VATICAN CITY — A former papal diplomat has been convicted of sexually abusing minors and has been laicized, the Vatican announced today.
The news comes ahead of an expected meeting between Pope Francis and victims of clerical sex abuse at the Vatican next week.
In a statement, the Vatican said the first stage in the canonical trial against Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a former apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic, “has been concluded with the laicization of the prelate” and that he has “two months in which to make an eventual appeal.”
It added that the penal trial before the Vatican judicial authorities, following today’s ruling by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “will continue as soon as the canonical sentence has been made definitive.”
This further trial is necessary since, as a papal diplomat, he is a citizen of Vatican City.
Wesolowski, 66, is the most senior Vatican official to be investigated for alleged sex abuse. Until now, the Vatican has refrained from commenting on the charges against him, and the exact nature of his offenses is not yet known.
Responding to media reports, the Vatican stressed that Wesolowski has until now been granted “relative freedom of movement, as he awaits the verification by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith of the basis of these accusations made against him.”
The Vatican added that, considering the CDF’s ruling, “all the necessary procedures will be adopted in relation to the former nuncio, in conformity with the gravity of the case.”
The Holy See recalled the Polish-born Wesolowski on Aug. 21, 2013, after Pope Francis was informed of rumors that the nuncio had sexually abused teenage boys in the Dominican Republic.
Following the publication of the initial accusations, a 13-year-old boy from the country said in a television interview that the Polish former archbishop had solicited him for sexual favors in exchange for money.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Wesolowski to the Dominican Republic in 2008. He had previously served as papal nuncio in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and before that, he was in Bolivia.
He was ordained a priest in 1972 and entered into the Vatican’s diplomatic service in 1980, serving in Vatican embassies in Africa, Costa Rica, Japan, Switzerland, India and Denmark.
In addition to being the Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Wesolowski was also apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico.
Pope Francis has promised that the Church will take immediate action in response to allegations of clerical sex abuse, and he obliquely referred to Wesolowski during a papal press conference on his way back from the Holy Land.
“We must go ahead with zero tolerance,” the Holy Father told reporters, adding that three bishops were currently under investigation, one of whom was considered to be Wesolowski.
“Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime,” he added, “because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord. It is like a satanic mass.”
Earlier this year, Pope Francis established a committee to improve the Church’s handling of clerical sex abuse. The eight-member panel, headed by the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said it would develop “best practices” for Catholic parishes to combat the crime. It also includes Marie Collins, an Irish abuse victim and campaigner.
Next week, the Holy Father is expected to meet with a group of victims of sex abuse by clergy for the first time and celebrate a Mass for them. The victims come from a number of countries, including the U.S., Britain, Ireland and Poland.
The Vatican has also indicated Pope Francis is establishing a commission under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to examine the appeals of priests punished for sexual abuse of minors and other very serious crimes.
In a brief note May 19, the Vatican Press Office said the Pope had nominated Argentinian Archbishop Jose Luis Mollaghan of Rosario to lead the commission to examine the appeals of clergy for delicta graviora, the Vatican term for sexual abuse of minors and serious sins against the sacraments.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.