Józef Wesołowski, defendant in Vatican's first child abuse trial, dies

By Stephanie Kirchgaessner
Guardian (UK)
August 28, 2015

Józef Wesołowski was charged with child abuse and possession of child pornography.

The Holy See’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic was due to go on trial last month, but hearing was postponed after he was taken ill

The former Vatican ambassador Józef Wesołowski has died before he was due to go on trial for paedophilia, dealing a significant blow to Pope Francis’s efforts to tackle child sex abuse within the Catholic church.

Wesołowski was found dead at his Vatican residence early on Friday morning, the Holy See said in a statement. He is believed to have died from natural causes and a postmortem examination will be carried out on Friday to confirm the cause of death.

The Polish former archbishop was to be the first Vatican official to be tried within the walls of the Holy See for allegedly sexually abusing children while ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

The trial was scheduled to start on 11 July but was postponed after Wesołowski was taken to hospital after falling ill. Court proceedings were suspended indefinitely and were due to recommence once the accused’s health had improved.

Wesołowski, 67, returned to the Vatican two years ago amid reports that he had abused shoeshine boys plucked from the promenade in Santo Domingo. He was defrocked and arrested in 2014 and lived under house arrest while awaiting trial. In addition to the charges relating to his time as ambassador, Wesołowski was also accused of possessing child pornography at the Vatican.

His trial was due to combine evidence gathered by the Holy See and the Dominican authorities. The case had been highly anticipated as a test of the Vatican’s willingness to investigate paedophilia and, if Wesołowski had been found guilty, hand down a punishment befitting the crimes.

The failure to bring the ex-nuncio to trial marks a significant setback in Francis’s efforts to tackle sexual abuse within the Catholic church. The pontiff has won praise for his efforts to reform the way the Vatican handles paedophilia within its ranks, attempting to overhaul a culture of cover-ups that has marred the church’s reputation in recent years.

In June, the pope set up a tribunal to specifically investigate bishops accused of failing to protect children and adults from abuse, aiming to hold clergy complicit in paedophilia to account. The tribunal was established following a recommendation by the Vatican’s commission for the protection of minors, a body including two survivors of clerical abuse which was formed to advise the Holy See.

While such reforms have been welcomed, one of the Vatican’s highest-ranking officials has recently come under criticism for his handling of paedophilia cases. Cardinal George Pell, brought to the Vatican to revamp its murky finances, was this week accused of being a “destroyer of unity” on child sex abuse in his native Australia.

The accusation was made at the country’s royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse by bishop Geoffrey Robinson, where Pell is due to give evidence in November. Robinson also said the pope had failed to show strong leadership on paedophilia and one of his predecessors, John Paul II, “handled the abuse poorly”.


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