The Vatican’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic has been convicted by a church tribunal of sex abuse and has been defrocked, the first such sentence handed down against a top papal representative.
The Vatican said Friday that Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski was found guilty by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in recent days, and sentenced to the harshest penalty possible against a cleric under canon law: laicization, meaning he can no longer perform priestly duties or present himself as a priest.
Wesolowski has two months to appeal. As a papal diplomat and citizen of the Vatican City State, he also faces criminal charges by the tribunal of Vatican City, which can carry a prison term. The Vatican said it would take “adequate measures” to ensure he doesn’t flee pending the outcome of that investigation.
The Holy See recalled the Polish-born Wesolowski on Aug. 21, and relieved him of his job after the archbishop of Santo Domingo told Pope Francis about rumors that Wesolowski had sexually abused teenage boys in the Dominican Republic.
Dominican authorities subsequently opened an investigation, but haven’t charged him. Poland, too, opened an investigation into Wesolowski and a friend and fellow Polish priest.
Wesolowski was the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for alleged sex abuse, and his case had raised questions about whether the Vatican, by extracting him from Dominican jurisdiction, was protecting him and placing its own investigations ahead of that of authorities in the Caribbean nation. The case was cited by two U.N. committees that grilled the Vatican earlier this year on its sex abuse record, but Vatican officials assured committee members that justice would be served within the Vatican’s legal system.
The Vatican has never said how Wesolowski responded to the charges and hasn’t provided contact information for his lawyer.
The case has been particularly delicate because Wesolowski was ordained both a priest and a bishop by his Polish countryman and former pope, St. John Paul II.