By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A former Polish archbishop and papal diplomat who was defrocked after allegations of paying children for sexual acts has lost his diplomatic immunity and could be tried in the Dominican Republic, the Vatican said.
In a statement late on Monday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi also denied that the Vatican, by recalling Jozef Wesolowski to Rome last year when he was still a diplomat in Santo Domingo, had tried to cover up the case.
Lombardi, whose statement followed a detailed report on the Wesolowski case this week in The New York Times, said the 66-year-old former archbishop no longer had immunity and "might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him".
Wesolowski is being investigated in the Dominican Republic, where he served as nuncio, or ambassador, over accusations of paying boys to perform sexual acts.
Last June, a Vatican tribunal defrocked the former archbishop, meaning he was reduced to the status of a layman and can no longer be a minister.
He is now due to undergo a separate, criminal trial in Vatican City, the first time the Vatican will hold such a trial on those charges in its own territory. Wesolowski could face up to 12 years in jail.
Lombardi said Wesolowski was appealing against the defrocking and that another canonical hearing would take place in the next few weeks. After that, the criminal proceedings against him in the Vatican "will continue as soon as the canonical sentence becomes definitive," he said.
The spokesman denied that Wesolowski's recall to Rome last year was an attempt to cover up anything, saying the Vatican had "moved without delay and correctly" to investigate the former archbishop.
"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...," Lombardi said.
He said Pope Francis, who has vowed zero tolerance against clerics who sexually abuse children, was following the Wesolowski case very carefully and wanted it to be handled "justly and rigorously".
Last May, Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, called the sexual abuse of children by priests an "ugly crime" and likened it to "a Satanic Mass".
In July, he told victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clerics the Church should "weep and make reparation" for crimes he said had taken on the dimensions of a sacrilegious cult.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)