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Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 2:59pm
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNN) - — The pope has pulled out the Vatican's ambassador to the Dominican Republic, a move a local church representative says is linked to child abuse allegations.
The Vatican confirmed Wednesday that Jozef Wesolowski was removed from his post and that an investigation is under way, but did not say what allegations were made.
Wesolowski had been an apostolic nuncio, the Vatican's official representative in the Dominican Republic.
But he was recalled last month after an internal church report connected him with child abuse and pedophilia, according to Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado, the rector of a Catholic university and spokesman for the church in the country.
The Vatican has opened an investigation, Nunez said.
"It is a situation that really shames and hurts the conscience of all Catholics," he told reporters. "Really when there are these kinds of situations, justice must be done."
The Dominican Republic's attorney general's office said an investigation of Wesolowski is under way.
The former nuncio's whereabouts were unclear Wednesday and he could not be reached by CNN en Español for comment.
The situation goes beyond the authority of Dominican church officials, Nunez said, because Wesolowski was the Vatican's envoy there.
"It was a surprise for me. It is an unprecedented case," Nunez said. "An ambassador of the Holy See, that it reaches that level."
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi confirmed Wesolowski's removal and that "an investigation is ongoing regarding the accusations moved toward him."
The church's sexual abuse guidelines allow local dioceses to make the initial decisions on the removal of accused priests. Papal nuncios, however, are appointed and supervised by the Vatican.
Before he was elected pope, Francis said that he supports a "zero tolerance" approach to clergy sexual abuse.
In 2012, when Francis was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, he said that when he was asked for advice by another bishop, "I told him to take away the priests' licenses, not to allow them to exercise the priesthood any more, and to begin a canonical trial in that diocese's court."
For years, the Catholic Church has faced calls for reform in the wake of scandals involving the sexual abuse of children by priests and allegations of corruption.
Shortly after his election to the papacy, Francis told a senior Vatican official to "act decisively" against sexual abuse and carry out "due proceedings against the guilty."
In July, the pope made it a crime to abuse children sexually or physically on Vatican grounds. The acts were already crimes under church law, but are now specifically outlawed within the Vatican city-state, which is home to hundreds of people.
CNN's Hada Messia and Daniel Burke and journalist Livia Borghese contributed to this report.