Top Vatican official may face extradition for child sex abuse allegations

AP Photo/Manuel DiazArchbishop Jozef Wesolowski leading a Mass in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in March 2013

The Vatican revealed on Monday that a former top Catholic official could face extradition from Rome on account of charges of sexual abuse.

Jozef Wesolowski, formerly the Vatican's ambassador to the Dominican Republic, was defrocked in June following allegations that he regularly paid young boys to perform sexual acts during his time in the Caribbean.

The Church expressed its intent to try him on criminal charges – the first time the Vatican has held a criminal trial for sex abuse.

However, a New York Times exposé published on Saturday detailed Wesolowski's case, and suggested that the Vatican initially tried to cover-up his crimes, and acted to protect him from facing trial in the Dominican Republic by quietly recalling him to Rome before his crimes became public.

Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi responded to the critcicism, saying in a statement: "the Authorities of the Holy See, from the very first moments that this case was made known to them, moved without delay and correctly in light of the fact that former nuncio Wesolowski held the position of a diplomatic representative of the Holy See.

"This action relates to his recall to Rome and in the treatment of the case in relation to Authorities of the Dominican Republic."

Lombardi continued: "Far from any intention of a cover-up, this action demonstrates the full and direct undertaking of the Holy See's responsibility even in such a serious and delicate case, about which Pope Francis is duly and carefully informed and one which the Pope wishes to address justly and rigorously."

The spokesman also added that Wesolowski has lost his diplomatic immunity, and therefore may now have to face trial in the Dominican Republic.

"We must finally state that since former nuncio Wesolowski has ended all diplomatic activity and its related immunity, he might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him," Lombardi concluded.

This news comes as a senior Catholic official in Australia admitted that the Church has not done enough to end clerical paedophilia in the past – often wrongly choosing to side with priests facing allegations.

"I would see that people sometimes had a greater deal of sympathy for a church person than they should have, and they didn't sufficiently identify the crime that that person had committed for what it was," Archbishop Denis Hart told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne today

"I would have to admit that, with what we've been doing now shows there was too much of a tendency to minimise the seriousness of the matter, and I repudiate that totally," Hart added.

"I would say that these crimes occurred to some degree, and that direct and serious enough action was not taken."

Hart also admitted that letters of apology to victims signed by himself and his predecessor, George Pell, over a period of ten years were prepared by staff and were almost identical, with only the names of victims and offenders changed.

"They are very, very similar at least. Some of them may be identical," he revealed, adding that he didn't know this was "unhelpful" until recently, and had for the past year asked for more information on individual cases to personalise the letters.

However, Hart rejected the notion that abuse is seen as a moral rather than a criminal offence by some Catholic officials, telling the inquiry: "I don't subscribe to that in any way, shape or form."

The Archbishop also insisted that the confessional should maintain confidential, and priests should not be forced to report recollections of abuse, for fear it would deter perpetrators from admitting their crimes.

"They just wouldn't go [to confessional]," Hart explained.

"In the present situation, it may be the last opportunity that an offender has to face the reality of his or her offences, to be led by the priest, either to give themselves up or to report and confront the enormity of their crimes.

"I would see that as a valuable opportunity, because if the person in going to confession has at least shown that amount of good to admit that they've done wrong, well then, if the priest can lead them to the consequences of that, well that would be of benefit," he insisted.

Yesterday the Archbishop defended the way in which the Church has dealt with a wave of sexual abuse allegations in recent years.

"I think the church seeks all along to act according to justice, charity and compassion," he said.

A 2012 Australian police report detailed the suicides of 40 people who had been abused by Catholic priests. Pope Francis has denounced clerical abuse as "intolerable" and "the most terrible and unclean thing imaginable".

In a revealing interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica last month, the Pontiff said his advisors estimated that one in 50 members of clergy were involved in child sex abuse, and – allegedly – noted that it includes "even bishops and cardinals".

"And others, even more numerous, know about it but keep quiet, they punish without saying the reason why," Francis revealed.

However, a Vatican spokesperson later criticised La Repubblica for presenting the Pope's words as an interview without quoting Francis accurately.

In January of this year, a representative of the Church was forced to stand before the UN Committee of the Convention of the Rights of the Child to give account of the measures being taken by the Vatican to tackle sex abuse.

At the hearing, the Vatican admitted it had defrocked almost 850 priests in the past 10 years as a result of abuse allegations.