A former Catholic archbishop has been admitted into hospital just hours before he was due to stand trial for sexually abusing boys, the Vatican said.

Josef Wesolowski has been placed in intensive care as his trial was to begin on Saturday 11 July.

The 66-year-old is accused of sexually abusing shoeshine boys in the Dominican Republic and possession of child pornography.

If he is found guilty in the trial at the Vatican, he could face up to ten years in prison.

He is the first high-profile church official to face trial after Pope Francis pledged to punish those involved in the sexual abuse of minors and those that systematically cover up the crimes.

Polish-born Wesolowski was recalled to the Vatican by Pope Francis in 2013 after allegations surfaced in an investigative TV programme in the Dominican Republic.

In the programme, Dominican investigative journalist Nuria Piera interviewed men who claimed they were abused by the archbishop.

The programme also showed secretly filmed footage allegedly showing the former papal diplomat, dressed in layman's clothes including a baseball cap, walking along a beachfront known to be used by child prostitutes.

Critics suggest that his swift removal from the Dominican Republic prevented authorities there from pursuing criminal charges against him.

Wesolowski was defrocked at a 'canonical' or religious trial at the Vatican in late 2013 and his criminal trial represents the first instance a high-ranking church official has faced trial.

Anne Barrett Doyle, from bishopaccountability.org which documents sexual abuse within the Catholic church, said: "It's very important that this apparently voracious predator be investigated, arrested and tried.

There were no details immediately available about Wesolowski's medical condition, but the judge is expected to immediately adjourn the case to a later date.

While the case marks the first time a Vatican court will hear child sexual abuse charges against a former Church official, it is not the first time its legal process has been used to hear charges of alleged wrong-doing.

In 2012 the Vatican tribunal drew world-wide attention when it heard a case against Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict's former personal butler, for accusations he leaked secret documents to the press.