By Nick Squires
June 27, 2014
A Catholic archbishop and former Holy See ambassador has been defrocked after being convicted of sexually abusing teenage boys, making him the most senior Vatican figure to be punished for such a crime.
Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who was the Vatican’s nuncio or ambassador to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, was found guilty of sex abuse by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the modern-day successor to the Inquisition.
The tribunal handed down the harshest penalty possible against a cleric under canon law, stripping him of his duties and status as a priest.
In a brief statement, the Vatican gave no information about what crimes Wesolowski had been convicted of, where and when the offences took place or how many boys were involved.
The punishment was immediately questioned by groups representing past victims of clerical paedophilia, who said the archbishop should face a criminal trial by civil authorities rather than a behind-closed-doors Vatican judicial process.
The Vatican recalled Wesolowski from his post as nuncio to the Dominican Republic last year after the archbishop of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Caribbean country, told Pope Francis that there were rumours that the Pole had sexually abused teenage boys.
Wesolowski, who is a citizen of the Vatican City State, could now face criminal charges by the Vatican tribunal which could lead to a jail sentence.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the world’s biggest group representing clerical sex abuse victims, said: “It’s encouraging when child-molesting clerics are disciplined, but we are troubled by the Vatican’s continued insistence on handling child sex crimes internally.
“Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski should face a criminal trial, not a church proceeding. And he should be in a secular jail. And he might have been in one for months, had Vatican officials cooperated with law enforcement.” The campaign group said Wesolowski should be extradited to the Dominican Republic or Poland, both of which are investigating the accusations against him, but said it suspected he would be protected by the Vatican.
“If this Vatican move leads to Wesolowski being locked up, we’ll be encouraged. However, we fear that it won’t.” The former archbishop is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be found guilty of sex abuse.
In a 75-page document released by the Vatican on Thursday, which will prepare the way for a conference in October on issues such as contraception and divorce, the Catholic Church hierarchy admitted that it had been gravely damaged by the scandal of paedophile priests.
“Sex scandals significantly weaken the Church’s moral credibility, above all in North America and northern Europe,” said the document, the result of a survey sent by the Vatican to Catholics worldwide.
Last month Vatican officials told a United Nations committee in Geneva that they were determined to bring to justice clergy accused of sexually abusing children.
“There is a total commitment to clean the house, to change, and above all to work and effect measures that prevent the repetition of abuse. We have crossed a threshold in the evolution of the approach to this problem,” said Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s envoy to the UN.
He made the remarks during a grilling by the UN Committee against Torture, which was scrutinising the Church’s record on dealing with abuse cases.
The defrocking of the Polish archbishop comes as the Pope prepares to meet victims of clerical sex abuse, including Britons, for the first time.
The encounter is expected to take place at his private residence in the Vatican next week.
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