French court convicts former Vatican envoy of sexual assault

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

Archbishop Luigi Ventura, who served as Papal Nuncio in France until December 2019, was given an eight-month suspended sentence by a court in Paris on Wednesday for the assaults that took place between 2018 and 2019.

One of the victims, an employee of the City of Paris tasked with welcoming the clergyman to the Mayor’s New Year’s speech in 2019, said the archbishop had touched him in a “penetrating and repeated” way.

The 76-year-old archbishop was sentenced in absentia. The court had accepted a note from his doctor stating that he was not allowed to travel from Rome to Paris during the current phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Holy See news agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An attempt to reach the Archbishop through the Vatican was unsuccessful.

In July 2019, the Vatican took the unusual step of revoking the archbishop’s diplomatic immunity from prosecution, in line with his wishes to “fully and spontaneously cooperate 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 the high-ranking members of the Catholic hierarchy accused of sexual misconduct with adults in recent years, adding an extra dimension to the long-running Church crisis over the Church’s abuse of children.

In June, the Pope reinstated his longtime protégé, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, to a high-level Vatican job, despite being accused of sexual harassment in his native Argentina. Bishop Zanchetta has denied the wrongdoing.

Last month, a Vatican report showed that Pope Francis and his two immediate predecessors had failed to punish American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for years for sexual misconduct. St. John Paul II appointed Mr. McCarrick Archbishop of Washington, DC in 2000, even after being warned that he was accused of sharing his bed with adult seminarians and pedophilia.

Under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican urged Mr. McCarrick urged to step down as Archbishop of Washington and asked him to remain unobtrusive, but did not submit him to ecclesiastical process. Pope Francis followed the lead of his predecessors and assumed the charges were dismissed, the report said. In 2019, Mr. McCarrick became the first cardinal in modern times to be dismissed from the priesthood after being found guilty of underage sexual abuse and sexual misconduct with adults in a church trial. Mr. McCarrick denied wrongdoing.

Write to Francis X. Rocca at [email protected] and Noemie Bisserbe at [email protected]

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