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Defrocked Archbishop Dies Awaiting Trial On Sex Abuse Charges

Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, the Vatican's ambassador to the Dominican Republic, offers mass in Santo Domingo in August 3, 2009. The former archbishop and papal ambassador died Friday at the Vatican awaiting trial on child sex offences.

Former Polish Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski — the highest-ranking church official to be caught up in the clergy sex abuse scandal — has died at age 67, a month after his Vatican trial was delayed due to his health.

Wesolowski was found dead at his Vatican residence on Friday, the Holy See said in a statement. Catholic News Service (CNS) quotes officials from the Vatican police as saying that the initial assessment was that the death is from natural causes. An autopsy is scheduled to verify the report.

Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedettini said Wesolowski's body was found early Friday by a priest who lives in the building.

The Guardian describes the death of Wesolowski as "a significant blow to Pope Francis's efforts to tackle child sex abuse within the Catholic church."

In an unprecedented move last year, Wesolowski was placed under house arrest in the Vatican for allegedly paying for sex with children during his tenure as the papal ambassador to Dominican Republic. The National Catholic Reporter says he was also accused of possessing child pornography.

He was recalled to Rome from his post as the Vatican's chief diplomat in Santo Domingo in August 2013 and defrocked in June of last year.

The Reporter says:

"The Vatican later publicly acknowledged his removal, but came under criticism when the former diplomat was spotted walking freely around Rome. While Wesolowski was later said to be under house arrest at a Vatican apartment, reports as recent as this month indicated he had been essentially free to roam the city-state.

"His case also ignited a global debate over which of three countries — the Dominican Republic, Poland, or the Vatican — would have jurisdiction to try the diplomat. Poland originally sought Wesolowski's extradition, which was refused by Vatican authorities."

According to CNS:

"Wesolowski was to be the first person to be tried by a Vatican criminal court on sex abuse charges. The first session of the trial had been scheduled for July 11, but was postponed when he was taken to the hospital the day before after suffering 'a collapse,' Father Benedettini said. He remained in the hospital until July 17.

"The Vatican court had not announced a date for the continuation of the trial ..."

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