The Vatican put its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic under
house arrest after opening a criminal trial against him, the first time
a high-ranking Vatican official has ever faced criminal charges for
sexually abusing youngsters.
Josef Wesolowski had already been defrocked in June after the Vatican's
canon law court found him guilty of abuse and imposed its toughest
penalty under church law: laicization, or returning to life as a layman.
The Vatican City State's separate criminal court opened a preliminary
hearing into his case and ordered him placed under house arrest.
A Vatican statement said Wesolowski presented medical documentation
detailing health concerns that presumably prevented a more restrictive
type of detention. The Vatican has a few small detention rooms inside
its police barracks, but no long-term facilities.
The Holy See recalled the Polish-born Wesolowski in August, 2013 after
the archbishop of Santo Domingo told Pope Francis about rumors that
Wesolowski had sexually abused teenage boys in the Caribbean country.
Prosecutors there say he allegedly paid boys to masturbate.
Dominican authorities opened an investigation, but declined initially to
press charges since the Vatican had said Wesolowski enjoyed diplomatic
immunity. Polish prosecutors as well opened an investigation.
A Santo Domingo court, though, took the first steps toward possibly
charging him last month after the Vatican said he had lost his immunity
when he was defrocked and could be prosecuted elsewhere.
The office of the Dominican Republic's attorney general said Tuesday it
was requesting specifics from the Vatican about how it came to its
decision to put Wesolowski under house arrest and open a criminal trial
Spokeswoman Tessie Sanchez said Attorney General Francisco Dominguez
Brito wanted more details from the Vatican before commenting further on
the latest developments in Wesolowski's case.
In an August interview with The Associated Press, Dominguez welcomed the
Vatican announcement that Wesolowski had lost his diplomatic immunity and
could be tried by Dominican or other courts.
Wesolowski could face jail time if found guilty by the Vatican criminal
court, which has jurisdiction over crimes committed within the tiny Vatican
City State or by any of the Holy See's diplomatic personnel.
It is unclear where he would serve any possible term: inside the Vatican or
in an Italian prison.
The case against Wesolowski has been closely watched, given the grave nature
of the charges and the fact that the Vatican had faced criticism that it had
shielded Wesolowski from Dominican jurisdiction by recalling him last year.
In fact, many countries would have done the same with diplomatic personnel
facing possible criminal charges abroad.
The case has also been a test of Francis' willingness to sanction even a
high-ranking Vatican official for a crime the Holy See has long sought to
blame on wayward priests, not direct representatives of the pope.
Francis has said no prelate, whether a priest or a cardinal, has any
privileges when it comes to sex abuse.