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Diplomatic Immunity of a Papal Diplomat

Updated on July 5, 2014
The Pope
The Pope | Source

Problems with diplomatic immunity

It is not all that easy to put on of your own representatives on trial. Most countries have laws that protect representatives of other countries and official bodies. The so called Diplomatic Immunity implies that diplomats cannot be arrested or tried for crimes committed in the country they work in. The rules are needed in most cases so that diplomats can freely perform their duties.

Of course there are problems with the diplomatic immunity rules. Parking tickets stuck to the windscreen of diplomatic cars often remain there for some days, so that police officers will not put more than one on. They will not be paid anyway. In the larger cities with a strong diplomatic representation, like New York, The Hague or Brussels there is a tacit understanding that one ticket is enough.

The rules concerning diplomatic immunity are set forth in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and 167 countries in the world have agreed to abide by these laws.
The Vatican is a country as well, and represents the largest religious community on earth, the Roman Catholic Church. The Head of State of the Vatican is an elected official, called The Pope. Reelection after four years is not needed in The Vatican as the position of Pope usually is a life long job. The present Pope Francis enjoys a good health and is expected to stay in the position for a long time still.

One of the problems the Roman Catholic Church is facing at the moment is child abuse by priests. Many have been found guilty, if not by a court of law, by public opinion. The Roman Catholic Church has tried its best to avoid getting involved in court cases against accused priest and other representatives of the church.


The Vatican as a country has the right to send envoys to other countries, just like any country does. These envoys are not called ambassadors, although that is in fact what they are, but Nuncio.

The former Nuncio of the Holy See, as the government of the Vatican is called, in the Dominican Republic; Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski has been accused of sexually abusing minors in the country he worked in. He has been tried, just a few days ago in the Vatican. Tried and found guilty according to Canon Law. Canon Law includes the rules and regulations that govern the Church, as opposed to the country, The Vatican. As punishment for his misbehavior he may not call himself a priest anymore and may not perform priestly duties, he has been laicized.

He will still face legal procedings as the crimes he committed are also against the laws of the Vatican as a country. But will he in fact be punished in accordance with the crimes? In other words, how many years of imprisonment will he get in a Vatican Court? History has shown a strong reluctance of the Vatican in cases against accused priests, to mete out severe punishment. Often the only punishment would be a forced transfer to another town or village.

It is clear that this will not be possible with this ex priest. But I am convinced the punishment will be low for the crimes committed.
So why can the country where the crimes were committed not put Mr. Wesolowski on trial? As a diplomat he enjoyed Diplomatic Immunity so he cannot be tried for crimes committed in the Dominican Republic. In fact he left the country before the diplomatic immunity could be lifted.

Is it possible to lift diplomatic immunity?

Diplomatic immunity can be lifted, but only in very rare cases has that in fact been done. The lifting of diplomatic immunity can only be done by the home country, in this case The Vatican. Yes, Mr Wesolowski is one of the 200 and some citizens of the Vatican. The Vatican has not lifted the immunity when informed about the accusations, giving Mr. Wesolowski the opportunity to flee the country as a diplomat. He could not be arrested or tried.

Jozef Wesolowski may face a prison sentence in the Vatican, or maybe in Rome as the prison system in the Vatican is not used that often. The birth country of Mr Wesolowski, Poland, would like to see him in a courtroom as well, no doubt for giving the country a bad name, as well as for the crimes he possibly committed before he became a diplomat of the Holy See. He has no diplomatic immunity there, but he does have the means to stay away from Poland for a long time. But after his sentence he will be a free man again.

He may be declared a Persona Non Grata in Poland, as he holds the Vatican Nationality this would be possible, it is almost certain he will not be welcome again in the Dominican Republic, unless he comes back to face trial here. His future looks tied to the Vatican, without any official function or job to do. A cheap apartment within the walls of the Vatican and very little travel will be the future of Mr. Wesolowski. Other priests and bishops who meet him in Rome, will see him, the most visible bad apple of the moment, and will cross the street.

Diplomatic Immunity may prevent the adequate punishment of Mr. Wesolowski, the Vatican may not be willing to severely punish Mr. Wesolowski, public opinion and the opinion of his peers will certainly ruin the rest of his life, he will not be a happy man.
And if it is true what they, the Roman Catholics, say, he will not go to heaven and live in bliss for all eternity.


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