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In Vatican trial, former archbishop faces sex abuse charges

Banner a view of st peters basilica in vatican city jan 25 2015 credit bohumil petrik cna 2 cna 1 26 15

A view of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Jan. 25, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Former papal nuncio Josef Wesolowski will be tried by the Vatican’s criminal court for sexual abuse of minors and for possession of child pornography. The Vatican has said that Pope Francis “wishes to address (the case) justly and rigorously.” Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said last year that “from the very first moments that this case was made known to them, moved without delay and correctly in light of the fact that former nuncio Wesolowski held the position of a diplomatic representative of the Holy See,” particularly in recalling the former nuncio to Rome for canonical trial. Wesolowski, a Polish-born laicized archbishop, was papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic from 2008 until he resigned in August 2013 due to allegations that he had paid for sexual relations with minors. He was recalled to Rome, after which he was put on trial by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In June 2014, the tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty of sexual abuses. In response to the verdict, the Vatican ruled that Wesolowski would be laicized--the most serious canonical penalty for the archbishop.   Wesolowski was also criminally charged by the Vatican’s penal court. The first hearing of the criminal trial will take place July 11. The Promoter of Justice, the Vatican’s public prosecutor, has investigated his conduct. The former nuncio was kept under house arrest in the Vatican, rather than being jailed in Vatican City’s prison, due to poor health. According to the Holy See Press Office, the former nuncio is “accused of a number of offenses committed both during his stay in Rome from August 2013 until his arrest and in the period he spent in the Dominican Republic, during the five years in which he held the office of apostolic nuncio.”   The criminal charges against Wesolowski include abuse of minors while he was nuncio to the Dominican Republic. The allegations are based on evidence from the judicial authorities of Santo Domingo, the country’s capital.   The Vatican press office statement stressed “these serious allegations will be scrutinized by the competent judicial body.” The trial will be assisted by technical appraisals of the IT systems Wesolowski used. If necessary, the trial will include international legal cooperation to assist in evaluating the testimony of competent authorities in Santo Domingo. Fr. Lombardi told journalists that no international request has yet been submitted by Vatican authorities with regard to the Wesolowski case. Concerning the alleged crimes committed in Rome, Wesolowski is being charged with possession of child pornography under a 2013 law introduced by Pope Francis. That law reformed the Vatican penal code and extended its effect. The reform applied the law to papal nuncios and Holy See diplomats, as well as to the employees of bodies or institutions linked to the Holy See, whether or not they are located in Vatican City State territory.   Previously, the penal code applied only to all the employees and officials of the Roman Curia. After the original accusations against Wesolowski became public, a 13-year-old boy came forward with further allegations that he had solicited him for sexual favors in exchange for money. The nuncio was taken into protective custody by Dominican Republic officials. The Vatican Secretary of State then recalled the nuncio to Rome for further investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In September 2013, Vatican officials voiced willingness to hand over Wesolowski to civil authorities in the Dominican Republic, though there is no extradition treaty between the Holy See and the Dominican Republic. In August 2014, Fr. Lombardi clarified that because the nuncio had been removed from his post, he no longer had diplomatic immunity. Wesolowski served as nuncio to Bolivia and several countries in Central Asia before becoming nuncio to the Dominican Republic.  

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