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Former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski to Stand Trial in Vatican for Child Sex Abuse

Jozef Wesolowski (SRM-Ti/Creative Commons)

Jozef Wesolowski (SRM-Ti/Creative Commons)

In an unprecedented move, Vatican prosecutors have indicted the Holy See’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic on child sex abuse charges.

The BBC reports 66-year-old Jozef Wesolowski, who also held the title of archbishop during his five-year post in Santo Domingo, has been placed under house arrest in the Vatican pending the start of his trial on July 11. Wesolowski is charged with sexually abusing children in the Dominican Republic from 2008 until 2013. He is also charged with possession of child pornography, which was allegedly discovered upon his return to Rome in 2013.

Wesolowski, who is Polish, holds the dubious distinction of being the first person arrested inside the Vatican for alleged sex crimes against children. The former priest was defrocked last year after being found guilty of child sex abuse by a tribunal within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican body charged with promulgating and defending the tenets of Catholicism.

The criminal prosecution of the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged with child sex abuse comes days after Pope Francis I approved the creation of a new Vatican tribunal that will hear cases of bishops accused of failing to protect children from pedophile clergy. The Pope has repeatedly declared that combating the epidemic of clergy sex abuse—by his own estimation, 2 percent, or some 9,000 clergy, are pedophiles—ranks among his top priorities, and last year he apologized for the “evil” acts committed by abusers.

Still, some groups representing survivors of clergy sex abuse accuse the Pope of not doing enough to hold abusive individuals accountable, pointing to the Vatican’s 2013 decision to grant immunity from prosecution to former Pope Benedict XVI, who was instrumental in covering up allegations of abuse and protecting offending priests and other clergy during his tenure as pontiff.

News of Wesolowski’s prosecution came on the same day that the Vatican accepted the resignation of St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, which came as Minnesota prosecutors charged the archdiocese with failing to protect children from a pedophile priest and covering up clergy child sex abuse.

Dozens of suspected pedophile priests have been identified in the St. Paul and Minneapolis and adjacent Winona archdioceses, with hundreds of additional clergy accused of sexually abusing children and vulnerable adults in Catholic jurisdictions across the United States. The Catholic Church has paid out nearly $3 billion, including $660 million in the Los Angeles archdiocese alone, to victims of sexually abusive clergy in the United States. Numerous US archdioceses, including Milwaukee, where more than 8,000 abuse allegations have emerged in recent years, have declared bankruptcy due to financial strain from settling clergy sex abuse claims.

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