Illness Forces Postponement of Former Nuncio’s Criminal Sexual-Abuse Trial

Józef Wesołowski, who is accused of abusing teenage boys in the Dominican Republic and being in possession of child pornography, was hospitalized on the eve of his Vatican trial, and a new date has not been set as of July 20.

A view of the courtroom during a hearing of the trial against former papal diplomat Jozef Wesolowski, at the Vatican, Saturday, July 11.
A view of the courtroom during a hearing of the trial against former papal diplomat Jozef Wesolowski, at the Vatican, Saturday, July 11. (photo: L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

VATICAN CITY — Former archbishop and nuncio Józef Wesołowski, accused of sexually abusing teenage boys in the Dominican Republic and being in possession of child pornography, has returned to living under house arrest in the Vatican.

Wesołowski, 66, had been hospitalized in “intensive care” on the eve of his trial at the Vatican, forcing the indefinite postponement of his trial on July 11. The Vatican issued a statement that day saying he had been placed in intensive care, and medical records said he had been struck by a “sudden illness,” but after three days, he was released from the hospital.

Antonello Blasi, Wesołowski’s lawyer, told journalists July 11 he hadn’t been notified about any specific illness.

“I saw him two or three days ago, and, given his age and his state of mind, he was fine,” said Blasi. The lawyer told the court that Wesolowski, who has been under house arrest in a room above the courtroom, had been “willing and able” to come to court.

Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini, citing reasons of patient privacy, declined to divulge details of the former nuncio’s illness, including which hospital he was admitted to.

In a statement released July 11, the Vatican said the court “took due note of the impediment to the presence of the defendant, following the onset of an unexpected illness necessitating his transfer to a public hospital, where he is currently in the intensive care unit.”

It added that in accordance with established procedures, the tribunal “suspended the trial and postponed it until a later date, awaiting the termination of the cause that has given rise to the postponement.”

But the news agency AGI disclosed that Wesołowski was discharged from the hospital after three days of hospitalization. His trial was adjourned because his condition “seemed serious,” the news agency wrote, “but maybe it was not.” It added that the accused nuncio’s conditions weren’t “classified as ‘code red.’”

The Italian daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, quoting anonymous sources at Gemelli Hospital in Rome, claimed July 17 that the former archbishop arrived at the hospital in a “state of confusion.” He was then kept under observation for three days.

Wesolowski is the first high-ranking Vatican prelate to be criminally charged at the Holy See for sexually abusing minors.

His trial is being viewed as a high-profile way for Pope Francis to fulfill pledges to prosecute Churchmen involved in sex abuse of minors, whether through direct contact with individuals or by covering up for the offenders. Recent modifications to the Vatican legal code under Francis’ leadership have allowed prosecutors to broaden their case against Wesolowski.

Il Fatto Quotidiana, which reported that Pope Francis was “quite irritated” by the abrupt delay in the trial, claimed from reliable but anonymous sources that a “Polish lobby”  wants to avoid criminal prosecution for Polish-born Wesołowski, who could face a sentence of up to 10 years if found guilty.


Lenient Treatment?

Critics already say that Wesołowski is being handled too leniently. Despite being under house arrest for health reasons, they have criticized the fact that he has been seen walking the streets of Vatican city state. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors won’t comment on the trial, as it has a policy of not speaking publicly about individual cases.

The former nuncio is charged with possession of what prosecutors described as “enormous” quantities of child pornography on his two computers. These were also found after Wesolowski had been recalled to the Vatican, amid rumors he had sexually abused shoeshine boys near Santo Domingo’s waterfront.

Before the trial was adjourned, the clerk read out the charges on July 11. These included one of “conduct that offends the principles of Christian religion or morality for having repeatedly accessed pornographic sites,” including while in Vatican City. The trial indictment also accused him of causing psychological damage to his victims.

The Vatican said in a June 15 statement that Wesołowski has been accused of a number of offenses, “some committed during his stay in Rome from August 2013 until the moment of his arrest, on Sept. 22, 2014.” Other offenses were allegedly committed when he was nuncio to the Dominican Republic and apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico, from 2008 to 2013, the Vatican said.

It added that, with regard to the period spent in Rome, Wesołowski is “charged with the offense of possession of child pornography” under a new law introduced by Pope Francis in 2013. It said the allegations referring to the preceding period “are based on evidence transmitted by the judicial authorities of Santo Domingo in relation to the sexual abuse of minors.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told journalists June 15 that no request from the Dominican Republic had, at that time, been submitted by Vatican authorities with regard to the case.

Wesołowski was stripped of his diplomatic immunity and laicized last June, after the first stage of a canonical trial, but has since appealed against the decision to laicize him.


‘Detailed Procedure’

When the trial resumes, the Vatican says it will be alert to any testimonies that might show other prelates had heard allegations about Wesolowski’s conduct but stayed quiet.

The Vatican stated that these serious allegations will be carefully investigated, together with civil authorities in the Dominican Republic, if necessary.

“This will be a delicate and detailed procedure,” Father Lombardi said, “requiring the most careful observations and insights from all parties involved in the trial.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.


Editor's note: This story was updated July 20 to include the latest information.