VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican on Friday (Aug. 28) announced the death of Jozef Wesolowski, an ex-diplomat who was to be the first high-ranking Vatican official to stand trial for child sex abuse.
Wesolowski, 67, was found dead in his room at the Vatican early Friday, with Vatican authorities determining he died of natural causes. The Vatican’s Promoter of Justice immediately ordered an autopsy, the results of which have not yet been made public.
The Polish ex-nuncio — as Vatican ambassadors are called — had been due to stand trial on charges he paid for sex with children during his time in the Dominican Republic. Criminal proceedings were expected to get underway on July 11 but were halted after Wesolowski was hospitalized.
A lawyer for the former bishop said at the time he was unaware of Wesolowski’s suffering from health problems.
“I saw him two or three days ago, and, given his age and his state of mind, he was fine,” said Antonello Blasi, according to The Associated Press. The lawyer told the court that Wesolowski had been “willing and able” to come to court.
Wesolowski had been taken to the intensive care unit of a Rome hospital and later returned to the Vatican, without the Vatican releasing further information. His trial was due to recommence once his health had improved.
The case against Wesolowski centered on accusations that he had abused boys during his five-year term in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic capital; he had also been charged with possessing child pornography.
The stage was set for Wesolowski’s criminal trial after he was found guilty of child sex abuse last year by a tribunal operating within the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was defrocked and arrested in September 2014, little over a year after being recalled to the Vatican.
Pope Francis had paid close attention to the landmark case, in December saying that truth must prevail in the investigations. In June, the pope approved a tribunal to hold bishops accountable if they fail to protect people from sex abuse at the hands of priests, an idea put forward by a commission established to guide the Vatican’s response to pedophilia.
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