VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican's former ambassador to the Dominican Republic has been indicted on charges he sexually abused young boys in the Caribbean country and had child pornography on his computer, and will stand trial next month in a Vatican court.
The Holy See said Monday that Jozef Wesolowski will have his first hearing July 11, the first time such a high-ranking Vatican official will stand trial for sex abuse.
The Holy See recalled Wesolowski in 2013 after rumors surfaced in Santo Domingo that he allegedly paid shoeshine boys to masturbate. Wesolowski has since been defrocked and placed under modified house arrest inside Vatican City pending a decision by the Vatican criminal court on whether to indict him.
That decision came June 6, when the Vatican prosecutor asked the head of the Vatican City State tribunal to indict him — a decision that was announced Monday.
The case has been highly sensitive, given that the Polish-born Wesolowski was an ambassador of the Holy See — a direct representative of the pope and not just one of the world's 440,000 priests — and had been ordained both a priest and a bishop by St. John Paul II.
Last year, a Holy See tribunal found him guilty under canon law of abusing young boys and defrocked him, the harshest sentence under church law that can be meted out. Now, the case goes to the Vatican's criminal courts, which have jurisdiction over Wesolowski because he is a papal diplomat and citizen of the Vatican City State.
In 2013, Vatican City updated its laws to specifically criminalize sexual abuse of minors and possession of child pornography.
The Vatican said Wesolowski would be prosecuted under that new law for the porn charge, since he is accused of having porn while he was in Rome from August 2013, when he was recalled, until his arrest Sept. 22. The charge carries a maximum jail term of two years, plus a fine.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican's old law would be used for the actual abuse charges since the crime allegedly took place before the new law was passed. Lombardi said Wesolowski is accused of corrupting young people sexually, of receiving child porn, causing psychological damage and engaging in conduct that "offends the principles of religion or morals."
The maximum jail term for those is up to 30 months plus a fine, though Lombardi noted that there could be extenuating or mitigating circumstances.
Lombardi noted that the trial is likely to involve cooperation between the Vatican and the Dominican Republic, which investigated the charges. Already the Dominican prosecutor has visited the Vatican to discuss the case.
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