Monday, February 29, 2016

When Hollywood Pales....

I haven’t seen the film Spotlight, which last night won a surprising victory as Best Picture at the Oscars, but I can’t help thinking that there is a better, more amazing story yet to be presented.

The story of Jozef Wesolowski has been told endlessly in this blog, and I had vowed never, never to tell it again. Why? Because it was threatening my mental health, as well as driving any possible readers on to the next screen. For it seemed at the time that nobody had grasped the full story.  Even The New York Times, which covered the story, forgot to mention that Wesolowski was Papal Nuncio to the Dominican Republic, yes, but also to Puerto Rico. And he was no stranger to Puerto Rico, since he was embroiled in a controversy with the Archbishop of San Juan. So he made frequent trips to the island, and stayed in the neighboring diocese of Arecibo.

There’s not much doubt that Wesolowski was a pedophile: the Vatican defrocked him, releasing him from all his vows except—hold your seat here—chastity! Then they set out to try him in a criminal trial in the Vatican, after declaring that they would not extradite him to the Dominican Republic.

So yes, he was a pedophile, and his crimes were committed—as far as we know—in the Dominican Republic. But what of his travels to Puerto Rico? The press reported that there were some 100,000 pornographic images of boys having sex on his PC and on the laptop he used for travel. So were there any Puerto Rican boys in that laptop? And if so, hadn’t Wesolowski committed crimes on American soil?

Of course, the point was that he was neither on Dominican nor Puerto Rican / American soil. He was in the Vatican, and a fellow Pole, Alberto Gil, was in Poland. Gil was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison for sexual abuse of minors. But how, and under what circumstances, had they left the Dominican Republic?

One Mexican ex-priest, Alberto Athié Gallo, claimed that Wesolowski had fled the country with false documents. Whether true or not, there is no doubt about other events, such as how the Vatican had come to learn of Wesolowski / Gil.

Given the scope of Wesolowski activities—he was frequently seen drinking beer, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap on the malecón in Santo Domingo—many people must have known or at least suspected what was going on. And one priest, Padre Manuel Ruiz, alerted the archbishop of Santo Domingo, Nicolás de Jesús. What did the archbishop do? In his own words….

El Padre Manuel Ruiz fue la primera persona que me informó sobre algunas conductas del ex-Nuncio reñidas con las normas de la iglesia y con posibles implicaciones penales. Por lo delicado del caso le di instrucciones precisas para que a la mayor brevedad posible recabara las informaciones que me sirvieran como base para elaborar el informe que en su momento presenté personalmente al Papa Francisco.

(Rough translation: Father Manuel Ruiz was the first person who informed me of some actions of the ex-nuncio contrary to the norms of the church and with possible penal implication. Because of the delicacy of the case, I gave precise instructions to compile the information as quickly as possible so that it would serve as a base for the report that I later presented personally to Pope Francis.)

It was, in short, business as usual. Despite all the talk about new reforms and revised policy, a pederast priest was transferred and protected. Or rather, they tried to protect him, since the official line immediately after his departure was that Wesolowski had been recalled as an administrative matter. And who made that statement? Padre Ruiz, who knew perfectly well that Wesolowski had been yanked for quite altogether different reasons.

In fact, one person, Monsignor Agripino Núñez Collado, came out and made the statement publically; the spokesperson for the church said that he was unauthorized to speak.

Things proceeded slowly, as they tend to in the Vatican. And so Wesolowski was free to roam around the Vatican, until there was sufficient protest; he was finally placed under house arrest.

He had been “laicized,” which is to say defrocked. Now, he was to face trial in the Vatican on criminal charges. At this point, the story turns seriously strange: on the night before the first day of the trial, Wesolowski was taken to the ICU for an “unexpected illness.” He was released several days later.

To go from ICU back to home in such a short time raises suspicions: had there been a serious health matter, wouldn’t the hospital have held him longer, submitted him to further testing, monitored him? Yes, unless there was nothing to monitor. Which might have been the case, if Wesolowski had overdosed on something, had been treated, and then released.

We’ll likely never know, although it is curious that only a few months later, in August of 2015, Wesolowski was found dead in his easy chair in front of the television. The Vatican came out and said that his death was likely due to “natural causes,” and promised that the results of the autopsy would be released in the course of time.

In fact, it took several more months before the Vatican announced the results, and guess what? Yes, the death was entirely natural: Wesolowski had died of cardiac arrest.

Nobody, of course, could dispute that: we all die of cardiac arrest. Put bluntly, the heart stops beating when we die. The question is what caused the arrest.

I had followed the story, I had written the story, and I knew, I felt, as much as anyone about the story. There was the curious side story of the Deacon Francisco Javier Occi Reyes, who was Wesolwski’s “lover,” and who admitted to procuring a boy for Wesolowski. Reyes is currently a prisoner in San Pedro de Macorís.

Yes, it had obsessed me, but to delve any further might unhinge me. The bad guys had won; neither truth nor justice had prevailed. The cavalry, if there was one, had stayed contently on the other side of the hill. It was time to turn away, look elsewhere, and move on.

And I would have, if I hadn’t forgotten to erase Wesolowski from my Google Alerts. So occasionally an unrelated Wesolowski crops up in my email, and I learn that some Wesolowski somewhere has made a winning goal or a multimillion-dollar deal. So I was only slightly surprised to get the alert on Saturday. The story, however, is a shocker. Here’s the headline:


And here’s the second paragraph:

Catholic priest Manuel Ruiz charged five prominent journalists with slander stemming from the sexual abuse scandals caused by the late bishop Jozef Wesolowski and priest Wojciech Waldemar Gil (Padre Alberto).

And in fact, padre Manuel Ruiz—the very man who had reported Wesolowski’s conduct to the archbishop—has tried three times to bring charges of slander in previous trials. Not one has succeeded.

And one wonders, what could possibly be said about Wesolowski that isn’t already a matter of record? The facts are as clear as his death was mysterious.

It was, said the archbishop of Santo Domingo, a “delicate” matter that the archbishop charged Ruiz with uncovering. But in fact it wasn’t, or at least I suspect it wasn’t. Because this was sex between a 60-year old man and teenage boys. Some of them were paid, some of them were plied with alcohol, but all of them were used and abused.

“Used and abused,” I wrote, because what do I know of what actually happened? Only what happened to me, when I had my first sexual experience with a man.

He was my aunt’s husband; I was 17. Technically, it was statutory rape, but isn’t that a bit absurd, since I was three months shy of my 18th birthday? For years, I discounted that there had been any abuse at all. I dismissed that the obvious power difference—he was a very skillful seducer, as I later found—had made any difference. I went on to have long-term relationships with no apparent harm done.

What do I remember? Well, there was the fear of being found out: we were having sex in a public park. There was the feeling of my hip rocking against an underground rock. There was the heat: it was August, and the night had brought no cooling relief. There were mosquitos, who buzzed in my ear.

These are, in fact, very real things, as are the specific practices that I remember, and that I spare you. But if I withhold them, don’t imagine that I don’t remember them, and that they are not as vivid, and as much remembered, as rocks and mosquitos.

And so there may be young men in however many countries who smell vodka on a man’s breath, and that triggers the memory of a man in a baseball cap and sunglasses strolling the malecón of Santo Domingo. A man who offers a few pesos to a kid to do some things behind the gigantic statue of Montesinos.

I won’t put words in their mouths; I won’t claim that they are scarred for life, victims of intolerable abuse. They may, in fact, be convinced that they were doing what they had to do. They were living on the streets, and if that man in the baseball cap wanted to pay to…well, wasn’t that what they had to do?

Yes and no. But can’t we at least call whatever it is, and whatever it was, anything but, well…