Disgraced Vatican nuncio Wesolowski, awaiting trial for sexual abuse, dies

Jozef Wesolowski, pictured in a 2013 photo. (CNS/Danny Polanco, handout via EPA)
Jozef Wesolowski, pictured in a 2013 photo. (CNS/Danny Polanco, handout via EPA)

by Joshua J. McElwee

News Editor

View Author Profile


Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

UPDATE, Aug. 29: Initial results from an autopsy of the body of the deceased former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic indicated that the disgraced papal representative died of natural causes stemming from some sort of "cardiac event," the Vatican said in a statement Saturday.

The autopsy, the Vatican said, is being performed by three medical experts led Giovanni Arcudi, the dean of forensic medicine at Rome's public University of Tor Vergata.

"The investigations took place yesterday afternoon and, by the initial conclusions of the macroscopic examination, confirmed the natural cause of death, attributable to cardiac event," read the statement.

In coming days, the statement said, further laboratory test results will be carried out from the autopsy and then communicated.

Our original story from Aug. 28 follows:

The disgraced former papal ambassador who was to be the first to be tried by the Vatican for sexual abuse of minors and for possession of child pornography has died while awaiting trial.

Former archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who served as the pope's representative to the Dominican Republic until being accused of sexual misconduct with minors in 2013, was found dead "during the first hours of the morning," the Vatican said in a statement Friday.

Related: Listen to NCR speak to BBC about Wesolowski​

At first inspection, the statement said, the death seemed to be of natural causes. An autopsy is expected to be completed Friday, it said, with the results communicated "as soon as possible."

Pope Francis "has been duly informed," the statement concluded.

Wesolowski, a native of Poland, had served in the church diplomatic post since 2008 but was recalled to Rome two years ago after allegations of abusing young boys and possessing child pornography.

The recalling of the ambassador ignited something of a global firestorm, as the nuncio was first removed from his post in 2013 rather quietly after detailed news reports in the Dominican Republic alleging he paid for sex with minors.

The Vatican later publicly acknowledged his removal, but came under criticism when the former diplomat was spotted walking freely around Rome. While Wesolowski was later said to be under house arrest at a Vatican apartment, reports as recent as this month indicated he had been essentially free to roam the city-state.

His case also ignited a global debate over which of three countries -- the Dominican Republic, Poland, or the Vatican -- would have jurisdiction to try the diplomat. Poland originally sought Wesolowski's extradition, which was refused by Vatican authorities.

The Vatican's choice to try the diplomat under its own laws was seen by many as a push for Francis to highlight his efforts to pursue church officials accused of abuse.

At his death, Wesolowski had been standing trial under Vatican city-state law on five charges of possession of child pornography and for having caused "serious injury" to minors. The first hearing in the case was held July 11, but the former nuncio did not attend, citing ill health.

The former nuncio, who turned 67 on July 15, was said to be at a Roman hospital for an unidentified "sudden illness."

Wesolowski had previously been laicized in June 2014 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 July hearing by the Vatican city-state court was the first such hearing by the court for an allegation of sexual abuse of minors.

Wesolowski was also being charged by Vatican authorities for accessing pornographic material of children after being removed from the Dominican Republic and during his reported house arrest.

Although the former diplomat had been laicized last year, the Vatican communication regarding his death referred to him as "His Excellency Msgr. Jozef Wesolowski."

Vatican spokesman Passionist Fr. Ciro Benedettini told reporters Friday that Wesolowski had appealed his laicization and that the appeal had been denied, but that the denial “was not officially communicated so as not to aggravate the situation” with the ongoing trial.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac. Catholic News Service contributed to this report.]

Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters