The Vatican has placed the laicised papal ambassador Jozef Wesolowski under house arrest as he awaits a criminal trial for sexually abusing young boys, Catholic News Service reports.
Holy See spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi released a statement on Tuesday regarding the case of the Polish former archbishop, who served as nuncio to the Dominican Republic until August 2013. A Vatican prosecutor had summoned Wesolowski and informed him of the charges against him, Fr Lombardi said.
He added that Wesolowski could face six or seven years in prison. His arrest was aimed at "preventing the possibility that the accused would flee and possible evidence tampering", he added.
He was also charged with possessing child pornography, Lombardi said, in a trial will start later this year or early in 2015, he said.
The possible sentence would have been much longer, but new stiffer Vatican laws on paedophilia that came into force in September 2013 can not be applied as the alleged crimes took place before.
Because of the “gravity of the accusations” investigators decided to arrest the former ambassador, the spokesman said, but "in light of the medical condition of the accused, supported by medical documentation", he was placed under house arrest in Vatican City. The Vatican announced in June that a canonical court had investigated Wesolowski on charges of sexual abuse in the Dominican Republic and concluded by dismissing him from the clerical state, depriving him of all rights and duties associated with being a priest except the obligation of celibacy. Wesolowski would face a criminal trial under the laws of Vatican City State, the Vatican said at the time.
Fr Lombardi said on Tuesday that the Vatican authorities had acted in accordance with the “will expressed by the Pope, that such a grave and delicate case might be addressed without delay, with the just and necessary rigour, with the full assumption of responsibility by the institutions of the Holy See”.
“This is unusually swift and harsh Vatican decision, judging by how slowly the Catholic Church usually decided in these cases in the past. We need this kind of decision,” said Polish Dominican, Fr Maciej Zieba. “This clearly shows the new Vatican attitude towards the problem of paedophilia," he said.
Although Poland’s bishops have rarely commented on cases of abuse by among its priests, in June, when Wesolowski’s laicisation was announced, the Archbishop of Warsaw, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, said: “Paedophilia is a sin; this is pure evil no matter who commits it. There is no question about it. The Holy See’s decision showed that nobody is above the law."
According to the Polish weekly Newsweek Polska Wesolowski is likely to lose his formal appeal against his laicisation in October, and could be stripped of his Vatican citizenship. This could mean his extradition and a subsequent trial in his homeland. “We don’t have sufficient information about this case yet. Wesolowski is still formally the Vatican citizen,” said Przemyslaw Nowak, a spokesman for the District Public Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw.
Wesolowski is one of the most senior Catholic clerics to face charges for abuse, and the first nuncio to do so.
Above: Wesolowski, pictured in 2011. Photo: CNS/EPA