VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican has defrocked its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic for sexually abusing boys. It's the first time a top papal envoy has been convicted of the crime and signals that Pope Francis is serious about imposing "zero tolerance" for abuse, regardless of rank.
The Vatican said Friday that Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski was found guilty by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and sentenced to the harshest penalty possible against a cleric under canon law: laicization, meaning he can no longer perform priestly duties or present himself as a priest.
Wesolowski has two months to appeal. After the canonical case is finished, he faces a separate criminal trial in the Vatican City State's tribunal, which could carry a jail term if he is convicted.
The Vatican said it would take "adequate measures" to ensure Wesolowski doesn't flee pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
The Vatican has never said how Wesolowski responded to the charges and hasn't provided contact information for his lawyer.
The case against Wesolowski has been closely watched, given the grave nature of the charges. It has also been a test of Francis' willingness to sanction even a high-ranking Vatican official for a crime the Holy See has long sought to blame on wayward priests, not direct representatives of the pope.
Francis has told reporters, though, "there were no privileges" for anyone who violated a child and promised "zero tolerance" for abuse at all levels.
The Holy See recalled the Polish-born Wesolowski on Aug. 21, and relieved him of his job after the archbishop of Santo Domingo told Francis about rumors that Wesolowski had sexually abused teenage boys in the Dominican Republic. Prosecutors there say he allegedly paid boys to masturbate.
Dominican authorities opened an investigation, but never charged him on the grounds that Wesolowski had diplomatic immunity. Poland, too, opened an investigation.
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