Vatican re­calls priest amid child porn in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Philippine Star - - WORLD -

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A high-ranking priest work­ing in the Vatican’s em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton has been re­called af­ter US pros­e­cu­tors asked for him to be charged there and face trial in a child pornog­ra­phy in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Vatican and US of­fi­cials said Fri­day.

The diplo­mat was sus­pected of pos­sess­ing, but not pro­duc­ing or dis­sem­i­nat­ing, child pornog­ra­phy in­clud­ing im­ages of pre­pubescent chil­dren, a US source fa­mil­iar with the case said. The source was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The Vatican de­clined to iden­tify the priest, but said he was cur­rently in Vatican City and that Vatican pros­e­cu­tors had launched their own probe and sought ev­i­dence from the US.

If the ac­cu­sa­tions pan out, the case would be a ma­jor em­bar­rass­ment for the Vatican and Pope Fran­cis, who has pledged “zero tol­er­ance’’ for sex­ual abuse.

The diplo­mat would be the sec­ond from the Vatican’s diplo­matic corps to face pos­si­ble crim­i­nal charges for such crimes dur­ing Fran­cis’ pa­pacy. And any trial in the Vatican would come as Fran­cis’ own fi­nan­cial czar, Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell, is on trial in his na­tive Aus­tralia for al­leged his­toric sex abuse cases.

The State De­part­ment said it had asked the Vatican to lift the of­fi­cial’s diplo­matic im­mu­nity on Aug. 21, and said the re­quest was de­nied three days later. For the State De­part­ment to make such a re­quest, its lawyers would have needed to be con­vinced that there was rea­son­able cause for crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion.

The cir­cum­stances that prompted pros­e­cu­tors to make the re­quest, how­ever, weren’t clear. The Jus­tice De­part­ment, which would have brought charges, didn’t im­me­di­ately com­ment, and the Vatican gave no de­tails about what, if any, ev­i­dence had been pro­vided to per­suade it to re­call the priest.

In a state­ment, the Vatican said the State De­part­ment had no­ti­fied the Vatican on Aug. 21 of a “pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tion of laws re­lat­ing to child pornog­ra­phy im­ages’’ by one of its di­plo­mats in Wash­ing­ton.

A US of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the case said the priest was a se­nior mem­ber of the Vatican em­bassy staff. The Vatican year­book lists three coun­selors who work un­der the nun­cio, or am­bas­sador.

Priests who are di­plo­mats in the Vatican’s Wash­ing­ton em­bassy usu­ally re­ceive au­tho­riza­tion from the arch­dio­cese of Wash­ing­ton to pre­side at mass or per­form other clergy func­tions in lo­cal parishes, although they only do so on very lim­ited oc­ca­sions, a spokesman for the arch­dio­cese said.

Un­der the US bish­ops’ child pro­tec­tion pol­icy, lo­cal church of­fi­cials must re­view al­le­ga­tions of child porn pos­ses­sion against their priests. How­ever, the re­quire­ments in the diplo­mat’s case are un­clear. The Arch­dio­cese of Wash­ing­ton doesn’t know the name of the ac­cused priest, the spokesman said.

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