WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A senior official of Poland's Catholic Church apologized Friday to the victims of pedophile priests, and prosecutors said they have opened a probe into allegations that two Polish priests, including a Vatican envoy, sexually abused boys in the Dominican Republic.
The secretary of the Episcopate, Bishop Wojciech Polak, told a news conference the church is seeking to make amends, including to Dominican victims, and work on prevention of such abuse.
"The victims have been profoundly wronged," Polak said. "It is a very painful situation, and we sympathize with the victims because their trust has been violated."
"Sorry is the least that can be said."
But Polak said any legal responsibility and financial compensation ordered by a court rests with the convicted wrongdoer, not with the church. He was speaking to reporters about allegations in the Dominican Republic and in Poland, where 27 priests have been convicted since 2001.
Polak said the figure was the "tip of an iceberg" because acts of pedophilia are kept secret, and it can take years for the victims to speak out.
Poland has obtained sufficient information from Dominican investigators to open a probe into pedophilia allegations against the two Polish priests, one of whom has diplomatic status, according to Mateusz Matyniuk, a spokesman for the prosecutor general. He gave no names, but Dominican prosecutors have identified them as papal nuncio Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski and the Rev. Wojciech Gil, a parish priest.
The whereabouts of the two men remain unknown to Poland's church, according to Polak.
Dominican Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito has asked Interpol for help in detaining Gil, so he can be judged in the Dominican Republic. The request has not yet reached Polish officials, said Polish police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski.
The Holy See recalled Wesolowski from the Dominican Republic on Aug. 21, and relieved him of his mission as apostolic nuncio after learning of the allegations against him from Dominican church authorities. He is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for alleged sexual abuse, and Vatican's handling of his case will likely test the readiness of the Holy See to take responsibility for the wrongdoing of one of its own.
Dominican prosecutor Bolivar Sanches said he has interviewed seven boys between the ages of 13 and 18 as part of the investigation of Wesolowski, and that three of them work on the streets of Santo Domingo.
Priest Gil was in Poland on vacation when the allegations surfaced in late May, and he hasn't returned to the Dominican Republic, where he led a parish in the mountain town of Juncalito for eight years. He has denied wrongdoing in phone calls to Dominican reporters.
His superior has suspended him from his priestly duties and has ordered him to face the Dominican justice system, according to the Rev. Tadeusz Musz, a spokesman for Gil's order.
The father of one of the alleged victims has claimed that his son was molested by the priest for about three years. A complaint against the 36-year-old priest also alleges he promised two other children that he would take them to the beach and to Europe, if they dressed in thong underwear and appeared in videos and photos.
Polish media reported that Gil brought Dominican altar boys on vacation to Poland several times and lodged them at his mother's house and at the local parish house.