MOSCOW, September 24 (RIA Novosti) – Sixty-six-year-old former archbishop Josef Wesolowski, who is suspected of sexually molesting boys while serving as the Holy See’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic, has been placed under house arrest in Vatican City, supposedly under the instructions of Pope Francis, Dominican Today reports.
During his five-year ambassadorship, Wesolowski allegedly paid street boys to perform sexual acts in front of him.
Catholic News Service reported that Wesolowski had been defrocked this June as the result of complaints from the Dominican church hierarchy going back to August 2013. At that time, he was sent back to the Vatican, but no formal charges were leveled against him until his defrocking. Now he faces a separate criminal court hearing in the tiny nation.
Wesolowski began his career in Krakow, Poland, where he was ordained in 1972 by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who would later go on to become Pope John Paul II. Wojtyla named him archbishop in 2000. In addition to the Dominican Republic, Wesolowski served as a priest in Bolivia, and in the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
Authorities from the Dominican Republic attempted to press charges against him in September 2013, when the local media found out about the affair, but the archbishop’s diplomatic immunity had apparently saved him from extradition; he was removed only in August of this year.
In connection with the removal of his immunity, a statement from the Vatican has hinted that Wesolowski “might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him.”
Setting a precedent
Wesolowski’s is to be the first criminal case against a Holy See official for sexual abuse against minors. He will also be the highest ranking official to be investigated under the Vatican’s laws, which were revised last September. The new laws are more specific about instances of sexual crimes against children, and propose harsher penalties for violators.
Wesolowski may receive up to 12 years in prison if convicted. It is unclear whether he would serve out his sentence within the Vatican, or in an Italian prison.
An English-language Vatican spokesman told the Washington Post that this case will be “history in the making,” and that Vatican lawmakers will be “developing a procedure here.” Speaking of the broad church’s interest in the matter, he noted that “we’re all watching to see how this will happen.”
Prior to the update, carried out under Pope Francis, the Vatican had been using a modified version of Italy’s criminal code from 1889. Francis has spoken more forcefully about the subject than his predecessors, noting that the sexual abuse of children is an “ugly crime” which should have “zero tolerance”.
This past April, Francis spoke to the press on the matter of child molestation by Catholic priests, seeking “forgiveness” and feeling “compelled to personally take on all the evil [of] some priests.”
Wesolowski’s criminal case may serve as a test of will for the Pope, who has been praised for working to transform the image of the Church, shedding pomp and luxury, promoting simple living, working more among the people, carrying out a bureaucratic shakeup, overhauling the Vatican Bank’s accountability, and surveying the opinions of Catholics around the world on matters such as divorce, contraception and gay marriage.
A blackened image
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child slammed the Catholic Church in a report last January, listing thousands of abuse scandals around the world, and pleading with the Church to finally remove known and suspected molesters and to report them to law enforcement.
In their appeal, the committee noted their grave concern “that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the predators.”
The appeal also criticized the Church’s problematic “code of silence” and its policy of trying to cover up scandals, which includes moving known molesters to other parishes.
The extent of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has repeatedly stunned the world for decades, with many thousands of cases reported, most prominently in the countries of North America and Western Europe.
Some priests’ crimes have gone on for so many decades that they have affected whole generations. Cases from the mid-20th century onward are still being reported. The crimes and their cover-ups have affected the mental health of tens of thousands of people. A 2012 police report in the Australian province of Victoria noted that in that year alone, in that province of approximately 5.7 million, 40 people had ended their lives as a result of psychological trauma that had resulteds from molestation.
The scandals have also rocked governments. In 1994 a controversy surrounding the extradition of a child-molesting priest led to the collapse of the Irish Republican-Labour coalition government. A later investigation of Church-related childcare institutions resulted in a 9-year investigation and a 2,600-page report detailing thousands of cases of abuse.
In the US, molestation settlements have been estimated to have cost the Church over 2.6 billion USD. In Germany, the scandals of the early 2010s resulted in a steady loss of trust in the Pope, and in many Catholics leaving the Church.
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