Former Polish archbishop, nuncio to stand trial for sex abuse of minors, child pornography

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, at a 2011 ceremony in Santo Domingo (CNS/EPA/Orlando Barria)

Vatican City — The former papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic who left his post in 2013 after being accused of sexual misconduct with minors will stand trial next month at the Vatican with possible "international legal cooperation."

Former archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a Polish-born prelate who served in the Latin American country from 2008 to August 2013, will stand trial beginning July 11, the Vatican announced Monday.

Wesolowski was recalled to Rome nearly two years ago after allegations of abusing young boys and possessing child pornography. While originally free to roam the city upon his arrival, he has been living at the Vatican under a form of house arrest since Vatican officials arrested him in September 2014

Monday's statement said the president of the Vatican City-State's tribunal "has ordered the trial" of the former nuncio, for offenses from his time in the Dominican Republic and while living at the Vatican since 2013.

"With regard to the period spent in Rome, the nuncio is charged with the offence of possession of child pornography," the statement reads. Charges from the former prelate's time in Latin America, the Vatican said, are "based on evidence transmitted by the judicial authorities of Santo Domingo," the Dominican Republic's capital city.

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"These serious allegations will be scrutinised by the competent judicial body which will be assisted by both technical appraisals of the IT systems used by the defendant and, if necessary, international legal cooperation for the evaluation of testimonial evidence from the competent authorities in Santo Domingo," the statement says.

"This will be a delicate and detailed procedure, requiring the most careful observations and insights from all parties involved in the trial," it states.

Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi told reporters Monday that Vatican officials decided to go forward with the trial because they thought there was "sufficient evidence to proceed with the process."

Noting that Pope Francis will be away July 11 during his visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, Lombardi said not to expect any immediate decisions or actions that day.

Asked if witnesses might come for the trial from the Dominican Republic, the spokesman said he thought it was "probable" that either witnesses might travel to Rome or their depositions might be taken abroad and used at the proceedings.

Wesolowski, 66, was laicized last year after a Vatican tribunal found him guilty of "grave crimes" under the Catholic Code of Canon Law, the legal system that governs global church doctrinal and administrative matters.

The former prelate will now be the first to be tried under 2013 updates to Vatican City State law -- separate from universal church law -- that specifically made possession of child pornography a criminal offense in the territory.

Announcement of Wesolowski's trial comes on the same day the Vatican announced the resignations of St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché. That archdiocese was charged June 5 with several criminal counts by public authorities "for its failure to protect children."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

A version of this story appeared in the July 3-16, 2015 print issue under the headline: Former nuncio will face Vatican trial on charges of abuse, child porn .

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