The Pope’s envoy to France is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault on a male Paris City Hall staffer during an official event last month.
Luigi Ventura, 74, has served as the Papal Nuncio — the pontiff’s diplomatic representative — in Paris since 2009.
He is accused of molesting the man at City Hall on January 17, when the Nuncio attended a New Year’s address to diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures by the mayor, Anne Hidalgo.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said the investigation was opened after City Hall lodged a complaint six days later. Archbishop Ventura is accused of “inappropriately touching” the man, whose identity has not been disclosed.
He was described as a member of City Hall’s General Delegation for International Relations. “The Nuncio repeatedly let his hands wander,” according to a City Hall source.
A source close to the case said: “This is a complicated matter because Archbishop Ventura is a diplomat and he will want to invoke his right to diplomatic immunity from prosecution.”
Archbishop Ventura declined to comment.
A Vatican spokesman said: “The Holy See is waiting for [the] investigation’s conclusion.” The spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti, said the Vatican had learned about the investigation from media reports.
The archbishop was born in Borgosatollo, northern Italy, in 1944, and began working for the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1978, nearly 10 years after he was ordained a priest.
Before being posted in Paris, he served in Brazil, Bolivia and the UK until 1984.
He was then appointed to the Section for Relations with States at the Vatican Secretariat of State until 1995, later serving as Nuncio in Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger. In 1999 he was named Papal Nuncio to Chile, and Canada in 2001.
Roman Catholics in France have been shocked by allegations of child sexual abuse by priests and the archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, is on trial on charges of helping to cover it up.
A verdict is due on March 7. Bernard Preynat, a French priest involved in the scandal, has been trying to block the release of a film about child abuse by priests by the acclaimed director, François Ozon, best known for ‘Swimming Pool’ starring Charlotte Rampling.
The film has premiered in Berlin and is due for release in France on Wednesday. A new book, due to be published next week, claims that about 80 per cent of priests at the Vatican are homosexual.
The book, In the Closet of the Vatican, by a French author and journalist, Frédéric Martel, is based on 1,500 interviews with priests, cardinals, Vatican ambassadors, seminarians and members of the Swiss Guard, the Pope’s private army.
Mr Martel claims that some gay priests are in relationships while others frequent male prostitutes. Some are in denial while others are gay but celibate.
The book will be published on the opening day of a big conference at the Vatican on preventing the sexual abuse of children and minors by clergy.
The conference will be attended by bishops and archbishops from around the world – specifically, the 130 presidents of national bishops’ conferences. Campaign groups and survivors of sex abuse by priests are sceptical that the three-day event will achieve anything concrete.