Vatican Recalls Priest From D.C. Diplomatic Mission, Launches Child Porn Probe | KERA News

Vatican Recalls Priest From D.C. Diplomatic Mission, Launches Child Porn Probe

Sep 15, 2017

The Vatican says it has recalled a priest from its diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C., and launched an investigation into allegations of child pornography.

The priest, who has not been named, is currently in Vatican City, according to a statement from the Vatican. It says the U.S. State Department informed Vatican officials on August 21 "of a possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images by a member of the diplomatic corps of the Holy See accredited to Washington."

The Holy See is party to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Immunity, which grants immunity from prosecution to diplomats in foreign countries. A State Department spokesperson tells NPR that the U.S. formally requested that the Vatican's diplomatic mission waive that immunity, which it denied.

The Vatican says it has now launched its own investigation into the issue, and has "already commenced international collaboration to obtain elements relative to the case." It emphasizes that the content of the probe is "subject to investigative confidentiality."

Pope Francis has said he has a policy of "zero tolerance" for abusive priests, and he has established a tribunal specifically for bishops who do not report priests accused of sexual abuse.

In 2013, Vatican law specifically criminalized producing, disseminating, selling or possessing child pornography.

Possession of child porn "is punished with up to two years imprisonment and a fine from 1,500 to 10,000 euro," with the possibility of higher penalties for large quantities of porn, according to the criminal code.

According to Catholic News Service, when discussing the case, Vatican press office director Greg Burke pointed reporters to a portion of the law with a range of child porn penalties, the most severe involving 12 years in prison and a fine of up to 250,000 euro.

The news service adds: "The Vatican yearbook lists the nuncio, Archbishop Christoph Pierre, and three priests — an Indian and two Italians — as making up the diplomatic staff at the Washington nunciature," another term for the Vatican's diplomatic mission.

There was another high-profile Vatican diplomatic recall over similar issues – when former Polish Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski was recalled from his position in the Dominican Republic in 2013 over accusations of paying for sex with children and possessing child pornography, NPR's Scott Neuman reported.

Wesolowski was defrocked. The Vatican delayed the opening of his criminal trial because of his health. A month later, he was found dead in his home. And as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reported, he had been the "first person arrested in the Vatican on charges of pedophilia."

The Associated Press reports that Pope Francis has a "spotty record on handling sex abuse cases." Here's more:

"He won praise from advocates of survivors of abuse for having established a commission of experts to advise the church on keeping pedophiles out of the priesthood and protecting children. But the commission has floundered after losing the two members who themselves were survivors of abuse."

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