VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Monday that its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, accused of sexually abusing young boys in the Caribbean country, had lost his diplomatic immunity and could be tried by Dominican or other courts.
The Vatican has previously insisted in its handling of the delicate case of Josef Wesolowski that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity and that the Holy See doesn’t extradite its own citizens.
But in a statement Monday, the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Wesolowski had ceased all diplomatic activity for the Holy See, lost his related immunity and therefore “might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him.”
The Vatican recalled Wesolowski a year ago after allegations emerged in the Dominican Republic that he had sexually molested young boys there.
Dominican authorities have said their country’s investigation uncovered allegations that Wesolowski had paid at least six minors to watch them masturbate and had recorded it with his mobile phone, but prosecutors did not file charges because the nuncio had diplomatic immunity.
The case was highly sensitive, given that the Polish-born Wesolowski was an ambassador of the Holy See — not just one of the world’s 440,000 priests — and had been ordained both a priest and a bishop by St. John Paul II.
This summer, a Vatican tribunal found him guilty under canon law of abusing young boys and defrocked him, the harshest sentence under church law and the first time such a high-ranking Vatican official had been sanctioned for sex abuse. Wesolwski recently appealed that sentence and a final decision is expected in October, Lombardi said.
After that appeal is heard, the Vatican’s criminal courts will take up the case and jail time is possible if he is found guilty.
As a papal diplomat and citizen of the Vatican City State, Wesolowski faces criminal charges by the tribunal of the Vatican City, which last year updated its laws to specifically criminalize sex abuse of children. It is not clear, however, if the new law can be applied retroactively.
It is unclear if and when the Vatican informed Dominican authorities that it knew of the allegations, but it has pledged cooperation in the Dominican investigation and a related one in Wesolowski’s native Poland.
However, the Vatican has refused to provide any information about Wesolwski’s whereabouts or how he has pleaded to the charges and has refused to release contact information for his lawyer. After he was seen on the streets of Rome, the Vatican said that “adequate measures” would be taken to prevent him from fleeing before his criminal trial gets under way.
The Vatican has no extradition treaty with either the Dominican Republic or Poland.
Dominican Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito welcomed the Vatican announcement Monday as a “just and positive” development for a case that his agency has investigated but so far been unable to pursue.
“If this gentleman doesn’t have immunity, that would facilitate things in order to consider the subject of extradition so he can come here and confront justice and there won’t be impunity,” Dominguez said.
The attorney general had ordered an investigation in August 2013 following reports in the local media that Wesolowski was suspected of child sexual abuse and a Dominican TV station showed him wandering alone along the waterfront of the capital.
The Dominican prosecutors turned their file over to the Vatican, which conducted its own investigation.
“We have to see the details of the Vatican investigation but I have always said in cases like these we will always consider all the options,” Dominguez said.