THE Vatican’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, the highest-ranking Holy See official to be charged with sexually abusing young boys, has been found dead as he awaited trial.
In a statement, the Vatican said preliminary checks on Jozef Wesolowski, 67, “indicated that the death was from natural causes”.
A Franciscan priest who works as a confessor in St Peter’s Basilica found Wesolowski dead at 5am yesterday, with the television on in the Vatican room where he had been held in modified house arrest for several months.
The statement said the Vatican prosecutor had ordered an immediate post-mortem examination and that Pope Francis had been informed. The Vatican said the cause of death would be released.
Wesolowski had been due to go on trial in a Vatican tribunal on 11 July for allegedly causing grave psychological harm to victims and possessing an enormous quantity of child pornography. But on the morning of the hearing, he was hospitalised in intensive care because of an unidentified “sudden illness”.
The presiding judge adjourned the trial indefinitely until he recovered.
Wesolowski had been previously defrocked under the Vatican’s canon law procedures but was facing possible jail time if convicted in the Vatican’s civil tribunal.
The trial had been seen as a high-profile way for Francis to make good on pledges to punish high-ranking churchmen involved in sex abuse of minors, either by molesting children or by systematically covering up for priests who did.
Recent changes to the Vatican legal code begun under Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and enacted under Francis’ leadership 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 in 2013 following the emergence of rumours that he sexually abused shoeshine boys near the waterfront in Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic.
Wesolowski was the first such high-ranking Vatican prelate to be criminally charged at the Holy See for sexually abusing minors.
The case was particularly delicate because he was not just another priest, but rather a direct representative of the Pope and had been ordained as a priest and bishop by his fellow Pole, John Paul II.
Dominican authorities had initially questioned the Vatican’s sequestration of Wesolowski after the abuse rumours began circulating. But the Holy See insisted it had jurisdiction over him given he was a diplomat and subject to the criminal laws of the Vatican City State.