Child Abuse In Church: How Pedophile Jozef Wesolowski Could Live Like The Pope After Dominican Scandal
Vatican officials announced on Monday that they will try former Archbishop and diplomat Jozef Wesolowski on charges of statutory rape and solicitation committed in the Dominican Republic, as well as possession of child pornography inside the Vatican. Church officials say that he could face six to ten yearsof imprisonment if found guilty. Wesolowski, 66, is Polish and also a citizen of the Vatican. His trial, which begins on July 11th, will be the first of its kind; no one has ever been charged with child abuse in the Vatican. The announcement comes after the former priest has effectively evaded justice in other countries for over two years, shielded by the power of the Catholic Church.
In addition to allegedly bribing young, impoverished boys with money into performing sexual acts in the Dominican Republic, Vatican officials found child pornography on his computer after he returned to Rome. Thousands of images reportedly depicted minors between 13 and 17 forced to engage in sexual acts. Many were downloaded from the internet, while others reportedly appear to have been taken by victims themselves. It’s unclear if any of the images involved Wesolowski’s alleged victims in the Dominican Republic.
Allegations of child abuse surfaced in 2013 thanks to local reporting in the Dominican Republic, where Wesolowski had been serving as diplomat since in 2008. Among the reports included evidence that Church officials knew of Wesolowski’s indiscretions. Dominican officials launched an investigation, which initially found 7 cooperating witnesses between 13 and 18, mostly young shoe shiners from Santo Domingo. Prosecutors in the Dominican Republic knew that Wesolowski could be shielded by diplomatic immunity, but hoped that the Vatican wouldn’t invoke that privilege in a child rape case.
“We have formally opened an investigation,” Dominican Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito told reporters in 2013. “Here we have to work with two legal aspects, first national laws and also international laws in his status as a diplomat, which implies other mechanisms of investigation and judgment.”
Before the investigation concluded, however, the Vatican recalled Wesolowski, effectively saving him from arrest. The move also insured that the Church could protect Wesolowski without the embarrassment of invoking diplomatic immunity. The Vatican denied that the timing had anything to do with helping their diplomat avoid prosecution.
“The recall of the ambassador is by no means an effort to avoid taking responsibility for what might possibly be verified,” a Vatican spokesman said at the time.
What did responsibility mean? The Vatican initially tried Wesolowski under the Church’s canon law, and found enough evidence to defrock the apparent pedophile. Defrocking is the most severe punishment for a member of the clergy, but it’s a far cry from a jail cell. Meanwhile, Wesolowski’s colleague, Rev. Wojciech Gil, was put on trial in Poland for abusing six altar boys. Gil, who is also Polish, worked alongside Wesolowski in the Dominican Republic, and he confessed to abusing four boys there. The other two victims were abused in Poland. In March of 2015 Gil was sentenced to seven years in prison, and ordered to pay damages to his victims.
In 2014 Vatican officials confirmed that Wesolowski no longer had diplomatic immunity, and was open to prosecution. However, Vatican officials refused to extradite him to any countries where they do not have a specific extradition treaty, which include the Dominican Republic as well as Poland (another place where Wesolowski was charged with child rape). In fact, the Vatican has no extradition treaty with any country, despite reforms spearheaded by Pope Francis in 2013 that make it easier for officials to extradite. That still made the Vatican into something of a golden cage for the former priest. For example, Italy has an extradition treaty with the Dominican Republic, so he couldn’t step outside the tiny Vatican grounds without fear of arrest.
That golden cage became smaller In September of 2014, when Vatican police arrested Wesolowski. They didn’t put him in jail, citing unspecified health concerns. He’s currently under house-arrest in the Vatican City, with his day-to-day life not unlike that of retired Pope Benedict, who also mostly keeps to his home.
Would Wesolowski remain under house arrest if convicted under Vatican civil law? Leaving aside the supposed “health concerns,” it’s highly likely. The Vatican does not have a prison system, and the few prisoners it does have are housed in nearby Italian jails. Given the fact that the Vatican effectively aided Wesolowski’s flight from the Dominican Republic and later refused to extradite him, the Papal State in unlikely to let him set foot behind bars, and he’ll be living out his days not unlike Benedict, minus the dignity and occasional audiences with Pope Francis.