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First Vatican official facing sex abuse charges dies before trial

ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP | Dominican ex-foreign minister Carlos Morales Troncoso (left) with former papal nuncio Jozef Wesolowski in Santo Somingo on August 12, 2011.

Polish former archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the first high-ranking Vatican official facing trial on paedophile charges, died overnight while under house arrest, the Holy See announced on Friday.

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Wesolowski, 67, had suffered from health problems that caused a postponement last month of his criminal trial, which was to be the first of its kind initiated by the Vatican against a church official.

As the Vatican's former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, he had been charged by church prosecutors with sexually abusing children in the Caribbean country.

He was found dead early on Friday in the Vatican room where he was being held under house arrest, a statement from the Vatican said. He had been under house arrest since September 2014.

Vatican officials immediately intervened and initial checks "indicated that the death was from natural causes", a press statement said.

It said the Vatican prosecutor had ordered an immediate autopsy and that Pope Francis had been informed.

Wesolowski had been due to go on trial at a Vatican tribunal on July 11 for allegedly causing grave psychological harm to victims and possessing an enormous quantity of child pornography. But he was hospitalised in intensive care on the morning of the hearing due to an unidentified "sudden illness".

No new trial date was announced and the presiding judge had adjourned the trial indefinitely.

Defrocked

Wesolowski was defrocked in June 2014 under the Vatican's canon law procedures and was facing possible jail time if convicted at trial. Pope Francis had personally ordered his defrocking and the pursuit of criminal charges, according to Vatican officials.

The charges were seen as a high-profile way for Pope Francis to make good on pledges to punish high-ranking churchmen involved in the sexual abuse of minors, either by taking part in the abuse or by systematically covering up for priests who did.

Recent changes to the Vatican legal code under Francis's leadership had allowed prosecutors to broaden their case against Wesolowski.

Charges included possession of what prosecutors described as enormous quantities of child pornography on his two computers, including after Wesolowski was recalled to the Vatican following the emergence of rumours that he sexually abused shoeshine boys near the waterfront in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

He was secretly sacked from his posting in August 2013 after the church hierarchy was informed that he had regularly paid young Dominican boys for sexual services.

Wesolowski was the first high-ranking Vatican prelate to be criminally charged at the Holy See for sexually abusing minors. As a papal nuncio, Wesolowski had been the direct representative of the pope in the country since 2008.

He was ordained in 1972 by the then archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II and was elevated to sainthood last year.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)
 

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