Caution tape is seen near the front of the Vatican Embassy, Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See, in Washington, DC on September 15, 2017.
AFP PHOTO

A priest serving as an envoy in Washington has been recalled by the Vatican and an investigation opened by US officials who asked the church to lift his diplomatic immunity.

The Vatican said on Friday that US officials complained in August “of a possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images by a member of the diplomatic corps of the Holy See.”

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In Washington, a State Department official confirmed to AFP that the diplomat in question had been allowed to leave the United States because he enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution.

“The United States formally requested that the Nunciature waive diplomatic immunity for the individual, but the Nunciature declined to do so,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

Neither the church nor US officials named the priest — one of four assigned to the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican embassy in Washington — but the Vatican said an investigation is underway.

International collaboration

According to the Vatican press service, “efforts had been made through international collaboration to obtain elements relative to the case,” suggesting that Rome is seeking evidence from US officials.

But with the investigation at a preliminary stage, the case is subject to confidentiality, the Vatican said.

The State Department referred questions about the investigation to the Vatican, and US officials made it clear that they expect church authorities to take the matter seriously.

“The United States condemns the abuse and exploitation of children wherever it exists, and we offer sincere condolences to victims,” the official said.

The official noted that Pope Francis has vowed to “act decisively with regard to cases of sexual abuse” — after decades of scandals that have dogged the Catholic Church around the globe.