The Holy See has announced it has revoked the diplomatic immunity of the apostolic nuncio to France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, clearing the way for the diplomat to face criminal charges in that country.
In a July 8 statement, interim head of Vatican communications Alessandro Gisotti confirmed that the archbishop’s immunity had been waived.
“I can confirm that the Holy See renounces jurisdictional immunity enjoyed by the Apostolic Nuncio in France, Msgr. Luigi Ventura, by virtue of the Vienna Convention of 18 April 1961 on diplomatic relations, for the purposes of criminal proceedings concerning him,” Gisotti said.
Ventura, 74, is accused of having inappropriately touched a young male staffer of Paris City Hall during a Jan. 17 reception for the New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. That accusation has been under investigation by Parisian authorities for several months.
In March France’s Minister of European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, called on the Vatican to waive immunity and allow the inquiry to reach a conclusion.
“At this point, [Ventura] benefits from diplomatic immunity, but the Holy See is clearly aware of the serious accusations that have been brought against the apostolic nuncio and I don’t doubt for a second that the Holy See will do the right thing,” Loiseau said at the time.
On Monday, Gisotti confirmed that the decision had been communicated to French authorities last week, calling the move “an extraordinary gesture.” Gisotti also confirmed that the Ventura had agreed “to collaborate fully and spontaneously with the French judicial authorities,” and that he has freely participated in the preliminary phase of the investigation.
Ventura has served as nuncio to France since 2009. The statement from the Vatican did not make clear if he would formally remain in post during the remaining phases of the investigation or any subsequent trial.
After the initial allegation was made against in Ventura in March, he faced a second accusation of sexual misconduct against an adult male relating to his time in Canada in 2008.
Christian Vachon, who was 32 at the time of the alleged incident, claims Ventura touched his buttocks at least twice during a banquet held at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, near Quebec.
Diplomatic immunity, which allows diplomats in a country to do their work without fear of interference from the host country’s laws or lawsuits from the host country, is covered by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.
The standard diplomatic protections can be removed by the diplomat’s home country, in special circumstances and at the country’s discretion.
In recent years, the Holy See’s practice has generally been to recall diplomats accused of civil crimes in their host countries. Once back in Vatican City, they are tried both civilly and canonically, and may later be stripped of diplomatic immunity so they can also be prosecuted by the host country.
In April 2018, Vatican police arrested former diplomat Msgr. Carlo Alberto Capella, who faced charges related to child pornography in both the United States and Canada, where he had served in diplomatic posts for the Holy See.
Capella was recalled from the Washington Nunciature in September 2017 after the Vatican was informed by the US State Department that there was a “possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images” by a member of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps.
The Holy See declined a State Department request to wave immunity in Capella’s case. However, information regarding the findings of the US State Department was passed along to the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice. Following a 2018 Vatican civil trial, during which he admitted viewing child pornography, Capella was sentenced to five years in prison. A subsequent canonical trial, currently underway, may result in his dismissal from the clerical state.
Ventura was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Brescia in 1969. He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1978 and has served in Brazil, Bolivia, and the United Kingdom. From 1984 to 1995 he worked at the Secretariat of State’s Section for Relations with States.
After his episcopal consecration in 1995, Ventura served as nuncio to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chile, and Canada, before his transfer to France.