A former high-ranking Catholic church official has been placed under house arrest after the Vatican opened a criminal trial against him on charges of sexually abusing young boys.
The criminal trial of former Dominican Republic Ambassador Jozef Wesolowski would be the first of its kind launched by the Vatican against a church official accused of child sex crimes.
Last year, an investigative journalist in the Caribbean country published a scathing report accusing Wesolowski of ordering young teenage boys to masturbate in his presence. Two days after the report, Dominican authorities launched a probe into the claims.
Aamer Madhani, a Muslim reporter with USA Today has his own personal suffering of child abuse growing up.
Wesolowski left the country for Rome. Authorities in the country eventually declined to prosecute Wosolowski because he enjoyed diplomatic immunity as a Vatican official. In June, Wosolowski was stripped of his ambassadorship, leaving the door open for Dominican authorities to file charges. The Vatican also terminated Wesolowski’s priesthood.
Last month, Dominican authorities said they were considering Wesolowski’s extradition to face charges in the country. But on Tuesday, the Holy See announced it would criminally charge Wesolowski and ordered the former ambassador held under house arrest. According to a church statement, the Polish-born man presented medical documentation that ruled out holding at one of the Vatican’s police barracks.
If convicted, Wesolowski could face jail time either in a Vatican cell or in an Italian prison.
The case has been closely watched by both members and critics of the Catholic Church alike. In the past, the church has been criticized for offering the accused a shield of immunity, preventing local authorities from criminally charging clergy members who were suspected of child sex crimes.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis I announced a tougher stance against those accused of child abuse, saying those who fail to protect children from such crimes would “be held accountable.” At a mass in July, Francis apologized to child sex crimes and asked them for forgiveness.
“I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves,” Frances said. “This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.”
Religious commentators said the Pope’s zero-tolerance policy on child sex abuse crimes signaled a turning point for the Catholic Church, which had a long and sordid history of protecting priests and other religious heads who were accused of sex crimes in their communities. But others said “forgiveness” would do little to remedy the atrocities of the past.
“I think that Pope Francis has yet to take strong action that will protect children and he could do that by firing the bishops who have been complicit and who are transferring predators,” Barbara Blaine, an advocate for those victimized by priests, told CNN.
In 2004, a report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that more than 4,300 priests had been accused of child sex abuse in the United States between 1950 and 2002. According to the report, just six percent of those priests who were accused were ever convicted of some crime. Half of those convicted received prison sentences.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.