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Vatican defrocks Polish archbishop Josef Wesolowski accused of sexual abuse

Wesolowski will be stripped of the priesthood pending criminal proceedings

The Vatican has ordered a Polish archbishop accused of sexual abuse in the Dominican Republic to be defrocked as a priest pending further criminal proceedings, in an extremely rare step for such a senior official in the Church.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered Josef Wesolowski, a former Vatican nuncio or ambassador to the Caribbean nation to be stripped of the priesthood.

The ruling was delivered after a canonical trial - under Church law - in the Vatican and came after the Catholic Church vowed to clean up the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests that has blighted it for more than a decade.

In May, Pope Francis declared a “zero tolerance” policy for members of the clergy who abuse children after appointing a former child victim as one of the first members of a new commission to help the Church put an end to clerical sexual abuse in March.

The Pope also announced plans to meet victims at the Vatican next week, The Telegraph has reported.

Wesolowski will have two months to appeal the ruling. The Holy See said in a statement criminal proceedings by Vatican judicial authorities would begin once the sentence was confirmed. If found guilty in a criminal trial, Wesolowski could risk extradition to the Dominican Republic.

He was recalled last August to the Vatican, which said a month later that it would cooperate with Dominican authorities investigating him on suspicion of paedophilia.

The Vatican said his movements had not been restricted while the case was being considered but that following the decision to expel him from the priesthood "all measures appropriate to the seriousness of the case will be adopted".

As an independent city state, the Vatican can detain or limit the movements of those subject to its jurisdiction.

Last month, the United Nations watchdog body against torture called on the Vatican to investigate the Wesolowski case and determine whether it warranted criminal prosecution or extradition to face charges in the Dominican Republic.

Additional reporting by AP