Minister urges Vatican to aide French investigation into papal envoy

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s European affairs minister suggested on Friday that the Vatican should lift the diplomatic immunity granted to its papal envoy in France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, who is under investigation after accusations of sexual molestation.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets Apostolic Nuncio to France Luigi Ventura (R) as he presents his New Year wishes to members of the diplomatic corps at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, January 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yoan Valat/Pool -/File Photo

French prosecutors opened an investigation in January after a junior official at Paris City Hall accused Ventura, 74, of molestation. Authorities have been unable to question Ventura because of the diplomatic immunity he enjoys as papal nuncio, equivalent to ambassador.

The Vatican has said that it is aware of the investigation and is awaiting the outcome of the inquiry. Ventura has not commented on the allegations, and his office in Paris declined to comment on Friday on the allegations.

Speaking to France’s CNews, European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau said it was incumbent on the Vatican to do what it could to allow French prosecutors to pursue their enquiries, saying the goal should be to establish the truth.

“At this point, (Archbishop 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.

“This inquiry needs to be allowed to reach its conclusion, what matters is that the truth be known,” she said, adding that Ventura enjoyed the presumption of innocence. “I’m waiting for the Holy See to take its responsibilities in hand.”

The Catholic Church worldwide, including senior church figures, is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse which have deeply damaged confidence in the Church in the United States, Chile, Australia, Ireland and elsewhere.

In Ventura’s case, a City Hall official told Reuters the archbishop was suspected of having touched the buttocks of the male staffer during the mayor’s New Year address.

Since the first allegations were made, at least one other man has come forward to make a formal complaint against Ventura alleging similar behavior.

Ventura has not commented on any of the allegations. A Vatican spokesman said on Feb. 15 the “Holy See will await the outcome of the enquiry.”

Last month, Pope Francis held a landmark conference at the Vatican to discuss sexual abuse of minors amongst the clergy. He vowed that the Roman Catholic Church would “spare no effort” to bring abusers to justice and would not cover up or underestimate the levels of abuse.

Reporting by Simon Carraud; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Peter Graff