VATICAN CITY, Italy, Friday August 29, 2014 – Josef Wesolowski, the Vatican’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic where he is accused of sexually abusing young boys, has lost his diplomatic immunity and could be tried by a Dominican court.
The Vatican recalled Wesolowski from the Dominican Republic a year ago after the allegations emerged, but maintained that Wesolowski enjoyed diplomatic immunity and that the Holy See didn’t extradite its own citizens.
In a statement this week, however, Vatican spokesman the Reverend Federico Lombardi said Wesolowski had ceased all diplomatic activity for the Holy See, lost his related immunity and therefore “might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him.”
The case has attracted international attention, given that Wesolowski was a papal nuncio (an ambassador of the Holy See), had been ordained both a priest and a bishop by St John Paul II, and was the highest-ranking Vatican official ever to have been accused of sex abuse.
A Vatican tribunal recently found the Polish-born priest guilty under canon law of abusing young boys and defrocked him. Wesolwski appealed that sentence – the harshest under church law – and a final decision is expected in October.
Following the appeal hearing, the Vatican’s criminal courts will take up the matter and Wesolowski may face jail if found guilty.
The Vatican has pledged cooperation in the Dominican investigation and a related one in Wesolowski’s native Poland, but has no extradition treaty with either country.
After Wesolowski was spotted on the streets of Rome, the Vatican said that “adequate measures” would be taken to prevent him from fleeing before his criminal trial gets under way.
Meanwhile, Dominican Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito lauded this week’s announcement from the Vatican as a “just and positive” development.
“If this gentleman doesn’t have immunity, that would facilitate things in order to consider the subject of extradition so he can come here and confront justice and there won’t be impunity,” he said.
Dominguez had ordered an investigation last August in the wake of local media reports that Wesolowski was suspected of child sexual abuse and a Dominican TV station showed him wandering alone along the waterfront of the capital.
According to Dominican authorities, their investigation uncovered allegations that Wesolowski had paid several minors to let him watch them masturbate and had recorded it with his mobile phone. Prosecutors could not file charges at the time because of the bishop’s diplomatic immunity.