Does the lifting of immunity in France mark a shift in the Vatican’s handling of abuse?

The Holy See has announced it will lift the diplomatic immunity of its ambassador to France, who is accused of inappropriate touching and groping by numerous men.

As a result, the path is cleared for Archbishop Luigi Ventura to be prosecuted by the French authorities over the allegations, with one incident said to have taken place at the Paris town hall at a mayoral address to diplomats.

“This is an extraordinary gesture that confirms the wish of the Nuncio, as he said at the very beginning of this matter, to collaborate fully and voluntarily with the French judicial authorities,” a spokesman for the Vatican explained.

The decision by the Holy See is a remarkable one and marks a significant shift in the Vatican’s approach to such cases.

It indicates an awareness of the damage done by the abuse crisis, and how it is no longer sustainable for the Holy See to use the protection afforded to diplomats when allegations of sexual misconduct arise.

Up until now the Vatican have been reluctant to waive immunity for their diplomats accused of abuse.

In August 2017, the Holy See recalled Mgr Carlo Capella, an official working at the papal embassy to Washington DC after the United States’ authorities notified them that he had viewed child pornography. Both the US and Canada – where is also accused of downloading the offending material – wanted to prosecute Mgr Capella.

After he was recalled, the Vatican put the Italian diplomat on trial in their own courts and sentenced him to five years in prison.

Then there was the case of Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, recalled as papal ambassador Dominican Republic in August 2013 and dismissed from his position. Soon after, the Dominican Republic started an investigation into whether he had sexually abused boys.

Wesolowski was laicised following a canonical trial and died in 2015 of a heart attack while awaiting a Vatican City State trial for possession of child pornography.

The decision to recall diplomats facing prosecution is in line with international law as set out by the Vienna Convention of 1961, and immunity is often claimed by countries such as the United States, even for relatively minor infringements.

It is hard to say definitively whether the Holy See will now operate a blanket policy of lifting immunity when allegations against diplomats are made. Continue reading



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