The Vatican says it is co-operating with prosecutors in the Dominican Republic who are investigating its ambassador for alleged sexual abuse of teenage boys, in an explosive case that has raised legal questions about the Holy See's responsibilities when accused priests come from within its own ranks.
Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi denied the Vatican was trying to shield Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski by recalling him to Rome before Dominican prosecutors had announced their investigation.
Archbishop Wesolowski is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for alleged sex abuse.
The Holy See recalled the archbishop on August 21 and relieved him of his job as apostolic nuncio after the archbishop of Santo Domingo, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez, told Pope Francis about the allegations in July.
Dominican prosecutors announced their investigation last week, largely in response to media reports of allegations of sexual misconduct by Archbishop Wesolowski, 65, as well as a friend and fellow Polish priest, who is also outside the country.
Prosecutor Bolivar Sanchez has said he has interviewed seven boys between 13 and 18 and has described some of their allegations as coherent. Three of them work on the streets of the capital of Santo Domingo while the remaining four live elsewhere. Local news reports have said some of the youths shine shoes.
The archbishop's case has raised questions about whether the Vatican, by removing him from Dominican jurisdiction, had effectively placed its own church investigation ahead of that of authorities in the Caribbean nation.
In a statement Mr Lombardi said: "The recall of the ambassador is by no means an effort to avoid taking responsibility for what might possibly be verified." He said the Vatican in early September had told the Dominican ambassador to the Holy See that it would co-operate with Dominican authorities with whatever they might need.
The Vatican's own rules for conducting sex abuse investigations under church law calls for co-operation with civil authorities and reporting of abuse allegations to police where such laws require it. Those norms were crafted in the wake of the explosion of sex abuse cases in 2010, where thousands of people came forward in Europe, South America and elsewhere detailing abuse by priests who were never reported to police even though their bishops knew they were paedophiles.
Attorney general Francisco Dominguez Brito has said if the government finds any concrete evidence against Archbishop Wesolowski, it would seek his extradition. He noted, however, that the Dominican Republic had no extradition agreement with the Vatican. As a Vatican ambassador, Archbishop Wesolowski would enjoy diplomatic immunity, but it is unclear if the Vatican would invoke it in this case.