Return to the Scene of the Crime?: Vatican says laicized nuncio could stand trial in Dominican Republic

The Vatican denied covering up for a former papal ambassador accused of sexually abusing boys and suggested he might have to stand trial on the charges in the Dominican Republic.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, released a statement Aug. 25 in response to journalists' questions about former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a Pole who served as nuncio to the Dominican Republic until August 2013.

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According to an Aug. 23 article in the New York Times, the Vatican "secretly recalled (Wesolowski) to Rome last year before he could be investigated, and then invoked diplomatic immunity for Mr. Wesolowski so that he could not face trial in the Dominican Republic."

Father Lombardi responded that the Vatican, by recalling the diplomat from his post last summer, "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."

"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," the statement said.

The spokesman added 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."

The Vatican announced June 27 that a canonical court had investigated Wesolowski on charges of sex abuse and concluded by dismissing him from the "clerical state," depriving him of all rights and duties associated with being a priest except the obligation of celibacy. Wesolowski would face a criminal trial under the laws of Vatican City State, the Vatican said at the time.

In his Aug. 25 statement, Father Lombardi said Wesolowski's appeal of his laicization will be judged "over the course of the coming weeks, mostly likely in October 2014," and criminal proceedings will ensue "as soon as the canonical sentence becomes definitive."

Pope Francis told reporters during in May 2014 that three bishops were under investigation for misdeeds related to the sexual abuse of minors. One -- presumably the former nuncio -- had "already been condemned," the pope said, and his penalty was being studied.

The pope told reporters the abuse of children was "an ugly crime" and affirmed a policy of "zero tolerance" for abusers.

Previously, the Vatican had acknowledged that a formal investigation was underway against Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, who resigned in 2013 after admitting to sexual misconduct.

Only a few bishops have been laicized in connection to allegations of abusing minors; they include Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Miranda Melgarejo of Ayacucho, Peru, who was dismissed from the priesthood in 2013 because of sexual misconduct. Retired Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, was convicted by a civil court in 2011 of importing child pornography and was laicized by the Vatican in 2012.

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