The Vatican’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who has been accused of paying underage boys there to engage in sexual acts, has lost his diplomatic immunity and could ultimately face prosecution in criminal courts outside of the Vatican, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church announced on Monday, as Laurie Goodstein reports in this article for The New York Times.
The former ambassador, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, has already been defrocked by the Vatican, the harshest penalty under the church’s canon law short of excommunication. Beyond that, the Vatican has also said that it intends to try Mr. Wesolowski on criminal charges — the first time it will hold a criminal trial for sexual abuse.
But the Vatican has also caused an uproar in the Dominican Republic because it abruptly recalled Mr. Wesolowski last year before he could face a criminal inquiry and possible prosecution there. Acting against its own guidelines for handling abuse cases, the church failed to inform the local authorities of the evidence against him, secretly recalled him to Rome, and then invoked diplomatic immunity.
The Vatican has said in the past that because Mr. Wesolowski was a member of its diplomatic corps and a citizen of the Holy See, the case would be handled in Rome.
The announcement on Monday came a day after a New York Times article detailed the allegations against Mr. Wesolowski and the Vatican’s handling of the case. In the Vatican’s statement on Monday, the church said that it took the proper steps to make sure that the allegations against Mr. Wesolowski were dealt with seriously.
“The authorities of the Holy See, 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,” said the statement, by the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
It added: “Far from any intention of a cover-up, this action demonstrates the full and direct undertaking of the Holy See’s responsibility even in such a serious and delicate case, about which Pope Francis is duly and carefully informed and one which the pope wishes to address justly and rigorously.”
Mr. Wesolowski has appealed the Vatican’s decision to remove him from the priesthood, a process that will be decided over the coming weeks, most likely in October, the Vatican said. The criminal proceedings in the Vatican will take place after that, the statement said.
Yet the Vatican also said that Mr. Wesolowski could be subject to prosecution in another country though it was unclear if he would ultimately be sent to that country.
Many Dominicans were outraged by the Vatican’s decision to secretly recall Mr. Wesolowski before the authorities there had even learned of the allegations against him. The case has also reverberated in Poland, where prosecutors have sought to extradite Mr. Wesolowski, who holds both Vatican and Polish citizenship.