Vatican denies shielding envoy over sex abuse in Dominican Republic

Ambassador recalled to Rome before Dominican Republic prosecutors announce investigation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 3:46am


The Vatican says it is co-operating with prosecutors in the Dominican Republic who are investigating its envoy for alleged sexual abuse of teenage boys.

The explosive case has raised legal questions about the Holy See's responsibilities when accused priests come from within its own ranks.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi denied the Vatican was trying to shield Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski by recalling him to Rome before Dominican prosecutors had announced their probe.

Wesolowski was recalled on August 21 and relieved of his job as apostolic nuncio after the archbishop of Santo Domingo, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez, told Pope Francis about the allegations in July.

Dominican prosecutors announced their probe last week, largely in response to local media reports of allegations of misconduct by Wesolowski, 65, as well as a friend and fellow Polish priest, who is also outside the country.

Dominican prosecutor Bolivar Sanchez said he interviewed seven boys, aged between 13 and 18. Three of them worked on the streets of Santo Domingo, while the remaining four lived elsewhere. Some of the youths shine shoes. Sanchez described some of the allegations as coherent.

Wesolowski is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for alleged sex abuse, and his case has raised questions about whether the Vatican, by removing him from Dominican jurisdiction, had effectively placed its own church investigation ahead of that of authorities in the Caribbean nation.

Lombardi said: "His recall is by no means an effort to avoid taking responsibility for what might possibly be verified."

He said that early this month the Vatican had told the Dominican ambassador to the Vatican that it would co-operate with Dominican authorities with whatever they might need.

The Vatican's own rules for conducting sex abuse investigations under church law call for co-operation with civil authorities and reporting abuse allegations to police where such laws require it. Those norms were crafted in the wake of the explosion of sex abuse cases in 2010, where thousands of people came forward around the world detailing abuse by priests who were never reported to police, even though their bishops knew they were paedophiles.

Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito said if the government found any concrete evidence against Wesolowski it would seek his extradition.