Medical Condition Leads to House Arrest for Former Nuncio: Case appears 'not to have modern precedent'

The Vatican has announced that the Holy See’s former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, has been placed under house arrest inside the Vatican City State for the abuse of the minors in the Latin American state.

The decision, which appears not to have a precedent in modern Vatican history, was taken by the Vatican Criminal Court that is investigating the case. The news was broken by the Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, in a statement sent to the media late on the evening of September 23.

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The press communique said the Promoter for Justice of the Vatican City State’s criminal court of first instance had, today, “summoned the former nuncio, Monsignor Wesolowski, as a result of the penal investigation in his regard.” It said “he was notified of the charges in the penal case against him for the serious facts of the abuse of minors that happened in the Dominican Republic.”

The statement recalled that the former nuncio had already been condemned in the (court of) first instance by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “to reduction to the lay state, after an administrative penal canon-law trial had been conducted against him.”

This referred to the fact that on June 27 the former Archbishop Wesolowski was condemned, in a trial conducted under the Code of Canon Law, for the crimes of abuse of minors during his period as the Holy See’s nuncio in the Dominican Republic between 2008 and August 2013.

Last June a tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty and sentenced him to reduction to the lay state. He was given two months to appeal that sentence and on August 25 the Vatican announced that he had done so, adding that his appeal “will be judged without delay over the course of the coming weeks, most likely in October 2014.” It added that at the conclusion of the canonical process, Wesolowski would face a criminal trial under the Vatican’s penal code.

This new Vatican statement tonight refers to this criminal process that is being conducted under the Vatican City State’s Criminal Code. It makes clear that it has already begun, and is in its preliminary stage.

Father Lombardi announced that “the gravity of the charges” against the former nuncio had led the [criminal court’s] Investigator’s office “to impose provisions of restrictions” on the former nuncio. But, it said, “in the light of the health condition of the accused—proven by medical documentation, it was decided to put him under house arrest, with the limitations linked to this, in a building within the Vatican City State.“

This declaration would seem to suggest that Wesolowski, a Polish citizen who has been deprived of diplomatic immunity by the Vatican in the summer after he was condemned, would in fact have been put in prison if he did not have health problems.

This evening’s statement said “this initiative was taken by the judicial authorities of the [Vatican City] State as a result of the expressed will of the Pope that such a grave and delicate case be dealt with without delay, with the just and necessary rigor, and with the taking of full responsibility by the institutions that are responsible to the Holy See.”

Pope Francis has stated clearly that he would adopt a zero tolerance approach in cases of the abuse of minors by priests, and that nobody, at whatever level in the church, would be above the law. The announcement tonight is a clear instance of the Pope’s determination to deal with justice and rigor in this most serious matter. Given the gravity of the case, the former nuncio, if condemned by the criminal court, could be sentenced to jail.

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