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High-ranking priest linked to child abuse images recalled from Holy See's US embassy

The US state department said it had asked the Vatican to lift the official's diplomatic immunity on August 21, but the request was denied

A high-ranking Vatican priest working in the Holy See's embassy in Washington has been recalled after US prosecutors asked for him to be charged in an investigation into images of child abuse, officials said.

The Vatican declined to identify the diplomat, but said he was back in Vatican City and that Vatican prosecutors had launched their own probe.

The US state department said it had asked the Vatican to lift the official's diplomatic immunity on August 21, but the request was denied.

For the state department to make such a request, its lawyers would have needed to be convinced there was reasonable cause for criminal prosecution.

The Vatican said the state department had notified officials on August 21 of a "possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images" by one of its diplomats in Washington.

A US official said the priest was a senior member of the Vatican embassy staff. The Vatican year-book lists three counsellors who work under the nuncio, or ambassador.

The Vatican said recalling the priest was consistent with diplomatic practice of sovereign states. In declining to identify him, officials said the case was subject to confidentiality while still under investigation.

The Vatican has recalled envoys before, including its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who was recalled in 2013 after being accused of sexually abusing young boys on the Caribbean island.

The Vatican justified its decision to remove Monsignor Jozef Wesolowski from Dominican jurisdiction by submitting him first to a canonical court at the Vatican, and then putting him on trial in the Vatican's criminal court, which has jurisdiction over the Holy See's diplomatic corps.

Wesolowski was defrocked by the church court, but he died before the criminal trial started.

Dominican prosecutors initially baulked at the recall, and they never filed charges because of his immunity.

The Vatican does not have extradition treaties.

After he was defrocked, Wesolowski lost his diplomatic immunity and the Vatican said he could be tried by other courts. However, it refused to provide Dominican authorities with information about his whereabouts or how he had pleaded to the charges.

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