French Court Convicts Former Vatican Envoy of Sexual Assault

Wall Street Journal

December 16, 2020

By Francis X. Rocca and Noemie Bisserbe

Archbishop Luigi Ventura is one of several prominent Catholic churchmen accused of sexual misconduct in recent years

A former Vatican envoy to France was found guilty of sexually assaulting five men, in the latest case of such misconduct by a senior Catholic Church official.

Archbishop Luigi Ventura, who served as papal nuncio to France until December 2019, received a suspended eight-month prison sentence from a court in Paris Wednesday for the assaults, which occurred between 2018 and 2019.

One of the victims, an employee of the city of Paris who was tasked with welcoming the cleric at the mayor’s New Year address in 2019, said the archbishop had groped him in an “insistent and repeated” manner.

The 76-year-old archbishop was convicted in absentia. The court had accepted a note from his doctor saying that he shouldn’t travel from Rome to Paris during the current phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Holy See Press Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. An attempt to reach the archbishop through the Vatican wasn’t successful.

In July 2019, the Vatican took the unusual step of withdrawing the archbishop’s diplomatic immunity to prosecution, in accordance with what it said were his wishes, to “collaborate fully and spontaneously with the French judicial authorities.” This summer, the Vatican spokesman said Archbishop Ventura reaffirmed his innocence.

Archbishop Ventura, a longtime Vatican diplomat, is one of several senior members of the Catholic hierarchy accused of sexual misconduct with adults in recent years, adding another dimension to the church’s long-running crisis over the clerical abuse of children.

In June, the pope reinstated his longtime protégé Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta in a high-level Vatican job, even though he is facing charges of sexual harassment in his native Argentina. Bishop Zanchetta has denied wrongdoing.

Last month, a Vatican report showed that Pope Francis and his two immediate predecessors had failed for years to discipline U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for sexual misconduct. St. John Paul II appointed Mr. McCarrick as archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2000, even after being warned that he had been accused of sharing his bed with adult seminarians and of pedophilia.

Under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican pressed Mr. McCarrick to resign as archbishop of Washington and asked him to keep a low profile, but didn’t subject him to a church trial. Pope Francis followed the lead of his predecessors and assumed that the allegations had been rejected, the report said. In 2019, Mr. McCarrick became the first cardinal in modern times to be dismissed from the priesthood after a church trial found him guilty of sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct with adults. Mr. McCarrick denied wrongdoing.

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