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VatiLeaks Vatican defends trial, top cardinal to testify in court

Lombardi said Nuzzi and Fittipaldi had complained that they were not given a chance to look properly at the evidence collected against them, and denied representation by their regular Italian lawyers.

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Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane at Fiumicino Airport in Rome November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito play Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane at Fiumicino Airport in Rome November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

The Vatican has defended its decision to put on trial two journalists who published embarrassing information about the Catholic Church's finances, rejecting suggestions it was trampling on the freedom of the press.

Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, whose books were published last month in Italy, have been accused of maliciously soliciting leaks from Vatican officials and risk up to eight years imprisonment if found guilty.

Nuzzi and Fittipaldi exposed resistance to papal reforms and outrageous expenses, including 200,000-euro (216,000-dollar) renovations at a cardinal's flat paid by a Vatican hospital for children.

Vatican Spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said on Monday in Vatican City that many comments about the trial, which has been dubbed VatiLeaks 2, are inappropriate, or at times entirely unjustified.

He said the legal system of the Vatican City State had all the procedural guarantees characteristic of the most advanced contemporary legal systems, and respects all the fundamental principles of a fair trial.

Lombardi said Nuzzi and Fittipaldi had complained that they were not given a chance to look properly at the evidence collected against them, and denied representation by their regular Italian lawyers.

They also claim that their actions would not be criminalised in their home country of Italy or elsewhere in the European Union, and stressed that none of the information they published has been denied or considered libelous.

Lombardi said it was unsurprising that an Italian lawyer might be barred from a Vatican trial.

He said just as he or she would not be able to practice in Germany or France, and noted that the Vatican's legal order was entirely autonomous and separate from the Italian one.

The VatiLeaks 2 trial started on November 24, amid expectations that it would be wrapped up before the Tuesday start of the Jubilee of Mercy, a major Catholic festival.

There are three other defendants, accused of having passed on the information to the journalists: Spanish Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda, his aide Nicola Maio, and Italian PR consultant Francesca Chaouqui.

Balda and Chaouqui were members of a now-disbanded panel that reviewed Vatican financial affairs on behalf of Pope Francis.

They were due to be questioned on Monday, but were not, as the court examined petitions raised by the defence.

Judges accepted a list of witnesses, including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the highest Vatican authority after the pope, other top prelates and well-known Italian journalists, a Vatican statement said.

They also accepted the submission of a psychiatric report on Balda as supplementary evidence, and a request from Chaouqui's counsel to have an independent expert review the data prized from defendants' mobile phones and computers during investigations.

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