Two US bishops quit, envoy trial date set in Church sex abuse cases

Two US bishops quit, envoy trial date set in Church sex abuse cases
St Peter's basilica in the Vatican.

VATICAN CITY - The Vatican has accepted the resignation of two US bishops accused of failing to protect minors from a paedophile priest and set a date for the unprecedented trial of a senior cleric for paedophilia.

The two US bishops' resignations follow the 2012 jailing of Minnesota priest Curtis Wehmeyer for the sexual abuse of minors he preyed on during camping trips and possession of child pornography.

Wehmeyer's conviction led to the archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis being charged on June 5 with six counts of failing to protect minors after prosecutors unveiled substantial evidence that senior Church officials failed to act on repeated warnings from parents and others that the priest was a danger to children.

No individuals have been charged but the two clerics who have stepped down, Archbishop John Clayton Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche, were both named in the complaint as having failed to heed the warnings.

A former papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic will be tried for paedophilia next month in the first case of its kind to be brought before a Vatican court.

The first hearing in the trial of Jozef Wesolowski has been scheduled for July 11, 2015.

The Polish former archbishop is accused of possession of child pornography in Rome in 2013-14 and the sexual abuse of minors during his 2008-13 spell as the Church's representative in the Dominican Republic.

Wesolowski was secretly recalled from his posting in 2012 after the Church hierarchy was informed that he was regularly paying young Dominican boys for sexual services.

He was defrocked by a church court in June 2014 but remained at liberty until September 2014, when he was placed under house arrest under an order which the Vatican described as coming directly from Francis.

Possession of child pornography has been a crime under the Vatican city state's penal code since 2013 under a change also initiated by Francis.

In a statement, the Vatican said its prosecutor had worked in collaboration with authorities in the Dominican Republic, who have failed in their attempts to have Wesolowski extradited to face trial there.

"These serious allegations will be scrutinised by the competent judicial body which will be assisted by both technical appraisals of the IT systems used by the defendant and, if necessary, international legal cooperation for the evaluation of testimonial evidence from the competent authorities in Santo Domingo," a Vatican statement said.

"This will be a delicate and detailed procedure, requiring the most careful observations and insights from all parties involved in the trial."

Dominican prosecutors have said they have identified at least four boys as victims of the papal envoy.

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