Vatican ex-envoy Wesolowski dies ahead of abuse trial

Archbishop Wesolowski (file photo March 2013) Image copyright AP
Image caption The former archbishop had already been convicted by a church tribunal

Jozef Wesolowski, a former archbishop and Vatican envoy to the Dominican Republic, has died before he could be tried for child sex offences.

Wesolowski, 66, was found dead in his rooms in Vatican City in front of the television, officials said.

He had been taken ill just before the start of his Vatican trial in July.

He was accused of paying for sex with children in the Dominican Republic and would have been the first senior church official tried on paedophile charges.

Wesolowski was recalled to Rome and defrocked by Church authorities in 2013 after he was filmed by local television apparently seeking child prostitutes in Santo Domingo.

The case was seen as a test of the Vatican's pledge to stamp out abuse.

Last year, the Pope compared the actions of those who commit such crimes to a "satanic mass".

Image copyright AP
Image caption Wesolowski was due to have been tried at a court set up by Pope Francis

Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said first checks indicated that the former archbishop had died of natural causes, but an autopsy was being carried out.

Wesolowski was charged with abusing children in the Dominican Republican between 2008-2013 and also charged with possession of child pornography, dating from his return to Rome in 2013.

He was due to have been tried under a new court system, set up by Pope Francis, to try clerics and employees of the Church who have been accused of exploiting minors.

If convicted, he could have faced between six and 10 years in jail.

Wesolowski had already been found guilty of abuse by a church tribunal and defrocked. He was placed under house arrest last September following the decision to pursue criminal charges against him.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says Pope Francis has promised to show zero tolerance towards clergy who molest children, but he has been criticised by victims' groups for doing too little too late.

Barbara Dorris, of the abuse survivors' network Snap, said the Vatican should have handed over Wesolowski to "secular authorities".

Had they done so, she said, "he might have already been tried, convicted and imprisoned. And more truth about wrongdoers in his case might have surfaced."

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