Jozef Wesolowski, a former Polish archbishop and the Vatican's former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, died Friday, the Vatican said, before his trial on child sex offenses could continue.
Wesolowski, who was 67 at the time of his death, was accused of paying for sex with children in the Dominican Republic between 2008 and 2013, and possession of child pornography. His trial was postponed in July, after he was admitted to an intensive care unit due to a “sudden illness,” the nature of which was not specified, according to Catholic newspaper Crux.
A statement from the Vatican, cited by the Associated Press, said Wesolowski was found dead in his Vatican room early Friday. The Vatican prosecutor ordered an immediate autopsy, though the statement said that he appeared to have died from natural causes.
Wesolowski's trial was to have been the first against a senior Catholic Church official under a revamped judicial regime instituted by Pope Francis, who has pushed the church to take a harder line against perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
Wesolowski was previously defrocked under canon law procedures and faced a possible prison sentence if convicted in his trial, the Guardian reported.
In June of this year, the Pope created a special Vatican court to try bishops accused of covering up allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests. The move was seen as a bid to fill a gap in the church's response to sexual abuse cases up until that time.
While the Vatican has disciplined hundreds of priests for sexually abusing children since the outbreak of scandals in the early 2000s, no Pope has explicitly punished a bishop for failing to prevent or punish abuse committed by other clergy, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Last year, the Pope compared the actions of child sexual abusers to a "satanic mass."