VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis had ordered the arrest of a former Polish archbishop accused of child sex abuse in the Dominican Republic because the case was “so serious,” the Vatican said Tuesday (Sept. 23).
Jozef Wesolowski, who was defrocked by a Vatican tribunal earlier this year, is under house arrest inside Vatican City due to the “express desire” of Pope Francis, the Vatican said in a statement.
“The seriousness of the allegations has prompted the official investigation to impose a restrictive measure that … consists of house arrest, with its related limitations, in a location within the Vatican City State,” the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said.
Wesolowski was removed from his position in the Dominican Republic and recalled to the Vatican in August 2013 amid claims that he had abused boys in Santo Domingo.
The former archbishop is awaiting trial on criminal charges at the Vatican and could eventually face charges in the Dominican Republic and in his native Poland.
The 66-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 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees all clergy sex abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church.
A bishop from the Dominican Republic was recently reported saying he was shocked to see Wesolowski walking freely on the streets of central Rome.
“The initiative taken by the judicial departments of Vatican City State is a result of the express desire of the Pope, so that a case so serious and delicate would be addressed without delay, with just and necessary rigor, and with full assumption of responsibility on the part of the institutions that are governed by the Holy See,” Lombardi said in the statement.
Lombardi later said Wesolowski faces six to seven years in jail, and was put under house arrest to keep him from fleeing.
David Clohessy, director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was concerned that it had taken the Vatican so long to enforce this move but more needed to be done.
“We are grateful that this action has finally been taken, feel it should have happened months ago, and believe it's better if secular authorities are able to jail and prosecute Wesolowski,” Clohessy said in a statement.
Prosecutors in the Dominican Republic recently said they had convincing evidence that the prelate molested young men there, and he has also been accused of abuse in Poland.
The Vatican rejected a request from the Warsaw Prosecutor’s Office for Wesolowski’s extradition on the grounds he was “a citizen of the Vatican.”
He was ordained as a priest and bishop by the late Polish-born pope, St. John Paul II, and served as an envoy to the Dominican Republic for five years.
KRE/MG END McKENNA