SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — The Vatican's recently recalled ambassador to the Dominican Republic has not been accused of child sex abuse, Roman Catholic Church officials said Thursday, while refusing to shed any light on the envoy's sudden ouster.
Amid an outcry in the largely Catholic country, and a newly opened investigation by the attorney general's office, senior church leaders portrayed the removal of Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski as an administrative matter.
"Church authorities are always evaluating on an annual basis every priest. It doesn't necessarily mean it's a criminal matter," said the Rev. Manuel Ruiz, who acted as a spokesman for the Dominican church's leadership at a news conference in the capital.
Pedro Joaquin Dominguez, deputy general secretary of the Dominican bishops' conference, said that there have been no accusations of child sex abuse against Wesolowski, who was the Vatican's representative in the country from 2008 until he was removed Aug. 21.
Ruiz brushed off questions about the reasons for the sudden dismissal: "You will have to ask the pope," he said.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that Wesolowski had been removed from his post and that the church was conducting an investigation of him. He declined to provide any details about the accusations against the Polish-born prelate or to explain why he was so abruptly removed.
Lombardi said Thursday it was clear the allegations were serious enough to warrant the Vatican recalling Wesolowski and relieving him of his duties pending the outcome of the investigation.
He declined to say which branch of the Holy See was conducting the probe: Wesolowski reports to the Secretariat of State, which presumably would conduct an initial investigation and then decide if the accusations warranted further action.
Dominican Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito announced on Wednesday that his office would look into rumors of alleged sexual abuse, which surfaced on a national scale in a local television report that showed Wesolowski walking along the waterfront of the capital and drinking beer by himself.
The leader of a community organization in a small mountain town who was quoted in the broadcast as saying Wesolowski slept in the same room as several altar boys also appeared at the news conference and said his words had been taken out of context. "It's all a lie," Pedro Espinal said of the report.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.