Jozef Wesolowski, Ex-Archbishop Accused of Sexual Abuse in Dominican Republic, Dies at 67


An obituary by Elisabetta Povoledo for The New York Times.

Jozef Wesolowski, a Polish former archbishop who would have been the first high-level cleric to stand before a Vatican tribunal on charges of child sexual abuse, was found dead early Friday, the Vatican said in a statement. He was 67.

Initial examinations carried out by Vatican officials “determined that his death occurred from natural causes,” the statement said.

Mr. Wesolowski died in his Vatican City residence, where he had lived since September, after he was placed under house arrest. He was found by one of the Franciscan friars who lived in the same house, said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini.

An autopsy was conducted on Friday, but the results would not be immediately available, Father Benedettini said.

Vatican prosecutors had accused Mr. Wesolowski of sexually abusing children in the Dominican Republic, where he worked from 2008 to 2013 as the Vatican’s ambassador. They said that he picked up poor boys on the waterfront, paid them for sexual acts and took pornographic photographs of them.

Already defrocked under canon law in 2014, Mr. Wesolowski was facing a prison sentence of up to eight years if found guilty.

The case of Mr. Wesolowski caused an international controversy when it became known that the Vatican, upon learning of the allegations, had spirited him out of the country before he could be investigated by local authorities, and then invoked diplomatic immunity so that he could not face trial in the Dominican Republic.

Then the Vatican decided to try him at home. His trial, which began on July 11, would have been the first case of sexual abuse argued out in a Vatican tribunal, and it became emblematic of Pope Francis’ proactive approach to dealing with the child sexual abuse accusations that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church in recent decades.

At the first hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, Gian Piero Milano, argued that Mr. Wesolowski had caused serious psychological distress and harm to the youths, said to be ages 13 to 16.

He was also accused of having offended “Christian morality” by repeatedly logging onto pornographic sites involving minors in the Dominican Republic and Vatican City.

The trial was unexpectedly adjourned that same day because Mr. Wesolowski had been admitted to an intensive care unit in an Italian hospital for an “unexpected illness” the day before. No new date had been set for its resumption.

Francis is not the first pope to have addressed the issue of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy, but he has drafted new rules giving prosecutors more leeway in the cases, allowing criminal charges to be applied to Vatican employees anywhere. He is the first pope to take action against senior officials accused of covering up for priests by creating a new tribunals system, that has not been used yet, that would call bishops to account.

Because of his health, Mr. Wesolowski was effectively confined to Vatican City, although he was allowed to move around the grounds freely, Father Benedettini said.

This week, the advocacy raised concerns that “this loosening of restrictions raises urgent child safety concerns.” It called for Mr. Wesolowski to be “heavily guarded at all times,” otherwise “unaccompanied minors in Vatican City could be at risk,” the group said in a statement.

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