Former Vatican ambassador hospitalised ahead of child abuse trial

Former Vatican ambassador Jozef Wesolowski has been taken to hospital on the eve of his sex abuse trial, the first of its kind in the Vatican, with the hearing postponed.

VATICAN (JULY 11, 2015) (CTV) – A former archbishop and papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic fell ill and was taken to hospital ahead of the start of his trial on Saturday (Saturday 11) for alleged child sex offences, the Vatican said.

Jozef Wesolowski, a former archbishop and “apostolic nuncio”, or Vatican ambassador, in Santo Domingo, is accused of paying boys to perform sexual acts, of downloading and buying paedophile material, and offending Christian morality.

Under arrest in the tiny Vatican state since September 2014, Wesolowski complained of feeling ill on Friday (July 10) and was sent to an Italian intensive care unit, the court heard. Officials did not give any further information about his condition.

“The court was told he had a sudden illness, it wasn’t pointed out when in court; he had a sudden illness so he wasn’t able to come. Hospital records were produced, were shown to the judge, the judge read them, they were recorded by the court and his lawyer said he himself was not aware that his client was ill, he didn’t know what the illness was and he said he had last seen his client two or three days ago and given his age and given the state of affairs he was in good condition,” explained Frances d’Emilio who is part of a pool of journalists allowed inside the court room to follow the trial proceedings.

The trial, seen as an important test of Pope Francis’s drive to clean up the Roman Catholic Church, opened regardless, with the court reading out a list of five charges against the 66-year-old Polish national.

The hearing was then postponed until a future date. Wesolowski was due to remain under arrest in the hospital.

“He was under surveillance here in the Vatican and when he was taken out to an Italian hospital in Rome he was always under watch. The lawyer confirmed that following the accords between the Vatican and the Italian justice system, he will continue to be under surveillance while in hospital,” said Marek Lehnert, a pool journalist from the Polish Iar-Polskie radio.

Wesolowski is the first high-ranking Catholic official to stand trial in the Vatican on such sex charges and the case is being closely watched by victims of priestly abuse, who have accused the Vatican of repeatedly hushing up previous scandals.

In an effort to make the clergy accountable for their actions around the world, Pope Francis has re-written Church rules, opening the way for Saturday’s trial.

Wesolowski, who was ordained to the priesthood by fellow Pole, Pope John Paul II, was recalled to Rome from Santo Domingo in 2013 when accusations against him first surfaced.

Saturday’s charge sheet accused him of sexually abusing an undisclosed number of boys “presumably” aged between 13 and 16, saying the abuse took place in public on at least one occasion.

He was also accused of causing “serious harm” to the children because of the mental trauma they had suffered.

“What was new today was a specific charge, at least new to many of us, was that Wesolowski is accused of having caused with his conduct serious grave damage, basically psychological damage, to these adolescents through sexual abuse and another charge which seemed new that hasn’t been out there before was with his conduct Wesolowski offended the principles, both the moral and religious principles of Christians for having repeatedly gone to child… to these porn sites,” said d’Emilio.

Wesolowski has already been defrocked by a Vatican tribunal, a rare occurrence for an archbishop and a sign of how seriously the Church has taken the accusations against him.

He faces up to eight years in jail if found guilty of abusing a minor and two years for possession of child pornography. These sentences could be lengthened if the small Vatican court decides there are extenuating circumstances.

Any prison time would almost certainly be served in Italy rather than the Vatican, which does not have a properly functioning jail. Officials have also suggested he could be extradited to the Dominican Republic or his native Poland.

Looking to restore the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis ruled in 2013 that the Vatican’s criminal code could be applied to its employees wherever they lived.

In June, Pope Francis also approved the creation of an unprecedented Vatican tribunal to judge bishops accused of covering up or failing to prevent sexual abuse of minors.

While some of the groups representing victims of priestly abuse have welcomed the Wesolowski trial, they have said much more needs to be done to root out wrongdoers.

One group, BishopAccountability.org, says 79 bishops have been accused publicly of sexual wrongdoing, and only four have been defrocked.

The pope was not in the Vatican on Saturday, but is visiting South America, with much of the Vatican media pack in tow.

A Vatican official has said the trial is likely to continue for several months.