Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Various news sources are speculating about the case of the former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Josef Wesolowski, who is alleged to have sexually abused children and youth in the country where he served. Much of this speculation, often accompanied by misleading headlines of various articles, is just that, opinion and conjecture. There is not a whole lot of appreciation or analysis of the law of the Church and of nations that applies to this case.
Let’s start with the law of the Church. All things being considered, it appears that the Holy See acted as expeditiously as any sovereign would be obliged to do in reining in its natural person subject, i.e., Josef Wesolowski, through the exercise of the nationality principle (Wesolowski held and used a diplomatic passport of the Holy See). This is not the law of the “Vatican” or the Church or Holy See but the law of nations, i.e., public international law. Along with complementary norms of the Code of Canon Law, this principle of the law of nations would explain Wesolowski’s recall to Rome and the initiation of due process against him—a principle which applies to all sovereigns temporal and spiritual. It is the principle of personal jurisdiction which has led to his dismissal from the clerical state, i.e., his laicization. Some commentators do not understand the significance of this element of the juridical process. As a cleric, I can assure anyone that this is a legal event of profound legal, ecclesiastical, and moral significance. To many non-clerics, it may seem nothing or a mere tap on the wrist. In reality, it is something of momentous significance.
In the further exercise of due process, Wesolowski has appealed the decision resulting in his laicization. Of course, many defendants—be they engaged in civil or criminal proceedings—have the juridical right to appeal most decisions that are unfavorable to them. Mr. Wesolowski has exercised this right as it is the right of any defendant. Due process does not stop with the initial decision in most contested matters, nor does it stop with Wesolowski’s laicization.
Mr. Wesolowski has allegedly committed wrongs against his victims and against his priestly state that has led to his laicization, but he has also committed crimes against the law of the sovereign that issued his nationality as a diplomat. As long as he was a recognized diplomat, he enjoyed diplomatic privileges and immunities against the receiving country, i.e., the Dominican Republic, under public international law. The Holy See is a party (1964) to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) which specifies that diplomats are protected from virtually all law enforcement in the country where they serve. As Article 31 of the Convention states, “A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State.” The Convention does have exceptions to this principal rule, but they do not seem to apply to the Wesolowski case.
If things get complicated for the diplomat because of actions that are covered by Article 31 of the Convention, he or she can be recalled by the sending state (here, the Holy See) or declared persona non grata by the receiving state (here, the Dominican Republic) and expelled. It is not appear that the Dominican Republic expelled Wesolowski, but it is clear that the Holy See recalled him and brought the initial legal action against him in the form of laicization and the removal of his diplomatic immunity.
It must be remembered who and what are protected by the doctrine of diplomatic immunity: it is for the protection of the sending sovereign (the Holy See). While the diplomat can benefit from the protection of diplomatic immunity, the doctrine does not subsist principally for the protection and convenience of the individual diplomat himself or herself. It exists under international law for the sending state which sent the diplomat so as to augment the efficient performance and functioning of diplomatic missions.
The legal doctrine of diplomatic immunity raises further issues about additional due process matters. This is clear from Article 32 of the Convention which posits that, “The immunity from jurisdiction of diplomatic agents… may be waived by the sending State” and the waiver ‘must be express.” But it is the sending State, here the Holy See, that makes this call. As the Holy See has stripped Wesolowski of his diplomatic immunity, it appears that further legal proceedings in the Vatican are pending against him. It would therefore be premature to suggest at this stage that Mr. Wesolowski has escaped justice that includes justice and its due process in the Dominican Republic and his native Poland. As his immunity has been purged, Mr. Wesolowski is subject to additional due process of law by any competent legal authority which has a rightful claim of jurisdiction over him. This could mean the legal authorities of the Holy See and the Vatican City State or the Dominican Republic or his native Poland.
One final point needs to be made now even though many more things can and need to be said about this case. There may be some plaintiffs’ counsel who will see the legal actions taken by the Holy See and the Church against Mr. Wesolowski as presenting an opportunity to sue the Holy See in the courts of the temporal authorities for the wrongs allegedly committed by him. I am confident that the Holy See and the Church will rely on the principles of public international law that have protected other sovereigns from liability from the wrongs perpetrated by their diplomats who committed grave wrongs against the citizens of receiving states and betrayals of the service to which Wesolowski pledged himself on behalf of the Holy See and the Church. Here one cannot dismiss the good will exercised by the Holy See with any competent legal authority concerning the means of redressing the wrongs he allegedly committed. They have apparently caused great wrongs against the people of the Dominican Republic, and they have also caused great offense against the Holy See and the Church, both of which have the legal right to proceed against him. To contend that only the Dominican Republic and her people have been wronged and the Holy See and the Church have not would generate a new injury; but this last injury has redress in the law of nations, too.