Polish archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who was the papal representative to the government of the Dominican Republic, was convicted of the sexual abuse of children by a tribunal of the Catholic Church. He has been laicized by the tribunal while facing criminal proceedings for his crimes. This is the first time that a papal nuncio has been laicized by a church court for sexual abuse. On June 27, Wesolowski has two months to appeal his sentence. Since he is also a citizen of the Vatican City state, he will also face a criminal tribunal in that jurisdiction: the first such trial for sex abuse within the tiny city state. He also faces civil charges by Dominican authorities.
The conviction came six months after the UN's child rights watchdog had highlighted Wesolowski's case as an example of the Vatican's failure to prove its commitment to stamp out the abuse of minors by priests. Social media websites were alive with fury when images of the Polish bishop emerged that showed him dining in elegant restaurants in Rome last week. Rev. Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman, said Wesolowski will be stripped of his freedom of movement while the legal process took its course.
The Vatican was fiercely condemned by the United Nations in January for failing to adequately address child abuse and allowing systematic cover-ups by transferring the offending clergy from one parish or diocese to another.
The 65-year-old Wesolowski has ambassador to the Dominican Republic since 2008. However, he was recalled in August 2013 after accusations of sexual abuse of minors came to light. In 1972, Wesolowski was ordained by the Cardinal Karol Wojtyla – the later Pope John Paul II. Later, Wesolowski was assigned as nuncio to Bolivia, to later receive assignments to various Asian countries. In 2013, media reports linked him to Rev. Wojciech Gil, a Polish priest who has been accused of raping boys while serving in the Dominican Republic.
Pope Francis has reformed Vatican canon law in an effort to address sexual violence and sexual acts committed against children. Reiterating the zero-tolerance approach taken up by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the current pontiff declared that such acts, as well as child prostitution and child pornography are punishable by up to 12 years in prison. This year, Pope Francis warned there are "no privileges" for bishops when it came to child sex crimes and likened sexual abuse to a "satanic mass."
Vatican officials revealed to the United Nations this year that 3,420 abuse cases had been handled over the past decade by the Catholic Church's canon law prosecutors. During that time, 848 priests were laicized and another 2,572 were ordered to "live a life of prayer or penance," for example in a monastery. The Vatican receives approximately 600 claims against abusive priests every year, many dating back fifty years.