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Vatican pursues first criminal trial on charges of child sex assault

A former Holy See ambassador has been placed under house arrest ahead of what will be the first Vatican-held criminal trial on charges of child sexual assault.

A former Holy See ambassador and defrocked archbishop has been placed under house arrest ahead of what will be the first Vatican-held criminal trial on charges of child sexual assault.

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who has been accused of soliciting sex from young boys on the street, is being held “in a location within the Vatican City State,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Vatican, in a statement Tuesday. As the New York Times reported, the Vatican city-state has no jail facility for holding prisoners on a long-term basis.

The 66-year-old Wesolowski, who is both a citizen of the Holy See and Poland, had previously been given diplomatic immunity after church officials in the Dominican Republic learned of allegations that the former Vatican ambassador had been picking up young shoeshine boys on the waterfront while he was serving there, bribing them for sex with money and, in one case, epilepsy medicine. A local deacon alerted church officials to what was allegedly going on in a letter, which claimed he was arrested while trying to procure child victims for Wesolowski. The Vatican secretly recalled Wesolowski to Rome last year before he could be investigated by local authorities, according to the New York Times.

Calling it “the most terrible case I have ever seen,” Yeni Berenice Reynoso Gómez, the district attorney in Santo Domingo, said her investigators had identified at least four victims. In June, Wesolowski was defrocked in a canonical church proceeding, and his diplomatic immunity was revoked last month. He is appealing the June decision.

Father Lombardi said Wesolowski’s arrest and trial were “a result of the express desire of the pope,” who has pledged to seek justice for the scourge of clerical sexual abuse. In July, Pope Francis met with victims for the first time and asked them for forgiveness.

Some advocates for clergy abuse victims, however, say they are skeptical of the church’s ability to prosecute Wesolowski.

“We applaud the courage of the Dominican boys who were sexually violated by this now-defrocked archbishop who Vatican officials are still protecting from secular prosecution,” said David Clohessy, director of the U.S.-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, in a statement. “While we are glad Wesolowski has allegedly been restricted, we are concerned it took so long for this to happen and doubt strongly that Catholic officials will enforce this move.”