A former Vatican diplomat will stand trial next month on charges he molested young boys in the Dominican Republic and had child pornography on his computer — the first criminal prosecution of an ex-prelate on sex charges in the tiny city-state.
Defrocked archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, 66, could face more than a decade in prison if he is convicted during a new legal process introduced by Pope Francis in 2013.
"This will be a delicate and detailed procedure, requiring the most careful observations and insights from all parties involved in the trial," the Vatican said in a statement.
Wesolowski, 66, who was appointed the Vatican's envoy to the Dominican Republic in 2008, was first accused of sexually abusing children by a local TV program in 2013. He allegedly trolled the beachfront near his home, picking up underage prostitutes.
After being brought back to Rome, investigators found pornography on his computer, the Vatican's statement said.
He was defrocked in a church tribunal and temporarily placed under house arrest.
While the criminal trial is unprecedented and seen by some as a sign that Pope Francis won't tolerate abuse by clergy, others note that Weslowski is not being forced to face charges in the Dominican Republic, where the alleged crimes occurred, or in his home country of Poland.
"It's long overdue and questions remain about whether the Vatican city-state's appropriation of this case was a tactic to prevent trial in the Dominican Republic and Poland," said Anne Barrett-Doyle, a director of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks Catholic Church abuse cases.
"The church's interest there is they want to control the outcome," she said. "A trial in an independent country could involve embarrassing disclosures and about what the church knew and when they knew it."