VATICAN CITY (RNS) A former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, has been defrocked and is likely to face criminal prosecution at the Vatican after a church inquiry convicted him of child sexual abuse.
Wesolowski, who is originally from Poland, was removed from his post in the Dominican Republic and recalled to the Vatican in August amid claims that he had abused boys in Santo Domingo.
The 65-year-old envoy is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for sex abuse. He was found guilty after an inquiry conducted by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has jurisdiction over all sex abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church.
In a brief statement released Friday (June 27), the Vatican said the verdict was issued "in the past few days" and the former diplomat was facing arrest due to the “gravity of the case.”
"Measures will be taken so he is in a precise restricted location, without any freedom of movement, since he has been found guilty of a serious crime and is awaiting further legal action," said the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
A bishop from the Dominican Republic was recently reported to say that he was shocked to see Wesolowski walking freely on the streets of central Rome. Prosecutors in the Caribbean nation have said they have convincing evidence that the prelate molested young men.
He has also been accused of abuse in his native Poland. The Vatican rejected an extradition request from the Warsaw prosecutor’s office on the grounds he was “a citizen of the Vatican" and holds diplomatic immunity.
SNAP, the Chicago-based support group for victims of clerical sexual abuse, said the former nuncio's sentence did not go far enough and he should be handed over to secular authorities.
"Wesolowski should face a criminal trial, not a church proceeding," said SNAP's national director, David Clohessy. "And he should be in a secular jail. And he might have been in one for months, had Vatican officials cooperated with law enforcement."
Wesolowski was ordained as a priest and bishop by St. John Paul II. He served as an envoy to the Dominican Republic for five years until he was recalled last year.
The archbishop now has two months to appeal his sentence before facing criminal proceedings at the Vatican. His case appears to be the most tangible demonstration of what Pope Francis called his “zero tolerance” for child sex abuse as he returned from the Middle East at the end of May.
At the time, the pope said three bishops were under investigation. While he did not name names, he was likely referring to Wesolowski; Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned in 2013 amid allegations of improper conduct; and Chilean Bishop Cristian Contreras, who has been accused of abuse by other priests in his diocese.
In September, the Peruvian Bishops Conference defrocked Bishop Gabino Miranda on orders from the Vatican after he was accused of abusing children.
KRE/AMB END McKENNA