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Why the Wesolowski trial belongs at the Vatican

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 03, 2014

Suppose you were arrested and told that you’d be facing criminal charges that could lead to a 12-year prison sentence. Would you say that the police were “sheltering” you? I doubt it.

Yet a Boston Globe editorial complains that the Vatican is sheltering Jozef Wesolowski, the defrocked archbishop and former papal nuncio who now faces criminal prosecution before a Vatican tribunal.

You can argue that the Vatican should have been tougher on abusive bishops in the past, and you’d be right. You could say that in this case, the Vatican should have locked up Wesolowski as soon as he was recalled from his diplomatic assignment in the Dominican Republic, and you’d have a strong case. But now that the Vatican is doing the right thing—now that the accused former prelate is under arrest and will face criminal prosecution, it’s a strange time to register these complaints. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

“Vatican trial for abuse suspect undercuts zero-tolerance goal,” reads the Globe’s headline for the editorial. That’s a confusing statement in itself: Is the editorial suggesting that a criminal trial is a show of tolerance? And the argument that follows confuses the reader still further by Wesolowski case with the trial of Paolo Gabriele, the papal butler, on theft charges. The cases actually have very little in common, aside from the fact that they were (or in Wesolowski’s case, will be) tried before a Vatican tribunal.

But finally the editorial does get to the point. Prosecutors in the Dominican Republic and in Poland both want to try Wesolowski in their courts. The Globe thinks that would be preferable. “Instead, the Vatican has effectively sheltered the former nuncio by summoning him to Rome,” the editors lament.

Well, if Wesolowski had stayed in the Dominican Republic he would have been exempt from prosecution because of his diplomatic immunity. But that’s not the point, really. And he may yet be extradited for face charges in the Dominican Republic, after Vatican prosecutors are finished with him. But that’s not the point either.

The Globe argues that by allowing Wesolowski to be prosecuted in another country, the Vatican would have underlined the message: zero tolerance for abusers. Not so. If, say, the state of Texas hands over an accused burglar for trial in Oklahoma, it is the prosecutor in Oklahoma, not Texas, who will stand up in court and make the case against burglary. The indictment and conviction of Wesolowski in a Dominican court would show that the Dominican Republic shows no tolerance for abusers. If the Vatican wants to demonstrate its zero-tolerance policy, the proper place for the trial is in Vatican City.

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 See full bio.

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  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Mar. 13, 2017 11:41 PM ET USA

    Regarding Bishop Sheen, I disagree with Elizabeth Anderson. ...and of course you do, Brian. This is not worth fighting over. Is the truth of Bishop Sheen's spiritual condition worth the effort the confirmation will provide to assist all of us move closer to Christ? Apparently not, the attachments of this earth either in New York or Peoria or both remain more important. Perhaps if the fight was only about the cause for sainthood; but who gets the body...? Sorry, I just don't get it.