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Vatican to try former archbishop over child abuse charges

Former archbishop Jozef Wesolowski is to stand trial on accusations of paying for sex with minors and possessing child pornography. The case is the first of its kind in the Vatican.

Jozef Wesolowski was to face the court after the former archbishop and papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic was accused of paying for sex with children and possessing child pornography, the Vatican said on Monday.

Wesolowski's trial, the first time the Vatican was hearing such cases, was to begin on July 11 in what was termed as a "detailed and delicate" procedure. The former priest was the first person to be tried after Pope Francis introduced anti-paedophilia laws in the Vatican penal code in July 2013.

First high-profile trial since 2013

The 66-year-old former Polish archbishop was the Vatican ambassador, also known as the "apostolic nuncio," in the Dominican Republic for five years until 2013, when local media accused him of pedophilia. Wesolowski allegedly dressed in casual clothes, including a baseball cap and visited a beach area where he picked up poor child prostitutes.

The former clergyman was then recalled from his position as the Vatican's ambassador in 2013 and

defrocked by a Vatican tribunal.

He was

convicted last year.

The pope then ordered a criminal investigation, following which police found material indicating child pornography on his computer. Officials at the Vatican said at the time that Wesolowski could face up to 12 years in jail.

Josef Wesolowski Botschafter Vatikans in der Dominikanischen Republik

The defrocked priest disguised himself in casual clothes and went to a beach to look for poor child prostitutes.

If convicted, he would most probably not spend time in the Vatican's prisons, which consist of only a few rooms. There was a chance the accused would be sent to Italy, which, according to an agreement with the Vatican, houses the holy city's prisoners. Wesolowski could also be sent to his native country Poland or extradited to the Dominican Republic, Vatican officials told journalists.

The case is the first high-profile incident since the 2012 trial of Paolo Gabriele, a papal butler accused of stealing and leaking former Pope Benedict XVI's private papers. Gabriele was later pardoned.

'Enormous bucket of horror'

The Vatican also announced the resignation of two senior US clerics on Monday. Archbishop John Clayton Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche stepped down after they were accused of failing to act on repeated warnings that a priest in the archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minnesota was a danger to children.

Pope Francis and Pope Benedict before him have announced a "zero tolerance" attitude towards child sex abuse after several complaints of pedophilia in Catholic institutions were revealed.

Abuse victims' network SNAP welcomed the Vatican's initiatives, but remained apprehensive about the future. "After centuries of abuse and cover up done in secrecy…evidently one pope has seen fit to oust one archbishop for complicity in clergy sex crimes….But it's only a very tiny drop of reform in an enormous bucket of horror," SNAP's Southern Minnesota chief Frank Meuer told the AFP news agency.

mg/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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