Jozef Wesolowski, a former archbishop and papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic, has been hospitalized and placed in intensive care ahead of his trial in a Holy See court on Saturday. Wesolowski, 66, was defrocked last year after a Vatican tribunal found him guilty of pedophilia. He, however, has denied all the charges.
Details of Wesolowski’s medical condition are currently not available. The judge has now adjourned the case to a later date, according to media reports.
Wesolowski -- the highest-ranking church member to be investigated under the Vatican's new, stricter sex-abuse laws -- is accused of sexually abusing several boys in the Dominican Republic between 2008 and 2013 during his term as the “apostolic nuncio” or Vatican's ambassador. Vatican inspectors also recovered child pornographic material from his computer when he was arrested last September.
The unprecedented criminal trial is being seen as an attempt by Pope Francis to accomplish his previous promises to have “zero tolerance” for the “ugly crime” of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. Wesolowski’s trial is the first time that the Vatican has used the criminal justice system put in place by the pope to handle cases of alleged abuse by clerics.
Last month, the pope also approved the creation of a new ecclesiastical authority to judge and punish bishops accused of ignoring or covering up sexual abuse of minors.
If convicted, Wesolowski faces up to 12 years in prison. And, given that his diplomatic immunity has been revoked, he could also be extradited to the Dominican Republic to face further charges, according to media reports.
“Generally we would like to see these cases handled by law enforcement [in the countries where the alleged crimes occurred], but we need to give these new procedures a go,” Gabrielle Shaw, chief executive of U.K.-based charity National Association for People Abused in Childhood, told the Guardian on Friday. “If he is tried and found guilty and punished, it could mark a new beginning for how the Catholic Church deals with this.”