Criminalizing freedom of the press

Statements coming out of the Vatican today regarding the controversy over leaks of confidential papal documents would seem to upend close to five decades of interesting, nuanced statements from the church on the role of journalists in society and replace them with some kind of "Syllabus of Errors." At least, that's how it looks to me as a journalist who always thought that the church's advice for the media to serve the truth with charity was a good model.In an interview in L'Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Angelo Becciu of the Secretariat of State calls the journalist who published leaked Vatican documents a "criminal" and says, "I consider the publication of the stolen letters an immoral act of unheard of gravity."This criminalization of freedom of the press is not worthy of the Vatican.The Committee to Protect Journalists has criticized Italian officials for using a harsh criminal libel law to intimidate journalists from telling the truth. It notes that the often-investigated Silvio Berlusconi had tried to make it illegal for journalists to publish the contents of police wiretaps.Vatican officials are now following suit, publicly egging on Italian authorities to prosecute journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi for publishing leaked papal documents in a new book.Freedom of the press is a concern the world over. Despots will take heart that the Holy See's Secretariat of State believes it is a crime to tell the public what authorities want to keep secret.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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