April 23, 2024

Press Freedom

Vatican City

Vatican City, June 4, 2012

Archbishop Angelo Becciu
The Secretariat of State
Apostolic Palace  00l20
Vatican City
Fax: (011.39.6)

Your Excellency:

No one likes being embarrassed.  However, the Vatican’s eagerness to pursue a criminal libel case against our Italian colleague, Gianluigi Nuzzi, steps over a line usually only crossed by anti-democratic despots and absolute monarchists.

We are aware that Nuzzi’s book, His Holiness, has embarrassed high-ranking members of the Vatican, in part through the access he was given to leaked documents.  We take no position on the accuracy of the book.  But in common with press freedom organizations around the world, we take a clear position against criminal libel.

For almost two decades, the concept of criminal libel has been steadily disappearing in democratic countries.  The rights of plaintiffs to pursue civil damages remain undiminished.  The net benefit to society is protection of individuals without suppressing the necessary work of pursuing the news — work explicitly protected under Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the Vatican is a signatory.

Your comment in L’Osservatore Romano this week that the publication of embarrassing materials in Nuzzi’s new book as “an immoral act of unheard of gravity” is startling in its emotional content.  In a cooler moment, we would urge you to re-read Communio et Progressio, the codification of the Vatican’s thinking on press freedom issued in 1971.

“Those whose job it is to give news have a most difficult and responsible role to play,” says Article 36 of that document.  “They face formidable obstacles and these obstacles will sometimes include persons interested in concealing the truth.”

Respectfully yours,
Kevin McDermott
Larry Martz
Freedom of the Press Committee


Rev. Federico Lombardi, SJ
Vatican City Press Office
Via della Conciliazione 54
00120  Vatican City
Fax: (011.39.6)
E-mail: vis@pressva-vis.va

L’Osservatore Romano

Professor Paul Moses
Brooklyn College
3157 Boylan Hall
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY  11210