French European minister calls on Holy See to revoke nuncio's diplomatic immunity

Archbishop Luigi Ventura then Apostolic Nuncio to Canada speaks at a Mass and Concert held in Ottawa April 2 2009 Credit Bruce MacRae via Flickr CC BY NC SA 20 Archbishop Luigi Ventura, then-Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, speaks at a Mass and Concert held in Ottawa, April 2, 2009. | Bruce MacRae via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

France's European affairs minister encouraged the Holy See last week to aid in an investigation of the apostolic nuncio to France, who has been accused of sexual assault in Paris.

Archbishop Luigi Ventura, 74, is accused of having inappriately touched a young male staffer of Paris City Hall during a Jan. 17 reception for the New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. He is being investigated by Parisian authorities.

Nathalie Loiseau, France's Minister of European Affiars, told French television channel CNews March 1 that "this inquiry needs to be allowed to reach its conclusion, what matters is that the truth be known."

"At this point, [Archbishop Ventura] benefits from diplomatic immunity, but the Holy See is clearly aware of the serious accusations that have been brought against the apostolic nuncio and I don't doubt for a second that the Holy See will do the right thing … I'm waiting for the Holy See to take its responsibilities in hand."

The deputy in the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs added that "if the facts are proven, they are very serious because when you are a religious leader you are supposed to have a moral authority, so I would say that's an aggravating circumstance."

Diplomatic immunity, which allows diplomats in a country to do their work without fear of interference from the host country's laws or lawsuits from the host country, is based in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

The need for the practice has been highlighted by various accusations of spying or other wrongdoing between two countries with strained relationships. But the standard diplomatic protections can be removed by the diplomat's home country, in special circumstances and at the country's discretion.

In recent years, the Holy See's practice has generally been to recall diplomats accused of civil crimes in their host countries. They are then tried by the civil court in the Vatican and by a canonical court, and they may later be stripped of diplomatic immunity so they can also be prosecuted by the host country.

For example, allegations of sexual misconduct arose against the apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic in 2013. The nuncio, Archbishop Józef Wesołowski, resigned later that year.

Wesołowski was found guilty of sexual abuse by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in June 2014, and was subjected to dismissal from the clerical state. Vatican City then decided also to hold a criminal trial for the former diplomat on charges of pedophilic acts and possession of child pornography. Wesołowski died in August 2015 while awaiting his criminal trial.

In August 2014, then-Holy See press officer Fr. Federico Lombari said that Wesołowski may "be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him" in the Dominican Republic, and that he no longer had diplomatic immunity as he had been removed from his post as nuncio.

Lombardi added that the Vatican had "from the very first moments that this case was made known to them, moved without delay and correctly in light of the fact that former nuncio Wesołowski held the position of a diplomatic representative of the Holy See," particularly in recalling the former nuncio to Rome for canonical trial.

Similarly, in April 2018 Vatican police arrested former diplomat Fr. Carlo Alberto Capella, who was being investigation for the violation of laws concerning the possession of child pornography and its distribution or sale.

Capella was recalled from the US Nunciature in September 2017 after the Vatican was informed by the US State Department that there was a "possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images" by a member of the Holy See's diplomatic corps.

The US State Department requested that the Vatican lift Capella's diplomatic immunity, which request was declined. However, information regarding the findings of the US State Department was passed along to the Vatican's Promoter of Justice.

Ventura has served as nuncio to France since 2009.

He was also accused last month of sexual misconduct against an adult male in Canada in 2008.

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Christian Vachon, who was 32 at the time of alleged incident, says Ventura touched his buttocks at least twice during a banquet held at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, near Quebec.

Ventura was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Brescia in 1969. He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1978 and was stationed in Brazil, Bolivia, and the UK. From 1984 to 1995 he was appointed to serve at the Secretariat of State in the Section for Relations with States.

After his episcopal consecration in 1995, Ventura served as nuncio to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chile, and Canada, before his transfer to France.

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