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Vatican: Former diplomat who abused children could face extradition

Jozef Wesolowski is pictured during a 2011 ceremony in Santo Domingo when he was still an archbishop and was serving as nuncio to the Dominican Republic. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found the archbishop guilty of sexual abuse of minors and has ordered that he be laicized.
Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, is pictured during a 2011 ceremony in Santo Domingo. The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found the archbishop guilty of sexual abuse of minors and has ordered that he be laicized.

RNS photo by Orlando Barria/CNS

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, is pictured during a 2011 ceremony in Santo Domingo. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found the archbishop guilty of sexual abuse of minors and has ordered that he be laicized.

(RNS) The Vatican said Monday (Aug. 25) that its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who was defrocked in June for sexually abusing children in the Caribbean nation, has also been stripped of his diplomatic immunity and could face extradition once he has exhausted his appeals in the church courts.

The Vatican’s decision to quietly recall Jozef Wesolowski to Rome last year to face charges there rather than in the Dominican Republic, prompted an outcry and, critics said, undermined Pope Francis’ vow to get tough on clerical abusers no matter who they are.

The Wesolowski saga was recounted in detail on Sunday (Aug. 24) in a front-page story in The New York Times, which prompted a response late Monday from the Vatican’s chief spokesman, who insisted there was no cover-up and that the Vatican had acted “without delay and correctly.”

The Rev. Federico Lombardi said that Francis has been “duly and carefully informed” of the status of the Wesolowski case and wants to address it “justly and rigorously.”

“We must finally state that since former nuncio” — the Vatican title for an ambassador — “has ended all diplomatic activity and its related immunity, he might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him,” Lombardi said.

What that could mean for Wesolowski is unclear. The Vatican does not have an extradition agreement with the Dominican Republic, though Italy could decide to try or extradite him if he leaves the confines of the 108-acre Vatican City State.

In June the former archbishop was spotted by a Dominican prelate as he was strolling around Rome’s historic district. “The silence of the Church has hurt the people of God,” Victor Masalles, an auxiliary bishop of the Santo Domingo Archdiocese, wrote in a tweet reporting the sighting.

Authorities in Wesolowski’s native Poland have been seeking his extradition there, as well.

Also complicating matters is the fact that, as Lombardi noted on Monday, Wesolowski has appealed his defrocking. He said that appeal would be judged “without delay” and is expected to be resolved by October, which is unusually speedy by Vatican standards.

At that point the “punitive procedure” of the Vatican’s “civil judiciary departments” — which are separate from the canonical church courts that generally govern matters related to clerics and the sacraments — would begin. It’s not known how long that process could take, and how or whether the Vatican could punish Wesolowski if he is convicted.

According to the Times, the Vatican City laws say that anyone found guilty of sexual abuse could face a maximum of 12 years in prison and a fine of nearly $200,000.

Despite being hailed for a series of bold moves and reforms during his first year as pope, Francis faced growing criticism for not moving nearly as quickly to address the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

Earlier this year, Francis finally set up a blue-ribbon panel to try to establish uniform norms for churches throughout the world, and this July he invited several victims of sexual abuse by priests to in a series of meetings that were praised as moving and proof of his commitment to set a new course. He has also insisted that bishops as well as priests should be held to account. “There are no privileges,” the pope told reporters in May.

But critics say the pope needs to do more, and move faster, and they have cited the Wesolowski case as an example of the special treatment they say bishops still receive.

The Times story recounted how Wesolowski used to cruise the oceanfront promenade of the Dominican capital wearing black track pants and a baseball cap pulled low over his head and gave shoeshine boys money to perform sexual acts hidden behind some rocks or at a monument to a 16th-century Spanish friar.

Wesolowski, 66, was ordained more than 40 years ago by the then-Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II. He was named nuncio to the Dominican Republic in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI, who retired in February last year.

Here is the full text of the statement from the Rev. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office:

Former nuncio Jozef Wesolowski has recently appealed, within the prescribed limit of two months, the most serious canonical sentence of a return to the lay state that has been imposed upon him. The appeal will be judged without delay over the course of the coming weeks, most likely in October 2014.

It is important to note that former nuncio Wesolowski has ceased functioning as a diplomat of the Holy See and has therefore lost his related diplomatic immunity, and has been previously stated, the punitive procedure of the Vatican’s civil judiciary departments will continue as soon as the canonical sentence becomes definitive.

Regarding stories that have appeared over the past few days in various media, it is important to note that 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. This action relates to his recall to Rome and in the treatment of the case in relation to Authorities of the Dominican Republic.

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.

We must finally state that since former nuncio Wesolowski has ended all diplomatic activity and its related immunity, he might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him.


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • Thankfully there is a possibility that Josef Wesolowski could be extradited and stand trial for his crimes against innocent children in the Dominican Republic.
    This serial child predator can not be allowed to roam the streets freely. Right now he needs to be in a secure treatment center away from kids.

    Something to keep in mind-
    Child predators are very cunning and manipulative. They know every trick on how to groom, threaten, lie, and put the fear of god into their victims and
    sometimes even their family members. They also appear to do a lot of goods things, they can be very charismatic and you may think they would never harm a child. They have to be this way, in order to not get caught and to continue to abuse. They devote lots of time and energy building trust with their victims by giving them money and gifts. They tend to make the child feel that they are special and loved.

    Sexual predators are often powerful and well-loved, we must overcome the dangerous myth that because someone is successful or warm or caring, he or she couldn’t have done that! It would be comforting if those who preyed on the vulnerable were obvious social misfits whose appearance would somehow set off alarm bells and give us the willies or the creeps. They rarely do. Usually, predators are among the last people we would suspect of sexually violating others. At a party, the predator isn’t some oddball sitting alone in a corner because others feel uncomfortable with him. Most often, the predator is the guy throwing the party.

    And we must stop thinking that because a man is old, that somehow he’s automatically safe. It’s just irresponsible to endanger kids by assuming an adult is harmless simply because he or she may be losing hair, wearing glasses, using hearing aids or walking with a cane. These can be signs of advancing age, but they are not signs that an individual is safe around kids.

    It takes a ton of courage to come forward and take action about being sexually abused. This is not an easy thing to do, but it is extremely rare that a child predator has only one victim. Some have many. Child predators need to be kept far away from kids forever, so let’s hope that anyone who may have knowledge or may also have been harmed by Josef Wesolowski, will find the courage to speak up and contact local law enforcement. Your silence only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.
    Judy Jones, SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

  • Dear Pope Francis,

    I am not of your flock, or any flock for that matter, having departed disillusioned decades ago after coming face to face with the sort of man you now have to cast judgement upon and consider rendering to authorities in what must be an unprecedented contemplation.

    My journey has been on the other side of the theological fence. But on the Protestant side, the grass was not greener allow me to assure you, for the wolves roamed freely devouring the innocent lambs and pulling the wool over the eyes of the gullible tenders of the flock, who forgave them to readily to protect reputations of their own churches and the income flow that afforded them the lifestyles that they had become accustomed to.

    If I was a praying person, instead of the agnostic I have become, I would pray for the wisdom and courage you will need to take the right course of action and render this wolf in sheeps clothes to the authorities that demand justice for his evil deeds. No doubt you will have in your ear those that wish to administer leniency, but that will only send the message to others that evil has minimal consequence.
    Instead I would humbly suggest dealing with this paedophile as has never been seen before, so that even the complacent Protestant Church sits up and takes notice of your actions. Make an example of him so that all other offenders know that you mean business and those that have had their faith ruined by such offenders, might in some way have a chance of having it restored.

    Kind regards


  • The camel may have his nose under tent. If they can bag an archbishop that’s a big step forward. Now, it’s time to focus on Bishop Finn in this country!

  • Forgiveness as a command from a God (Christianity)
    Is the Heart of an Immoral Philosophy

    The Pope is commanded to forgive “7 time’s 70” according to Jesus.
    But the Pope cannot forgive raping children.

    This persistent problem at the heart of this reckless philosophy
    is eating the church alive from inside out.

    If the Pope were a moral leader, instead of a Christian leader, he could deliver all of the accused priests to the a justice authorities to be dealt with according to the law.

    But the needs of a ‘God’ always trump the laws of man.
    The heart of immorality is to give a magic invisible air pocket
    the power over deciding moral questions.
    For shame.

  • If Pope Francis were truly serious about zero tolerance for sex offenders in the clergy he might have demoted Bernard Law, or he might have spoken of Law’s offenses, as example.
    Instead Law holds a position in the Vatican and lives like a prince.
    It is an island culture. I see no hope for change.

  • Very wise thoughts.

    As one who has been reluctantly brought up in “the church”, but now stands on the outside peering through the windows with a bemused interest. I find it fascinating that so called “men of God” can pull the wool over so many of their flock with the religious mumbo jumbo they emit about forgiveness and absolution.
    Crime is crime and do the time if thee does the crime, no matter who one is. The church is letting itself be destroyed by the criminality within, not by Atheists, Agnostics and non attendees who shake their head on the outside.

    One law for all, deliver this man and his ilk to face the justice he deserves and let him pray to his god for mercy upon his soul. He probably won’t bother, because deep down he probably knows that the god he claimed to serve was just the excuse he needed to do the evil that he did and although he may well have started out with good intentions, those days are long gone and it is all about selfish power, done in the name of a diety he probably stopped believing in many years ago. Therefore render him unto Caesar and let him begin to repay his debt to society and let society have one less paedophile in it’s midst.

  • Good point, What do you think protects Law, but not Wesolowski? Could Law have damaging info on high ranking prelates, popes (even a saint) that makes him untouchable?

  • You are quite possibly right. It is the same principle as a “Lame Duck Presidency”, where a leaders political effectiveness is compromised because those that pull his/her strings have uncovered some scandal and hold it as the ace up the sleeve.

    The politics of religion is little different. Those that clamber to the top are often not there for the right reasons and in their clamber to the top they trample on the very people they claim to serve.

    Politics, religion. There is much in common. Alas we are stuck with the former because we keep voting them in and the alternatives are much better. The latter can be disposed of by not contributing to their causes!

  • More atheists are coming out of the closet. I think the churches are going to start closing faster than ever. Welcome to reality, bro.