PARIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - Archbishop Luigi Ventura, a Vatican diplomat, has been found guilty of sexual assault and given a suspended sentence of eight months in prison. In November, prosecutors demanded 10 months of conditional confinement for Ventura, who served as apostolic nuncio to Paris from 2009–2019. The disgraced Churchman was alleged to have "placed his hands on the buttocks" of four young men.
A Paris court issued the sentence on Wednesday. Under French law, the maximum sentence for sexual assault is five years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine. The prelate will pay between 2,000–6,000 euros in fines and court costs. Ventura's legal counsel, attorney Solange Doumic, told the court that the sentence is "radically disproportionate" to the alleged crimes. Claiming that the trial was painful for Ventura. Doumic added that she was not certain if she will appeal the case.
In early 2019, prosecutors in Paris launched a probe into allegations of sexual assault made against Ventura, who was also titular archbishop of Equilio. According to documents presented to a court, a worker at the Paris City Council had made allegations against Ventura. An investigation began on Jan. 24, 2019, after Mathieu De La Souchère — a 30-year-old male employee — accused the 76-year-old diplomat of groping him several times during a ceremony at the city hall.
According to a report in Le Figaro newspaper, Patrick Klugman of the Paris mayor's office said, "There was an incident during a New Year's ceremony for diplomatic authorities, and we quickly made the decision to bring it up to the prosecution."
Agence France-Presse reported that a staffer at the mayor's office said that during the ceremony, "a municipal agent repeatedly suffered, on three occasions, sexual touching and rather bold groping of the buttocks, once in front of a witness." Soon afterward, two other men accused the Vatican diplomat of similar incidents of sexual assault committed in 2018.
A fourth man filed a complaint thereafter. One of the accusers was Mahe Thouvenel, a former seminarian who claimed that Ventura repeatedly grabbed him when they celebrated Mass together in December 2018. After Thouvenel filed a police report, the seminary dismissed him, according to media reports.
On Nov. 10, Ventura faced a trial in absentia, having presented a physician's report that it was too dangerous for him to travel from Rome to Paris to face the court because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the region. During court proceedings, Thouvenel described the sexual assault, saying, "It's violent ... It sticks in your memory." During questioning, Ventura explained away the incidents by claiming that his "friendly greetings" sprang from his "faulty vision" and "Latin temperament" that had "no sexual connotations."
Archbishop Ventura was ordained to the priesthood in 1960 for the diocese of Brescia, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. In 1978, he began working for the diplomatic service of the Holy See and studied at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. He holds a licentiate in canon law and a doctorate in modern literature. Before being posted to France, he served as apostolic nuncio in Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chile. Church Militant could not find any reports of allegations of sexual misdeeds that Ventura may have committed while at those diplomatic posts.
In July 2020, erstwhile director of the Holy See press office Alessandro Gisotti told the media the Vatican had agreed to relinquish diplomatic immunity in Ventura's case. Diplomatic immunity was formulated to allow accredited diplomats safe passage and to hold them free of lawsuits and criminal cases under host countries' law, barring certain exceptions.
"I can confirm that the Holy See relinquishes jurisdictional immunity granted to the apostolic nuncio to France, Msgr. Luigi Ventura, as per the Vienna Convention of April 18, 1961 on diplomatic relations, in view of the criminal proceedings he is facing," said Gisotti at a Vatican press conference.
This is the first time in modern history that immunity has been lifted for a Vatican diplomat to France. "This extraordinary gesture is the will of the nuncio, expressed from the beginning of the trial, to cooperate fully and spontaneously with French judicial authorities ruling in the case," added Gisotti.
Just one year ago, on Dec. 17, Pope Francis confirmed Ventura's resignation. This came just eight days after Ventura had offered the resignation prescribed for bishops when reaching the age of 75. December 17 is also the birthday of Francis, who just turned 84.
In Europe, as elsewhere, there has been considerable speculation over a supposed homosexual cabal or "lavender mafia" among clerics. This has sparked confusion among Catholic laity seeking an appropriate response by the Church to the LGBTQ agenda, which has so far successfully argued for homosexual "marriage" and recognition of the "rights" of various perverse sexualities. In Spain, for example, the archdiocese of Madrid recently proclaimed its outreach to male and female homosexuals as distinct classes of persons.
In France, leftist Libération newspaper reported that several Catholic priests spoke approvingly of Pope Francis' apparent endorsement of homosexual civil unions last month that was recorded in a video documentary titled Francesco. Libération quoted Fr. 'Norbert' of the Nanterre district of Paris: "For me, the pope's statement is a relief."
Referring to the pontiff's statement, 'Norbert' said, "I am happy," adding, "I realize that within the Vatican, there are forces, including bishops and archbishops, who go against the current pope."
The report also quoted Fr. 'Luc,' who officiates in the Hauts-de-Seine district of Paris: "The pope listens to social changes, and the Church is invited to reread his teaching."
In Latvia, apparently echoing the pope's sentiments, Primate Abp. Zbigņevs Stankevičs told parliament regarding the official recognition of homosexual unions: "We must reject all ideologies and create a real legal framework that protects all members of society."
Currently, Latvia's constitution defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman, even while several LGBTQ organizations have sought to eliminate the constitutional provision.
Stankevičs said, according to AFP, "We are not questioning the concept of traditional family, but rather we are talking about protection mechanisms for these relationships, which include people of the same sex and escape the definition of homosexual marriage."