A former papal diplomat, who was defrocked over allegations that he sexually abused young boys, has lost his diplomatic immunity and could therefore face trial in the Dominican Republic, according to the Vatican.
Authorities in the Dominican Republic, where Jozef Wesolowski served as nuncio, or ambassador, said an investigation uncovered allegations that Wesolowski had paid young boys to perform sexual acts. However, prosecutors did not file charges because as nuncio, Wesolowski had diplomatic immunity.
The Vatican has previously insisted in its handling of the delicate case of Josef Wesolowski that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity and that the Holy See doesn't extradite its own citizens.
But Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement on Monday that the 66-year-old former archbishop no longer had immunity and might "be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him".
Lombardi went on to deny that the Vatican had tried to cover up the case by recalling Wesolowski to Rome when he was still a diplomat in Santo Domingo, and insisted the Vatican had "moved without delay and correctly”.
Last June, a Vatican tribunal ruled to defrock the former archbishop. The sentence is the harshest under church law and meant he was reduced to the status of a layman and could no longer be a minister.
His case marked the first time such a high-ranking Vatican official had been sanctioned for alleged sex abuse.
Lombardi said Wesolowski was appealing against the defrocking, with a decision expected in October.
In addition to the possibility of facing trial in the Dominican Republic, Wesolowski is to undergo a separate, criminal trial in Vatican City. Last year, the Vatican updated its laws to specifically criminalise the sexual abuse of children, but it is not clear if the new law can be applied retroactively.
In the past, Pope Francis has called the sexual abuse of children by priests an "ugly crime" and likened it to "a Satanic Mass".
Francis, who has vowed zero tolerance against clerics who sexually abuse children, was following the Wesolowski case very carefully and wanted it to be handled "justly and rigorously", said Lombardi.
While it is unclear if and when the Vatican informed Dominican authorities that it knew of the allegations, it has pledged cooperation in the Dominican investigation and a related one in Wesolowski's native Poland.
However, the Vatican has refused to provide any information about Wesolwski's whereabouts or how he has pleaded to the charges and has refused to release contact information for his lawyer.
After he was seen on the streets of Rome, the Vatican said that ''adequate measures" would be taken to prevent him from fleeing before his criminal trial gets under way.
Additional reporting by Reuters and AP