The Holy See has lifted the diplomatic immunity of its representative in Paris under investigation for the alleged sexual abuse of at least four men, the French foreign ministry confirmed Monday.

Driving the news

Mathieu De La Souchere filed a police report earlier this year alleging that the papal nuncio in Paris, Luigi Ventura, groped his buttocks repeatedly in public during an official reception in the Paris Town Hall in January.

Two other men have since come forward and denounced similar aggressions at the hands of Ventura. A fourth man has also made a complaint dating back to 2008, during Ventura’s posting in Canada.

Authorities in Paris have opened a criminal investigation with which the Vatican says Ventura is “fully and voluntarily” cooperating, but the Holy See had until yesterday invoked its representative’s diplomatic freedom from prosecution.

For the record

The news agency AFP reported Monday that a spokesman said the foreign ministry “received confirmation from the Holy See that it had waived (Ventura’s) immunity” in a letter that arrived last week.

For his part, Vatican interim spokesman Alessandro Gisotti confirmed the move, adding that “the Holy See renounces jurisdictional immunity enjoyed by the Apostolic Nuncio in France, Monsignor Luigi Ventura, by virtue of the Vienna Convention of 18 April 1961 on diplomatic relations, for the purposes of criminal proceedings concerning him”.

“This is an extraordinary gesture that confirms the will of the nuncio, expressed from the beginning of the story, to collaborate fully and spontaneously with the French judicial authorities competent in this case. In order to take this decision, the Holy See awaited the conclusion of the preliminary phase of the investigation – of which it had knowledge at the end of June – in which Msgr. Ventura has freely participated”.

What’s next

Visiting Rome last week with his client, De La Souchere’s lawyer announced he would also file a criminal complaint with the Vatican City’s criminal prosecutor, which operates largely under Italian law and is separate from the Church’s internal tribunals.

“This new judicial step here in the Vatican we hope will be one more step toward the trial that all the victims in France are waiting for”, De La Souchere said after a meeting with Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The intrigue

The Vatican’s usual practice is to recall its diplomats involved in criminal proceedings in foreign countries.

Then-Nuncio in the Dominican Republic, Józef Wesołowski, was recalled to Rome in 2013 accused of child abuse and child pornography. In 2017 an official of the Holy See was recalled from Washington accused of similar crimes.

However, the Vatican invoked diplomatic immunity in the case of the head of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Luis Ladaria, accused in France of failing to report a self-confessed pedophile priest to police.

Ladaria was never prosecuted, but French cardinal Philippe Barbarin, of Lyon – accused in the same proceedings – received a six-month suspended prison sentence.

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Pope names administrator to French diocese shaken by cardinal’s cover-up