Vatican hailed for lifting apostolic nuncio's immunity
By Nicolas Senèze
July 10, 2019
Victims applaud the Vatican for its 'historic decision' to allow the pope's representative in France to be tried for alleged abuse
The Vatican has officially waived the diplomatic immunity of the Apostolic Nuncio in France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, allowing him to appear before a civil court where six complainants have accused him of sexual assault.
This decision, unprecedented in the history of modern Vatican diplomacy, was communicated last week to the French authorities by the Secretariat of State of the Vatican.
Even before that, according to our information, two victims met a key figure in Rome: Father Hans Zollner, President of the Centre for the Protection of Minors of the Pontifical Gregorian University, a specialist in cases of sexual abuse in the Church.
Six people accuse the nuncio
"This is an extraordinary measure that confirms the willingness expressed by the nuncio himself from the outset of this case to cooperate fully and spontaneously with France's judicial authorities," explains Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican Press Office, who recalls the willingness expressed by the Vatican, from the outset of the case, to await the conclusions of the investigation.
This case, which has been highly embarrassing for the Holy See, broke out last February after Paris City Hall informed the public prosecutor's office that Mathieu de la Souchère, a young executive in its foreign relations department, had claimed to be the victim of repeated touching by the nuncio during a new year reception at which Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, addressed diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures.
The nuncio was there as dean of the diplomatic corps.
The Vatican was also informed of other facts concerning the nuncio by victims who did not wish to file a complaint with the French courts.
Don't be offended by 'tactile' nuncio
Other complainants subsequently came to light and in total, six people are now accusing Archbishop Ventura of similar offences.
In addition to employees of Paris City Hall, they also include a diplomat from the Quai d'Orsay and a seminarian who was asked by his Ile-de-France seminary not to return next September following his complaint against the nuncio.
The young man, who was 18 years old at the time of the events he related, would not, however, be the only French seminarian to have had a falling-out with Archbishop Ventura.
"When he went to visit the seminaries, he asked his secretary to get the telephone numbers of some seminarians whom he then invited to the nunciature," said de la Souchère.
"One of them was warned that the nuncio was 'tactile' but that he should not be offended.
The public prosecutor may refer the case to the court.
de la Souchère's lawyer, Antoinette Fréty, describes it as "a relationship of abuse of power."
"Just because it's men who are being assaulted doesn't mean it should be minimized," she warns.
"These are premeditated acts against victims of different ages, always of [legal] age, but in a vulnerable state shocked by the situation in which they find themselves."
At the end of May, during a confrontation with the complainants, the nuncio denied all the facts of which he is accused. His accusers' lawyers were not, however, given the opportunity to question him.
The case had since been blocked, due to the archbishop's diplomatic immunity. In March, the Paris prosecutor's office used diplomatic channels to request the Holy See to lift it.
In concrete terms, the Vatican's decision will allow the Paris prosecutor to continue with his proceedings. He can now choose either to close the case or to refer it to a criminal court, which will have to rule on the possible guilt of the nuncio.
'Thanks to the pope we can be heard'
Assuming that the trial takes place before the retirement of Archbishop Ventura – he will turn 75 on Dec. 9 - any sentence can only be enforceable if the Holy See agrees to extraordinarily waive the immunity from sentencing that his representative in France still retains.
For the victims, who last week were considering a complaint to the Vatican courts, this lifting of immunity is unexpected news.
Contacted by La Croix, their lawyers did not hide their satisfaction at knowing that a trial can take place in France, "where the courts are certainly better equipped to judge this type of case," says Edmond-Claude Fréty, another lawyer for the complainants.
"I would like to thank the pope," de la Souchère said.
"Thanks to him, we will be able to be heard and have the right to a fair trial. This historic decision goes beyond the simple walls of the Church. It is a message of hope for all the victims."