Vatican police have arrested a priest on suspicions of possessing child pornography, according to Catholic church officials. The priest had worked as a diplomat in the United States before being recalled last year by the Holy See.
If charges against Italian Monsignor Carlo Alberto Capella go to trial, it would be the first time a Vatican City courtroom has addressed a child pornography case.
The arrest came amid investigations in both the United States and Canada, in addition to the Vatican. A 2013 Vatican law penalizes anyone who “distributes, disseminates, transmits, imports, exports, offers or sells child pornography.” If convicted, Capella could face up to 12 years in prison, according to Reuters.
Capella was being held in a cell in the gendarmerie barracks in the Vatican on Saturday, according to a statement from the Holy See press office.
Capella had worked as a diplomat since 2004 in India, Hong Kong and the United States, according to the BBC. The Vatican announced last August that it was recalling a diplomat from the United States. Officials did not identify him at the time, but the Italian news agency ANSA did.
The recall followed a notification from the U.S. State Department about Capella’s “possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images.” American officials asked that Capella’s diplomatic immunity be waived then so he could be prosecuted in the United States. The Vatican refused, The Washington Post reported at the time, but launched an investigation of its own.
Soon after, police in Ontario announced they had issued an arrest warrant for Capella for allegedly uploading child abuse images from a social network platform during a visit to a “place of worship” in Canada in late 2016.
The last child pornography case in the Vatican involved Polish Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who faced charges of paying boys for sexual acts and downloading child pornography while he was the Vatican’s ambassador in the Dominican Republic. He was recalled to the Vatican and arrested, but he died in 2015 at age 67 before his trial began.
Capella’s arrest follows an uproar earlier this year after Pope Francis angrily defended Chilean Bishop Juan Barros during a trip to South America. Sexual abuse victims had accused Barros of not only failing to report assaults by Rev. Fernando Karadima, but also of being present when abuse occurred. The pope later reopened an investigation into Barros.