Vatican ex-envoy Wesolowski faces child sex abuse trial

Jozef Wesolowski in a 15 March, 2013 file photo Image copyright AP
Image caption Jozef Wesolowski will go on trial on 11 July

The Vatican is to put its former envoy to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, on trial on child sex abuse and child pornography charges.

Pope Francis has also accepted the resignations of a US archbishop and his deputy, accused in Minnesota of having ignored a priest's child abuse.

Jozef Wesolowski is accused of sexually abusing children in the Dominican Republic from 2008 to 2013. He is under house arrest in the Vatican.

The trial is to begin on 11 July.

Wesolowski, 66, is also charged with possession of child pornography, dating from his return to Rome in 2013.

Analysis: David Willey, BBC News, Rome

Two years into his papacy Pope Francis is making good on his promise promptly to follow up allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up by his bishops.

Two American bishops resigned only days after their diocese was accused by local prosecutors of turning a blind eye to sex crimes against children committed by one of their priests.

Months and even years used to elapse between whistle-blowers denouncing paedophile priests and reaction from the Vatican.

Now Pope Francis acts within days. Jozef Wesolowski, a former archbishop who used to be a Vatican diplomat, is the highest ranking Vatican official ever to stand accused of sex crimes and keeping child pornography on his computer.

Pope Francis has created a special new Vatican tribunal to try bishops accused of covering up sex crimes. But it still remains to be seen how effective this measure will be.

The moves are seen as part of a crackdown by Pope Francis on clerics and employees of the Church who exploit minors.

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

He also strengthened the Vatican's laws against child abuse.

Wesolowski, who is originally from Poland, was recalled from the Dominican Republic in 2013, after allegations surfaced accusing him of abusing Dominican boys.

He had spent five years in the Caribbean country as the papal envoy.

He was defrocked in June last year after he was found guilty by a Church tribunal - he is the highest-ranking church official to be defrocked for such abuse.

He will now be tried by a Vatican criminal court.

A Vatican statement said the IT systems used by Wesolowski would be scrutinised.

He has been under house arrest in the Vatican since September.

The Vatican said at the time of his arrest that he had not been placed in a police cell because of his poor health.

If found guilty, he could face between six and 10 years in prison.

US resignations

The Vatican also accepted the resignations of an archbishop in the United States and his deputy following accusations that their archdiocese covered up the sexual abuse of children.

They are Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Image copyright AP
Image caption John Nienstedt resigned as archbishop on Monday

John Nienstedt said in a statement that his leadership had drawn attention away from the good works of the church but stressed he was leaving "with a clear conscience".

Their resignation comes after prosecutors charged their archdiocese with "turning a blind eye" to repeated reports of inappropriate behaviour by a priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys.

Neither man was named in the indictment.

Prosecutors accuse the archdiocese of failing to respond to "numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct" by Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest currently serving a five-year prison sentence for molesting two boys.

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