Media monitors at the 57-country Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe condemned the Vatican's trial of two journalists and urged the Holy See to honour its international press freedom commitments.
"Our main concern is for the protection of confidential sources - this is a pillar of investigative journalism," said Gunnar Vrang, spokesman for the Vienna-based OSCE's Media Freedom Office. "I can't speculate on whether we'd bring intergovernmental pressure to bear, or on how this case may affect the image of Pope Francis. But there will certainly be public pressure."
Vrang told the Catholic News Service there had been no church reaction to a statement on Monday from the OSCE's Media Freedom Representative, Dunja Mijatovic, calling on the Vatican to drop charges against Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.
The two are among five accused of involvement in leaking and publishing confidential documents about finances in the Vatican, which criminalized the release of "news and documents" in July 2013.
Vrang said Vatican claims that the journalists had exerted undue pressure on their informants were "only rumours," and he said the Holy See was expected to respond to international criticisms at a session of the OSCE's Permanent Council tomorrow.
"This is our first statement about the Vatican since our office was founded in 1998, and the ideal scenario is these charges will now be dropped and the journalists set free," said Vrang. "But we can't issue injunctions, and we've no practical mechanisms to ensure this happens - our only tool is to raise our voice."
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The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also criticised the trial. It said this week that journalists "should be allowed to carry out their role as watchdog and investigate alleged wrongdoing without fear of repression".
The OSCE office observes media developments "as part of an early warning function," and seeks "to ensure the safety of journalists" and "the development of media pluralism", according to its website.
In June, its report raised concerns about treatment of the media in 38 OSCE member-countries and urged states to "stop treating journalists, especially those holding different opinions, as enemies."
In her statement, Mijatovic said Nuzzi and Fittipaldi had written about "alleged financial mismanagement and corruption in the Vatican City" and faced up to eight years in prison if convicted, adding that the OSCE was now calling on the Holy See to "protect journalists' rights" under its commitments as an OSCE founder-member.
A spokeswoman for the Holy See's Permanent Mission to the OSCE told Catholic News Service she could not comment on the criticisms.