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Spanish monsignor arrested in 'Vatileaks' case is highest-ranking ever probed in Holy See

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 17:  A view of St. Peter's Square during a canonisation ceremony held by Pope Francis on May 17, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Francis canonized four women religious on Sunday, all 19th century nuns who worked in education. St Marie-Alphonsine and St Mary of Jesus Crucified were from the territory that made up historical Palestine; St Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve was a French nun and foundress; and St Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 17: A view of St. Peter's Square during a canonisation ceremony held by Pope Francis on May 17, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Francis canonized four women religious on Sunday, all 19th century nuns who worked in education. St Marie-Alphonsine and St Mary of Jesus Crucified were from the territory that made up historical Palestine; St Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve was a French nun and foundress; and St Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

A monsignor and a woman who had served on a financial reform commission set up by Pope Francis have been arrested in the probe of yet another leak of confidential information and documents, the Vatican said Monday.

The monsignor, Rev. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, a native of Spain, is 54 and is the second highest ranking member of the Vatican's Prefecture for Economic Affairs, according to Reuters.

Reuters added that Vallejo Balda is “believed to be the highest-ranking member of the Vatican's central bureaucracy, known as the Curia, ever to have been arrested.”

Vallejo Balda belongs to the Catholic organization Opus Dei, said the Financial Times. Another media outlet, ABC, a newspaper based in Barcelona, said that Vallejo Balda was brought to Rome in 2011 by Pope Benedict. In Spain, he held various archdiocese financial posts.

A statement from the Holy See's press office said that Vatican prosecutors on Monday upheld the arrests of the two, who had been interrogated over the weekend. The other person arrested was identified as Francesca Chaouqui.

Vallejo Balda is still a Vatican employee while Chaouqui had served on a commission that had been set up by Pope Francis in 2013 as part of his drive to reform the Holy See's finances.

Vallejo Balda had also served on the commission, now defunct.

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Vallejo Balda was being held in a jail cell in Vatican City. Chaouqui was allowed to go free because she cooperated in the probe, the Vatican said.

"In the context of judicial police investigations carried out by the Vatican gendarmerie, or police force, and begun several months ago because of the removal and leak of confidential information and documents, on Saturday and Sunday (the) two persons were summoned to be interrogated on the basis of elements and evidence that had been gathered," the Vatican statement said.

The Financial Times, citing a Vatican statement, reported that Vallejo Balda and Chaouqui are believed to have conspired in “the removal and dissemination of news and confidential documents” from the Holy See.

The Financial Times said it could not reach Vallejo Balda for comment, but noted that Opus Dei said on its website: “If the accusations are confirmed, they would be particularly painful due to the damage inflicted on the church.”

While Francis is intent on modernizing the Vatican and making its finances more transparent, the arrests were the latest confirmation that scandal and intrigue still swirl, as they have for centuries, through the largely closed world of the tiny city-state's administrative bureaucracy.

Current and past papacy efforts to clean house at the Vatican have sparked resentment and found resistance in the Holy See's entrenched bureaucracy, a perfect combination of factors to foster leaks.

Leaks of confidential documents from retired Pope Benedict XVI's papers in 2012 led to the arrest and trial of a papal butler and a Vatican computer technician.

"One must keep in mind that the leaking of confidential information and documents is a crime" under a law enacted in the first months of Francis' papacy, the Vatican statement said.

Last week, Italian news reports said the Vatican police were investigating to see who had tampered with the computer of the top Holy See's auditor, Libero Milone, who was appointed a few months ago by Pope Francis.

The Vatican confirmed that there was an investigation into the tampering, but declined to say if that incident was related to the two arrests.

Later this week, two expose books by Italian journalists about the Vatican's long-murky world of finances are being published, and the Vatican contended that such publications only hamper Pope Francis' clean-up drive.

"Publications of this nature do not help in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather generate confusion and partial and tendentious conclusions," the Vatican said. "One must absolutely avoid the misunderstanding of thinking that's a way to help the pope's mission."

The Vatican described the soon-to-be published books as "fruit of a grave betrayal of the trust given by the pope, and, as far as the authors go, of an operation to take advantage of a gravely illicit act of handing over confidential documentation," the Vatican said.

Without specifying if the latest arrests were linked to those books, the Vatican said Holy See prosecutors are weighing "further measures, involving, if it is the case, international cooperation."

Some Vatican-watchers have theorized that Benedict decided to be the first pope in hundreds of centuries to resign largely because he was morally dismayed by the leaks and intrigue behind the Vatican's closed doors and felt that in his advancing years, he wouldn't be up to the task of grappling with the scandals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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