Polish Archbishop to be held under house arrest in the Vatican

The former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic from 2008 to 2013, Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, was found guilty on June 27 by a Vatican tribunal of abuse of minors. He has appealed . 

Archbishop Josef Wesolewski.

Archbishop Josef Wesolewski.

The Vatican has announced that the Holy See’s former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, has been placed under house arrest inside Vatican City State for abuse of minors in the Latin American state.

The decision, which appears not to have a precedent in modern Vatican history, was taken by the Vatican Criminal Court investigating the case.

The news was broken by the Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, in a statement sent to the media late on the evening of September 23.

The press communique said the Promoter for Justice of Vatican City State’s criminal court of first instance had, today, “summoned the former nuncio, Monsignor Wesolowski, as a result of the penal investigation in his regard.”

It said “he was notified of the charges in the penal case against him for the serious facts of the abuse of minors that happened in the Dominican Re­pub­lic.”

The statement recalled that the former nuncio had already been condemned in the court of first instance by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “to reduction to the lay state, after an administrative penal canon-law trial had been conducted against him.”

This referred to the fact that on June 27 the former Archbishop Wes­o­lowski was condemned, in a trial conducted under the Code of Canon Law, for the crime of abuse of minors during his period as the Holy See’s nuncio in the Dominican Republic between 2008 and August 2013. Last June, a tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty and sentenced him to reduction to the lay state.

He was given two months to appeal that sentence and on August 25 the Vatican announced that he had done so, adding that his appeal “will be judged without delay over the course of the coming weeks, most likely in October 2014.” It added that, at the conclusion of the canonical process, Wesolowski would face a criminal trial under the Vatican’s penal code.

This new Vatican statement refers to this criminal process that is being conducted under the Vatican City State’s Criminal Code. It makes clear that it has already begun, and is in its preliminary stage.

Father Lombardi announced that “the gravity of the charges” against the former nuncio had led the [criminal court’s] investigator’s office “to impose provisions of restrictions” on the former nuncio.

But, it said, “in the light of the health condition of the accused — proven by medical documentation — it was decided to put him under house arrest, with the limitations linked to this, in a building within Vatican City State.“

This declaration would seem to suggest that Wesolowski, a Polish citizen who was deprived of diplomatic immunity by the Vatican the summer after he was condemned, would in fact have been put in prison if he did not have health problems.

The statement said “this initiative was taken by the judicial authorities of [Vatican City] State as a result of the expressed will of the Pope that such a grave and delicate case be dealt with without delay, with the just and necessary rigor, and with the taking of full responsibility by the institutions that are responsible to the Holy See.”

Pope Francis has stated clearly that he would adopt a “zero tolerance” approach in cases of the abuse of minors by priests, and that nobody, at whatever level in the Church, would be above the law.

The announcement is a clear instance of the Pope’s determination to deal with justice and rigor in this most serious matter.

Given the gravity of the case, the former nuncio, if condemned by the criminal court, could be sentenced to jail.

The Norms of Canon Law

Norms concerning the most serious crimes.

Norms concerning the most serious crimes.

The Norms of Canon Law dealing with crimes of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy have been published in a comprehensive and updated form, in a document which covers all the crimes the Church considers exceptionally serious and, for that reason, subject to the competency of the Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Apart from sexual abuse, these include crimes against the faith and against the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance and Holy Orders.

The Norms concerning sexual abuse make specific provision for more rapid procedures in order to deal with the most serious situations more effectively. They admit lay people into the tribunal staff; extend the statute of limitations from 10 to 20 years; establish parity between the abuse of mentally disabled people and that of minors; and introduce the crime of pedophile pornography.

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