VATICAN CITY — Josef Wesolowski died too soon. The 67-year-old former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, whose undeniable crimes of child-sex abuse ran the gamut from victimizing shoeshine boys in Santo Domingo to hoarding more than 100,000 files with child pornography inside Vatican City, died in his private room in a Vatican City palazzo overnight.
An autopsy was ordered to confirm his cause of death, which was said to be from natural causes. No foul play is suspected, according to a Vatican statement no doubt meant to stifle conspiracy theorists. It read simply: "Vatican authorities quickly carried out the first investigation and have established that the death was caused by natural causes.”
Wesolowski, from Poland, who was defrocked for his heinous sins last year, was easily the poster priest of bad behavior and his shocking case was meant to prove that the Church was finally doing something to stop the vile sins of some of its clergy. His was to be the first ever sex-abuse trial held inside the Holy See in front of a new Vatican Tribunal endorsed by Pope Francis himself. The idea was that if the Vatican could convict one of their elite, then it would surely prove to naysayers that the days of rampant cover-ups were over.
In 2013, Wesolowski was whisked to Vatican City before officials in the Dominican Republic could arrest him. When he arrived, the attorney general of Warsaw filed an immediate order for his extradition, hoping his nationality would outweigh his clerical status, but the request was immediately denied by the Roman Curia.
“Archbishop Wesolowski is a citizen of the Vatican, and Vatican law does not allow for his extradition,” it said.
His trial officially opened on July 11, but he didn’t show up and was instead rushed to the hospital with an unnamed illness, which raised eyebrows, especially when he was released from the hospital a week later. No date to reconvene the trial had been officially set, and victims’ groups kept up their steady drumbeat to keep the case alive.
Even though he was defrocked, he maintained his Vatican passport and lived in a private apartment in the same building that houses the Vatican prison, though he was not in custody because of compromised health.
Earlier this week, rumors flew that Wesolowski was free to wander the lush grounds inside Vatican City after Church spokesman Ciro Benedettini told the BBC he was not in closed custody.
“Monsignor Wesołowski is not confined to his room. He can walk around the Vatican, around its 40 hectares [100 acres].”
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Bishop Accountability, sent out a press release on August 24 questioning just what happened to the Polish priest meant to be the example of the Vatican’s good will towards victims of priestly abuse.
“If he is free but being monitored, officials should explain the details of the monitoring system, recognizing that the record of the abuse crisis includes many tragic failures of monitoring arrangements that seemed fail-proof on paper,” Doyle said in her statement. “Much is at stake here, from the safety of children to the credibility of Pope Francis’s celebrated pledge that no bishops will be treated as ‘daddy’s boys’ on his watch.”
Now that Wesolowski is dead, the Vatican will surely have to find another case to publicly try in order to test the tribunal and prove their transparency, which, given the sheer scope of the sex-abuse scandal, shouldn’t be that hard to find.
Correction 8/28/15 11:01 AM: A previous version of this article referred to Anne Barrett Doyle as the co-director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).