The former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic, accused of having sexually abused boys in Santo Domingo, has been defrocked by a Vatican tribunal, Catholic Church officials here said Friday.
Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski of Poland was convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the church's doctrinal watchdog — and ordered ejected from the Roman Catholic Church. As a Vatican citizen, he could face trial by the Vatican's criminal court and be sentenced to prison.
In its statement, the Vatican did not specify the crime for which Wesolowski was defrocked. Allegations that he paid for sex with minors in the Dominican Republic have been reported by news organizations.
The move follows accusations that the Vatican, which recalled him to Rome last year, was protecting an abuser from arrest by civil authorities. In its statement Friday the Vatican said that Wesolowski had two months to appeal and that a criminal trial would follow the confirmation of his defrocking.
News reports in Italy said that Wesolowski had been seen visiting Rome restaurants for lunch recently and the Vatican said his movements had not been restricted while his case was being heard. Now, it said, "all measures appropriate to the seriousness of the case will be adopted."
A Vatican spokesman, Father Ciro Benedettini, said Wesolowski's movements would be "limited" until the criminal trial.
Wesolowski's defrocking follows a global child abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church that has swept through the United States Europe and Asia. At a United Nations hearing this year, the Vatican said that it had defrocked 848 priests over the last decade and ordered 2,572 to "live a life of prayer and penance" due to abuse allegations.
Pope Francis, accused of failing to focus on the problem, said in May that there would be "no privileges" for bishops in abuse inquiries and he compared the crime to a "satanic mass."
Speculation has mounted that a planned meeting between Francis and victims of abuse, which could involve Americans, may take place next week.
Wesolowski, 65, who had served as ambassador to the Dominican Republic since 2008, was ordained in 1972 by then-archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who went on to become Pope John Paul II. John Paul's successor, Pope Benedict XVI, posted Wesolowski to the Dominican Republic.
"It's encouraging when child molesting clerics are disciplined, but we are troubled by the Vatican's continued insistence on handling child sex crimes internally," the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said Friday in a statement.
"Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski should face a criminal trial, not a church proceeding. And he should be in a secular jail. And he might have been in one for months, had Vatican officials cooperated with law enforcement," the group said.
Police in the Dominican Republic have opened a investigation of the allegations, as have Polish authorities.