The Vatican is stepping in to investigate the recent removal of a Catholic archbishop in the Dominican Republic over allegations of child sex abuse.
Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez told reporters late Tuesday that Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski will be investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that deals with abuse allegations.
"This is an extremely serious issue, very serious, the most serious of its kind for the Holy See," Lopez said.
It is believed to be the first known sex abuse investigation against a high-ranking Vatican official in recent times, though former Vatican officials have also been accused after they left Rome.
Lopez said he personally traveled to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis to talk about the allegations involving the 65-year-old Wesolowski.
"I compiled some reports. There were confidential reports, but obviously I have no evidence for those," he said. "It's up to the Holy See to investigate."
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, previously said the church was investigating Wesolowski, but gave no details, and Dominican church officials denied they involved allegations of child sex abuse.
Lopez's comments come shortly after Dominican prosecutor Bolivar Sanchez said he has interviewed seven boys between 13 and 18 years old as part of the investigation. He said three of them work on the streets of the capital of Santo Domingo while the remaining four live elsewhere. Local news media have said some of the youths shine shoes.
Sanchez declined further comment except to qualify some of the teens' allegations as coherent.
Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito said if the government finds any concrete evidence against Wesolowski, it would seek his extradition. He noted, however, that the Dominican Republic has no extradition agreement with the Vatican.
Wesolowski was removed on Aug. 21 after serving as the Vatican's representative in the Dominican Republic since 2008. His whereabouts are unclear.
Dominican prosecutors launched their investigation last week, largely in response to local media reports of allegations of sexual misconduct by Wesolowski as well as a friend and fellow Polish priest, who is also outside the country.
After Wesolowski was removed, Lopez said he didn't know what prompted that action and suggested it might have been a result of a personal conflict with Puerto Rico Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves.
Wesolowski had also served as apostolic delegate to the U.S. territory.
Gonzalez's spokesman, Samuel Soto, said he did not have any immediate comment on Lopez's remarks or the ongoing investigation.
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 Bolivia.
He was ordained a priest in 1972 and entered 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.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.