VATICAN CITY — A former papal nuncio will be tried in Vatican city state for sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography.

The Vatican announced on June 15 that Polish-born Józef Wesołowski will be tried July 11 by the Vatican’s criminal court, the jury of which will be made up entirely of laypeople. This is the first time an archbishop will have been sent for trial in Vatican city state and subjected to criminal prosecution for child abuse and possession of child pornography.

The first hearing is expected to be held in public, after which the trial will take place behind closed doors in the same courtroom used to try Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of leaking papal documents in 2012.

Wesołowski was stripped of his diplomatic immunity and laicized last June, after the first stage of a canonical trial. Since September, he has been under house arrest, rather than a more restrictive detention, because of health reasons. The former archbishop has appealed against the decision to laicize him.

The Vatican said in a statement that Wesołowski is accused of a number of offenses, “some committed during his stay in Rome from August 2013 until the moment of his arrest, on Sept. 22, 2014.” Other offenses were allegedly committed when he was nuncio to the Dominican Republic and apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico, from 2008 to 2013, the Vatican said.

It added that, with regard to the period spent in Rome, Wesołowski is “charged with the offence of possession of child pornography” under a new law introduced by Pope Francis in 2013. It added that the allegations referring to the preceding period “are based on evidence transmitted by the judicial authorities of Santo Domingo in relation to the sexual abuse of minors.”

The Vatican added that these serious allegations will be carefully investigated, together with civil authorities in the Dominican Republic if necessary.
“This will be a delicate and detailed procedure, requiring the most careful observations and insights from all parties involved in the trial,” the Vatican said.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told journalists June 15 that no request from the Dominican Republic has yet been submitted by Vatican authorities with regard to the case.

St. Paul and Minneapolis Resignations

News of Wesołowski’s forthcoming trial came on the same day that Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, following accusations of mismanagement of clerical sex-abuse cases. Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, who had been investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Archbishop Nienstedt, also resigned.

The Pope has appointed Newark, N.J., Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard Hebda to serve as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until a new residential archbishop is appointed.

Wesołowski’s trial and the U.S. resignations follow Francis’ approval last week of guidelines to make bishops more accountable for sexual abuse in their dioceses, even if the bishops were not directly responsible for the offense.

The new process, originally devised by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was also approved by the council of nine cardinals that advises the Holy Father on Curial reform and Church governance.

A Vatican official told the Register June 16 that Wesołowski’s trial is not directly related to last week’s announcement, as the former nuncio is to be tried under Vatican civil law, like any other Vatican citizen.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up to improve safeguards against abuse, is also not involved in the case, which is ultimately the responsibility of the Congregation for Bishops and the Pope.

The Archbishop Nienstedt case will now be examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, although Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi said he did not know if the two former bishops will be judged according to new accountability guidelines.

The resignations in Minnesota come on the heels of the resignation in April of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn, who in 2012 was convicted for failing to report suspected child abuse in connection with child pornography found on the computer of Father Shawn Ratigan, a priest of the diocese.

Questions About Cardinal Danneels

In the wake of the sexual-abuse-related resignations of Bishop Finn and Archbishop Nienstedt, who were both known for their orthodoxy, some observers are wondering if the Holy See will be equally willing to take action involving bishops known instead for their public variance from Church teaching and whose actions as local bishops regarding sexual abuse are similarly open to question — such as Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium.

Despite evidence showing he personally covered for a former priest who for years had sexually assaulted his own nephew, critics say he has never been held accountable.

In fact, Pope Francis made him a pontifical appointee at last year’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, and he received him in private audience in January of this year.

Cardinal Danneels is well known for dissenting opinions.

In April, two prominent Belgian politicians substantiated long-standing reports that the cardinal tried in 1990 to persuade Belgium’s King Baudouin to sign into law a bill that would have legalized abortion in the predominantly Catholic European nation. Cardinal Danneels reportedly did so because, while he personally opposes abortion, he also interprets the separation of church and state to mean that the Church should have no political power at all.

And with respect to the redefinition of marriage, Cardinal Danneels said in 2013 he thought it was a “positive development” that states are “free to open up civil marriage for gays if they want, but such unions should be given a different name than marriage.”

Meanwhile, in March 2015, the Pope appointed Msgr. Juan Barros bishop of Osorno, Chile, despite accusations that he had protected Father Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty of child abuse in 2011. His installation Mass had to be cut short due to protests. Bishop Barros is also known for his orthodoxy. The Vatican said it had “carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Bishops who have resigned or were removed, 2000-2015, for reasons other than age:
Name Diocese Year
Archbishop John Nienstedt St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. 2015
Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. 2015
Bishop Robert Finn Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. 2015
Archbishop Józef Wesołowski Dominican Republic (apostolic nuncio) 2014
*Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano Ciudad Del Este, Paraguay 2014
Cardinal Keith O’Brien St. Andrews-Edinburgh, Scotland 2013
Bishop Daniel Walsh Santa Rosa, Calif. 2011
Bishop Seamus Hegarty Derry, Ireland 2011
Bishop James Moriarty Kildare and Leighlin, Calif. 2010
Bishop John Magee Cloyne, Ireland 2010
*Bishop Joseph Martino Scranton, Pa. 2009
Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Field Dublin 2009
Auxiliary Bishop Eamonn Walsh Dublin 2009
Bishop Donal Murray Limerick, Ireland 2009
Bishop Raymond Lahey Antigonish, Canada 2009
Bishop Eleuterio Rey Zárate-Campana, Argentina 2006
Bishop Kurt Krenn Sankt Pölten, Austria 2004
Cardinal Bernard Law Boston 2002
Bishop Brendan Comiskey Ferns, Ireland 2002
*Resignation not associated with clergy sex abuse
Source: Register staff
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