VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Jozef Wesolowski, a former archbishop and papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic, will stand trial on criminal charges of paying for sex with minors and possessing child pornography, the Vatican said yesterday.
The trial, due to start on July 11, will be the first on such charges inside the tiny city-state that is the headquarters of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church.
Vatican sources said the decision by the president of the Vatican’s tribunal to indict Wesolowski could not have been taken without a green light from Pope Francis. They said it was another sign of the pontiff’s intention to get tough on sex abuse by clergy.
Wesolowski’s trial will be the highest profile judicial event in the Vatican since Paolo Gabriele, a former papal butler, was convicted in 2012 of stealing and leaking private papers of former Pope Benedict XVI. He was convicted and later pardoned by Benedict.
The 66-year-old former Polish archbishop, who was “apostolic nuncio”, or Vatican ambassador, in Santo Domingo for five years, was arrested last September and detained in the Vatican. It was the first arrest there related to paedophilia charges.
“The announcement of Wesolowski’s trial, while welcome, is minimal, belated and expected,” said Anne Barrett-Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, an independent research group that helps tackle the issue in the Catholic Church.
“It remains to be seen whether the Vatican City State will administer real justice (or if holding the trial in the Vatican) was effectively a way to protect the church from the damaging revelations that likely would occur if the former archbishop had been tried in the Dominican Republic or Poland,” she said.
Wesolowski was recalled to Rome by the Vatican in 2013 when he was still a diplomat in Santo Domingo and was relieved of his duties after Dominican media accused him of paying boys to perform sexual acts. The reports led to a police investigation.