A case involving a Polish archbishop may prove to be a crucial test for the Holy See in its road to reform and change, as promised by Pope Francis.
Archbishop Wesolowski (66), formerly papal nuncio to the Domincian Republic, has been accused of paedophile behaviour both in the Domincian Republic and in his native Poland. Last June, a canon law court in the Vatican "reduced" him to " lay status" after finding him guilty of child sex abuse. Allegations of improper behaviour had been made against him last autumn by a TV channel in the Dominican Republic, which claimed that during his five years (2008 - 2013) as papal nuncio, he had regularly frequented an area in Santa Domingo, well known for child prostitution.
Last January, in response to media reports that Poland wanted to extradite the archbishop, the Holy See confirmed that as a Vatican City state citizen, he would be tried in Holy See (canonical) and subsequently Vatican City state courts. The ex-nuncio is awaiting an appeal, probably in October, against his June canonical court prosecution. Following that, he may be tried for child abuse in a Vatican City court.
The Wesolowski case resurfaced this week, following a report in the New York Times that provided details and first-hand evidence of his paedophile activities in Santo Domingo. Victims claimed Archbishop Wesolowski used to "cruise" the oceanfront promenade, looking for shoeshine boys to whom he would offer small sums of money ($10 dollars) in return for sexual favours. Sometimes, he wanted to watch the boys swim naked. On other occasions, he wanted to watch them masturbate on the beach.
Asked about the New York Times report on Monday, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the archbishop had lost his diplomatic status and that he "might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him".
And there’s the rub. Does this mean that the Holy See will allow him to be extradited to either the Dominican Republic or to Poland when, as seems likely, they ask for his extradition? When the Holy See recalled the archbishop to Rome last August, it had seemed that the Vatican wanted to play the “diplomatic immunity” card.
Now that its own canonical courts have found the archbishop guilty of child sex abuse, will he be extradited? If and when he is, then we will have moved on from the days when the Vatican, citing diplomatic immunity, rejected an Italian arrest warrant for American archbishop Paul Marcinkus for “fraudulent bankruptcy” in relation to the 1982 Banco Ambrosiano collapse.