Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito was careful to note that his office is aware only of rumors about the papal nuncio, Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, and has not received any accusations.
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.
A nuncio is the pope’s ambassador to a country and such an abrupt removal is rare.
Dominguez told reporters at a news conference that the investigation was in its initial stages and largely in response to media reports of allegations of sexual misconduct by Wesolowski as well as a friend and fellow priest. He said that he had designated a senior official to lead the investigation and coordinate with the Vatican.
“We will not allow anyone to use the Catholic Church or other religious institutions as a shield to commit illegal acts, especially against children,” he said.
Wesolowski’s sudden departure from the Dominican Republic in recent days has been the cause of feverish speculation in local media. Dominican television network NCDN, citing a statement from the director of a community group, reported that Wesolowski had slept in the same room as several altar boys at his beach house.
Shortly before his removal, several residents of the mountain town of Juncalito made allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Alberto Gil Wojciech, also a Polish priest and a friend of Wesolowski. The community leader, Pedro Espinal, told reporters that Wojciech took altar boys to the home of Wesolowski.
Wojciech was in Poland on vacation when the allegations surfaced and has not returned to the Dominican Republic.
The fact that the Vatican took such a significant move as to recall him and relieve Wesolowski of his duties indicated that the Vatican, at least, found there was enough to the rumors to warrant further investigation.
Pope Francis has instructed the Vatican to continue its tough line against sexually abusive priests, instructing the head of the Vatican office that handles abuse cases to act “decisively” to protect children, help victims and take the necessary measures to punish the guilty.
Francis in July also signed off on legislation criminalizing child sex abuse and other sexual crimes — laws that apply to Vatican employees as well as diplomatic staff.
The whereabouts of the 65-year-old Wesolowski were unknown. He was removed a few weeks ago, Lombardi said, though there was no official announcement of it in the Vatican’s daily bulletin.
A woman who answered the phone at the nuncio’s office in Santo Domingo said no one was available to comment.
Pope Benedict XVI had named Wesolowski to the post in 2008. He had previously served as papal nuncio in Kazakhstan, Tadjikistan, Kyrgzstan and Uzbekistan, and before that, Bolivia.
He was ordained a priest in 1972 and entered into the Vatican’s diplomatic service in 1980, serving in Vatican embassies in Africa, Costa Rica, Japan, Switzerland, India and Denmark, the Catholic news agency Zenit reported when he was named Dominican nuncio in 2008.
In addition to being the Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Wesolowski was also apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico.
Associated Press writer Ezequiel Abiu Lopez reported this story in Santo Domingo and Nicole Winfield reported from Rome.