Ex-nuncio to France given suspended 8-month prison sentence

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).

A Paris criminal court on Wednesday gave a former nuncio to France an suspended 8-month prison sentence for sexual assault.

The court found Archbishop Luigi Ventura guilty of placing his hands on the buttocks of five men while conducting his public diplomatic duties. 

He was ordered to pay 13,000 euros ($15,800) to four of the men and 9,000 euros ($10,900) in legal costs, reported AFP.

Ventura’s lawyer, Solange Doumic, told the French newspaper Le Figaro that the Italian archbishop was considering an appeal.

Ventura was absent for the trial, which took place Nov. 10. A doctor said it was too dangerous for the 76-year-old Ventura, who is living in Rome, to travel to Paris while the coronavirus was surging in France. He was not present for the verdict.

Doumic had argued last month that the accusations against her client were minor and had been exaggerated to become “the trial of the Vatican, of hidden homosexuality at the Vatican.”

She said that Ventura touched the hips or backs of the men, but the gestures lasted only a few seconds and were never sexual in intention. She also said that he may not have realized they would be considered inappropriate. She added that after Ventura was operated on for a brain tumor in 2016 he has had some behavioral problems.

Prosecutor Alexis Bouroz asked for a 10-month suspended jail term for Ventura. In France, sexual assault can be punished by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 75,000 euros (about $88,600).

The archbishop was first accused in early 2019 of inappropriately touching a staffer at a Jan. 17, 2019, reception for the New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. The accusation was then investigated by Parisian authorities for several months.

In February 2019, a second employee of the City of Paris filed a complaint against Ventura, concerning an incident in January 2018.

Two further complaints were lodged with the authorities, one relating to a reception at a luxury hotel in Paris and another, by a seminarian, connected to a Mass, both of which took place in December 2018. 

Le Figaro reported that a fifth man, a civil servant, reported an incident without lodging a complaint.

The Vatican revoked Ventura’s diplomatic immunity in July 2019, paving the way for a trial in French courts.

He resigned as nuncio to France in December 2019 at the age of 75, having served in the post for 10 years.

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 U.K. 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. He was appointed apostolic nuncio to France in September 2009.

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