Vatican’s former France envoy on trial for sexual assault

(File photo) Apostolic Nuncio Luigi Ventura (L) shakes hands with French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve during the inauguration of Notre-Dame of Creteil Cathedral in Creteil on September 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP)


PARIS, France (AFP) — Pope Francis’s former envoy to France, Luigi Ventura, goes on trial in Paris on Tuesday for sexual assault following complaints by five men who accused him of groping them during public ceremonies.

The allegations against the 75-year-old Italian-born archbishop caused deep embarrassment for the Vatican, coming in the midst of a slew of revelations about clerical sex abuse that have rocked the Catholic Church.

Ventura was stripped of his diplomatic immunity last year so that he could be put on trial — a first in the history of the Holy See.

He will not attend the start of the proceedings on Tuesday afternoon due to ill health, his lawyer told AFP.

It was Paris city hall that first reported the cleric to the police after a 28-year-old official from the its international relations team accused Ventura of touching his buttocks three times during a New Year’s ceremony in January 2019.

Four other men later came forward with similar allegations against Ventura relating to public events in France between January 2018 and February 2019.

They include a senior foreign ministry official and a seminarian who accused the bishop of groping him during a mass.

Ventura, who had been stationed in Paris since 2009, resigned in December after reaching the 75-year age limit for the job

He was the pope’s envoy to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chile and Canada before being appointed the Vatican’s representative in France.

His lawyer Solange Doumic had earlier told AFP that he was “waiting impatiently for the trial so that he can explain himself, that all light be shed (on the allegations) and his innocence be proven.”

But on Tuesday she said his doctor had advised him against travelling to France from Rome.

Sexual assault carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros in France.

Doumic claimed that it was Ventura himself who had asked to have his diplomatic immunity removed “in order to be able to explain himself before the courts”.

But lawyers for his accusers, who have joined the criminal case as civil plaintiffs, said that they fought hard to have his immunity quashed.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by a wave of allegations detailing decades of sexual abuse by clerics around the world, mostly involving minors.

Pope Francis has announced a policy of zero tolerance towards offenders.

© Agence France-Presse