Former Nuncio Defrocked, Loses Diplomatic Immunity

Vatican's doctrinal congregation finds archbishop guilty of sexual abuse of minors and orders laicization. (CNS photo/Orlando Barria, EPA)

The Vatican has clarified the current legal standing of its former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, and has denied allegations that it acted in a manner meant to shield him from judicial proceedings in that Latin American state or in his native Poland. Wesolowski is accused of the sexual abuse of minors in the Dominican Republic. In a statement issued to press on Aug. 25, the Vatican reported that the former nuncio Wesolowski “has ceased functioning as a diplomat of the Holy See and has therefore lost his related diplomatic immunity.”

On June 27, Wesolowski was condemned for his crimes under canon law by a tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was removed from the priesthood. The Vatican confirmed that he has appealed that conviction and announced that “the appeal will be judged without delay over the course of the coming weeks, most likely in October 2014.” Church officials said that at the conclusion of the canonical process, Wesolowski will face a criminal trial under the Vatican’s penal code.

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The Director of the Vatican Press Office, Federico Lombardi, S.J., clarified Wesolowski’s status in a statement to the international media on Aug. 25. He did so in response to questions from journalists raised by a lengthy report in The New York Times that described in detail Wesolowski’s offenses in the Dominican Republic and alleged that the Vatican had acted improperly, and against its own guidelines, in its handling of Wesolowski. The Times and other media charged that by recalling Wesolowski to Rome and invoking diplomatic immunity last year as rumors about his offenses circulated, the Vatican had effectively enabled him to avoid criminal prosecution in the Dominican Republic or in Poland. The reports also alleged that Vatican officials did not share information regarding Wesolowski’s offenses with Dominican authorities.

Father Lombardi countered that Vatican officials, “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.” In its statement, 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.”

Francisco Domínguez Brito, the Dominican Republic’s attorney general, quickly issued a statement saying it was “just and positive” for the Vatican to remove Wesolowski’s immunity and that the country would consider seeking extradition of the former archbishop so he could stand trial there. Authorities in Poland unsuccessfully sought to bring Wesolowski to trial last year. Following Father Lombardi’s clarification, Poland’s ambassador to the Holy See, Piotr Nowina-Konopka, said Warsaw is considering a fresh extradition request.

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