The priest could face up to 12 years imprisonment if found guilty

A member of the Vatican diplomatic corps serving in Washington has been recalled to the Vatican where he is involved in a criminal investigation involving child pornography, the Vatican said.

The Vatican press office said that it was notified on August 21 by the U.S. State Department “of a possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images by a member of the diplomatic corps of the Holy See accredited to Washington.”

“The Holy See, following the practice of sovereign states, recalled the priest in question, who is currently in Vatican City,” the press office said.

The Associated Press reported that the State Department confirmed it had asked the Vatican to lift the official’s diplomatic immunity. It said that request was denied.

The Vatican said the priest’s identity and other details are covered by “investigative confidentiality” during the preliminary investigation stage. The Vatican yearbook lists the nuncio, Archbishop Christoph Pierre, and three priests as making up the diplomatic staff at the Washington nunciature.

After receiving the notification from the State Department, the Vatican said, “the Secretariat of State transmitted this information to the promoter of justice of the Vatican tribunal.” The promoter of justice is the Vatican’s chief prosecutor.

“The promoter of justice opened an investigation and has already commenced international collaboration to obtain elements relative to the case,” the Vatican said.

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said the investigation is concentrated on matters defined as “crimes against children” in the Vatican’s 2013 “Supplementary Norms on Criminal Law Matters.”

Specifically, he said, the investigation is referring to what the law defines as “child pornography,” which “means any representation, by whatever means, of a minor engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities as well as any representation of the sexual parts of a minor for primarily sexual purposes.”

Burke also referred reporters to section 10 of the supplementary norms, which discuss criminal penalties for a person found guilty of producing or selling and trading child pornography; in those cases Vatican law foresees a maximum of 12 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 250,000 euros ($299,000/£220,000).