Could Vatican culture finally be changing?
A Vatican prosecutor on Monday ordered the trial of a former Roman Catholic archbishop accused of paying for sex with children while he was a papal ambassador in the Dominican Republic and of possessing child pornographic material.
Jozef Wesolowski, a Pole who had been defrocked by a Vatican tribunal, last year became the first person to be arrested inside the Vatican on paedophilia charges.
A statement said the trial, the first on paedophilia charges to be held inside the Vatican City, would start on July 11.
Wesolowski was the Vatican ambassador to Santo Domingo, when local police found that he was procuring underage male prostitutes. Vatican investigators then found child pornography on his computer.
Wesolowski, 66, who was appointed the Vatican's envoy to the Dominican Republic in 2008, was first accused of sexually abusing children by a local TV program in 2013. He allegedly trolled the beachfront near his home, picking up underage prostitutes.
After being brought back to Rome, investigators found pornography on his computer, the Vatican's statement said.
He was defrocked in a church tribunal and temporarily placed under house arrest.
Whether this was reflective of Pope Francis's more ambitious crack-down on abusive priests or an attempt to hijack the process from Dominican authorities remains to be seen, but for today, I'm going to view this as one of a number of hopeful signs.
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.
As the editorial board of the National Catholic Reporter points out, this is, at least a real shift in tone.
Never before has the language describing the mishandling of these cases by bishops been so strong.
It has been slow in coming and the steps taken are incremental, but there is little doubt that the Catholic church has entered a new phase in the decadeslong crisis and scandal of clergy sexually abusing children. For the first time, there is clear evidence that the people's cry for justice and action has reached the pope and his closest advisers. For the first time, there is clear evidence that bishops who perpetuated and extended this scandal by covering up, dismissing or ignoring abuse are going to be held accountable
. . .
A tribunal will be appointed to judge bishops for these abuses of episcopal office, and a new section with permanent personnel within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to handle these cases will be established. The person in charge will be a secretary of the congregation reporting directly to the prefect of the congregation. Most important, Francis has "authorized that sufficient resources will be provided for this purpose."
There's a lot I like about Pope Francis and couple of things I really don't, but as I said here, the sex abuse issue is where the rubber meets the road. He's finally kicked this thing into gear. Now we'll see how far he's willing to drive.