Criminal trial for defrocked archbishop: Vatican ratchets up intensity on abuse

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 24, 2014

For Pope Benedict the first major test was Father Marcial Maciel. For Pope Francis it is the former papal nuncio (and former archbishop), Josef Wesolowski. Both Pontiffs passed the first test.

Father Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ, was still riding high in Rome in 2005. Protected by influential patrons—most notably the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano—he had successfully dodged several investigations, and the doors of the apostolic palace were open to him. But those doors quickly closed when Pope Benedict was elected, and within weeks a new, more aggressive inquiry was underway. The rest is history: Maciel was removed from power, removed from ministry, and died in disgrace.

Now under Pope Francis, the Wesolowski case has ratcheted up the intensity of the drive against corruption. Not merely an influential priest, Wesolowski was an archbishop, protected by diplomatic immunity. But notice the past tense: he had the dignity of an archbishop; he had diplomatic immunity. After a canonical trial stripped him of his clerical status, he had neither. Now, in a proceeding of the sort that Rome has not seen in generations, the former archbishop will be tried in a Vatican court as a common criminal.

You can argue that the Vatican was slow to react to the sex-abuse crisis, and you’d be right. You can argue that the Vatican still has work to do, to hold prelates accountable for their behavior. Right again. But if you argue that the Vatican isn’t taking the issue seriously, you’ve missed the messages of the last ten years.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: shrink - Sep. 24, 2014 6:02 PM ET USA

    An excellent start: put the perps (the principals) behind bars. Now, for the next step, let's see the accomplices and the accessories prosecuted—which, as I think about it, will probably need to wait for the next papacy or two.