge indicted five people, including two journalists and a high-ranking Vatican official, Saturday in a widening scandal alleging financial misconduct inside the Roman Catholic Church's bureaucracy. If convicted they face up to eight years in prison.
The accused include Spanish priest Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda and Italian PR expert Francesca Chaouqui, who were arrested early this month on suspicion of stealing and leaking classified papers to the media.
Investigative journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi were soon questioned following the publication of books containing leaked information which depicted corruption, theft and uncontrolled spending in the Holy See
Fittipaldi told the Italian media he was stunned by the charges after revealing criminal wrongdoing in a widening scandal that has become known as "Vatileaks."
"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."
'You can do what you want'
Co-defendant Nuzzi, who refused a Vatican summons for questioning, was defiant in a message on Twitter. "You can do what you want, but as long as the world exists, there will be journalists who report uncomfortable news," he wrote.
The other three accused are informers, who are all connected to the Vatican commission Cosea, which was set up by Pope Francis to try and reform the state's economic and administrative structures. They also stand accused of forming a criminal organization.
Leaked transcripts of Pope Francis's private conversations, secretly recorded by informants, enraged the Vatican leadership as it seem to show the 78-year-old pontiff struggling to win his battle to assert his authority and modernize the church.
If the Vatican tribunal ultimately convicts the two journalists, it will come down to a political question as to whether the Holy See will formally request their extradition from Italy - and whether Rome will oblige.
The criminal trial is set to begin on Tuesday.
jar/gsw (AP, dpa, AFP)