Vatican Says Former Nuncio Guilty of Sex Abuse May Face Prosecution in Other Countries

Vatican's doctrinal congregation found Jozef Wesolowski, former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, guilty of sexual abuse of minors and ordersed his laicization. (CNS photo/Orlando Barria, EPA)

The Vatican has clarified the current legal situation of its former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Josef Wesolowski, and has denied allegations made in the U.S. and other media that it acted in an improper way that prevents him being subjected to judicial process in the Latin American state or in Poland (where he is a citizen).

The Director of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., clarified this in a statement to the international media on Aug. 25. He did so in response to questions from journalists about the former nuncio’s situation after the New York Times, followed by other media, published articles which alleged that the Vatican had acted improperly, and against its own guidelines, in the way it handled the case of Wesolowski who is accused of the sexual abuse of minors while serving as nuncio (the Vatican’s ambassador) in the Dominican Republic. The Times and others charged that by recalling him to Rome and invoking diplomatic immunity the Vatican had effectively enabled him to avoid criminal prosecution in the Dominican Republic or in Poland, and also did not share information regarding his crimes with the Dominican authorities.


The Vatican, in its statement, published in both Italian and English, said the “former nuncio Josef Wesolowski has recently appealed, within the prescribed limit of two months, the most serious canonical sentence of a return to the lay state that has been imposed upon him.”

On June 27, Wesolowski was condemned by the tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for his crimes, and was sentenced to removal from the priesthood, by reducing him to the lay state.

At the time of his condemnation, Wesolowski was given two months within which to lodge an appeal against that sentence. The Vatican confirmed that he has now appealed his conviction and announced that “The appeal will be judged without delay over the course of the coming weeks, most likely in October 2014.”

The Vatican said in its statement that “It is important to note that the former nuncio Wesolowski has ceased functioning as a diplomat of the Holy See and has therefore lost his related diplomatic immunity.”

All this has happened under the Vatican’s canonical process (that is, under the Code of Canon Law). But as the Vatican had already made clear, it also intends to prosecute him according to its penal code. It confirmed this in its statement, saying: “the punitive procedure of the Vatican’s civil judiciary departments will continue as soon as the canonical sentence becomes definitive.”

 This could result in his conviction and imprisonment in the Vatican.

Having clarified the status of the case against Wesolowski (significantly, the Vatican no longer calls him archbishop), Father Lombardi turned to the stories in various media, without naming The New York Times or any other news outlet.

“Regarding stories that have appeared over the past few days in various media,” Lombardi said, “it is important to note that the Authorities of the Holy See, from the very first moments that this case was made known to them, moved without delay and correctly in light of the fact that former nuncio Wesolowski held the position of a diplomatic representative of the Holy See. This action relates to his recall to Rome and in the treatment of the case in relation to Authorities of the Dominican Republic.”

The Vatican statement, however, did not explain how it actually related to the Dominican Republic in this case, or what—if any—information it shared, except to say it acted “without delay and correctly.”

Responding to allegations or suggestions in the media that it was in some way trying to cover up or protect the former nuncio from prosecution in the Dominican Republic or Poland, the Vatican insisted that “Far from any intention of a cover-up, this action demonstrates the full and direct undertaking of the Holy See’s responsibility even in such a serious and delicate case, about which Pope Francis is duly and carefully informed and one which the Pope wishes to address justly and rigorously.”

Moreover, Father Lombardi said in conclusion: “We must finally state that since former nuncio Wesolowski has ended all diplomatic activity and its related immunity, he might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him.”

In other words, once the Vatican has completed its own judicial process, Wesolowski could also be subjected to a judicial process in the Dominican Republic or Poland, if either state should request this, as he no longer enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 9 months ago
I understand the need for due process, but I think the Vatican needs to move more quickly on this than October to settle Wesolowski's appeal. I read the NYT article and I think they have made a mistake in their interpretation of Church law, since the reporting to local authorities probably doesn't apply legally to diplomats, just as the accusations of UN diplomats in NYC or the UN peacekeepers result in their being sent home. I also note that the criminal prosecution of the deacon in the DR doesn't seem to be moving very fast. So, there is a danger that wesolowski would not get a swift sentence if he went back to the DR. Therefore, a quick judgment and sentence by the Vatican is urgently needed. Then, with a definite sentence of 10-12 years, the perp should also face courts in both the DR and Poland, as I expect he will. Still, the Vatican should be keeping the police in the DR and in Poland regularly informed of the proceedings and should share the evidence they have already accumulated. While it is good that the Vatican arrested Wesolowski and took him out of harms way as soon as they heard of the charges, they need to be very aware of the urgency in this matter. The DR is not without blame here, as well. It needs to clean up its streets of perps? It is highly unlikely that Wesolowski is the only perp on these streets.


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