- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2014

The fate of a former papal diplomat defrocked for sex abuse remains unknown, but victims’ advocates are hoping it includes time behind bars.

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic, was defrocked last week by a church inquisition board and was stripped of his credentials as a priest. He has two months to appeal his conviction, and likely faces separate charges from Vatican City judicial authorities.

Mr. Wesolowski is the highest ranking official in the Catholic Church to face a conviction on sex abuse charges.

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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the defrocking was “encouraging,” but criticized the Holy See for not pursuing criminals charges first — or letting outside authorities take the reins.

“Changing someone’s job title is secondary,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s national director. “Keeping pedophiles away from children is crucial.”

Mr. Wesolowski, 65, is a Polish native, and was serving as a papal ambassador in the Dominican Republic when he was recalled to Vatican City in August, amid charges of sex abuse on the Caribbean island.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic opened their own investigation after he had returned to Rome. Polish authorities tried unsuccessfully to extradite Mr. Wesolowski in January, but the Holy See stopped him from being transferred on the basis that he is a Vatican citizen.

“It is hard to view this as progress, the defrocking of one more predator, especially because church officials are still basically rebuffing criminal authorities in Poland and the Dominican Republic,” Mr. Clohessy said.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Mr. Wesolowski would have his movements restricted “since he has been found guilty of a serious crime and is awaiting further legal action.”

Mr. Wesolowski was stripped of his title and credentials by the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, which has about two dozen members.

Removal of clerical duties is the most severe punishment the panel could dole out, said Kurt Martens, an associate professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America.

Under Vatican City’s judicial system, Mr. Wesolowski also could face five to 12 years in prison and a fine of $13,650 to $205,000, according to the city-state’s website.

“The Vatican has its own criminal code,” said Charles Reid, a professor with a license in canon law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. “He could be found guilty under the Vatican criminal code of law, he could be turned over to the Italian police, he could be extradited to [the Dominican Republic].”

What complicates things, however, is that the claims of sex abuse in the Dominican Republic occurred while Mr. Wesolowski held the status of ambassador.

Both Mr. Martens and Mr. Reid said it is possible that Mr. Wesolowski could seek diplomatic immunity.

“I’m not sure how that is going to be handled under international law,” Mr. Reid said. “The question now is he could ask for immunity if he is being extradited to [the Dominican Republic]. It’s not even a question of Vatican law or canon law. That’s international law.”

“Our greatest fear is that he’ll jump on a plane and vanish,” Mr. Clohessy said. “We’ve seen this happen with child-molesting clerics dozens and dozens and dozens of times.”

In February, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a scathing report on the Vatican, suggesting clergy leaders had “placed preservation of the reputation of the Church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.”

Last month, the scandal was addressed by the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which demanded more cooperation and transparency from the Holy See. The Vatican shared with committee that it had handled more than 3,400 cases of sexual abuse reported since 2004, defrocking 848 priests and issuing lesser sanctions on 2,572 clergy members.

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