Vatican paedophilia suspect died of heart problems: Autopsy

Josef Wesolowski participating in a mass in a file photo.
Josef Wesolowski participating in a mass in a file photo.EPA

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Initial autopsy results indicate that a former Polish archbishop who would have been the first high-ranking Catholic Church official to go on trial for paedophilia died of natural causes linked to heart problems, the Vatican said Saturday.

Jozef Wesolowski, 67, died on Thursday night, bringing a sudden end to the first trial of its kind initiated by the Vatican against a church official.

The trial was postponed last month when the disgraced cleric was hospitalised on July 10, the eve of the opening of proceedings.

Wesolowski had been charged with possessing a vast collection of child pornography as well as sexually abusing minors during his 2008-13 stint as the Vatican nuncio, or ambassador, in the Dominican Republic.

The Vatican's prosecutor ordered a post-mortem after Wesolowski was found dead in the Vatican building where he had been held under house arrest since last September.

A Polish nun found Wesolowski dead at dawn on Friday with the television on, according to Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

A panel of three experts, led by Professor Giovanni Arcudi, a forensic pathologist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, carried out the autopsy on Friday afternoon.

Their initial findings indicate "death by natural causes, attributed to a cardiac event," the Vatican said.

"In the coming days, the prosecutor's office will receive the subsequent results from routine laboratory tests carried out by the commission," it added in a statement.

Wesolowski was known to have had depression and other health problems. When he was hospitalised last month, the Vatican said he was suffering from low blood pressure, but Italian media reported that he had taken a cocktail of alcohol and medication, possibly in a suicide attempt.

Wesolowski had been secretly recalled from his posting in the Dominican Republic in 2012 after the church hierarchy was informed that he had regularly paid young Dominican boys for sexual services.

Wesolowski was defrocked by a church court in June 2014. He was placed under house arrest in September that year following a decision to pursue criminal charges against him.

Both moves were personally ordered by Pope Francis, according to Vatican officials.

The Vatican's deputy spokesman Ciro Benedettini said Wesolowski's funeral would be held at 5pm on Monday in the chapel of the Vatican City State's governorate.

The service will be led by Polish archbishop Konrad Krajewski. The ceremony will be open to worshippers but there is a ban on photography and filming.

Benedettini said Wesolowski's body would be transported to Poland according to his family's wishes, probably the day after the funeral.