The Vatican has said that its disgraced former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, has died of apparent natural causes.

A statement from the Vatican said Jozef Wesolowski was found dead in his Vatican room early on Friday, where he had been under house arrest. The Vatican prosecutor ordered an immediate autopsy.

The Polish-born Wesolowski was due to go on trial on July 11 at a Vatican tribunal on charges of abuse and possession of child pornography. However, the hearing was postponed after he was taken ill.

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Wesolowski would have been the first high-ranking church official to be tried on paedophile charges. The case was seen to be a test of the Vatican's pledge to stamp out abuse.

Wesolowski had been expelled under canon law procedures but was facing a jail sentence if convicted in the Vatican’s civil tribunal.

Wesolowski was charged with paying for sex with and abusing children in the Dominican Republican between 2008 and 2013.

He was also charged with possession of child pornography, dating from as recently as his return to Rome in 2013.

Last year, Pope Francis likened the actions of individuals who commit such crimes to a "satanic mass".

The charges have been part of a crackdown by Pope Francis on clerics and employees of the Church who exploit minors.

Source: Agencies