FILE - In this Jan.4, 2018 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron, left, greets Apostolic Nuncio to France Luigi Ventura during his New Year address to diplomats at the Elysee Palace in Paris. France's foreign ministry says that the Vatican has decided to lift the immunity of its ambassador in France Archbishop Luigi Ventura, who is accused of sexual assault. (Yoan Valat, Pool via AP, File)

France: Vatican lifts accused archbishop's immunity

July 08, 2019 - 1:08 pm

PARIS (AP) — France's Foreign Ministry said Monday the Vatican has decided to lift the diplomatic immunity of its ambassador to France, who is accused of groping and inappropriate touching by about a half-dozen men.

One of the accusers, Mathieu De La Souchere, filed a police report in Paris earlier this year accusing Archbishop Luigi Ventura of touching his buttocks repeatedly during a Jan. 17 reception at Paris City Hall.

The Paris prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into alleged sexual aggression. The Vatican said Ventura was cooperating with the investigation, but De La Souchere said the French case had been essentially stalled over the immunity question.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday that it has "received confirmation from the Holy See of a waiver of immunity" so that Ventura could be properly investigated.

Speaking to The Associated Press Monday, De La Soucher said he was "astonished" at the development.

"I had been told that the fight was lost in advance and happy because we will be entitled to a trial," he said. "Now, a new fight opens: the judicial fight."

Ventura has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. His French lawyer, Bertrand Ollivier, did not respond to requests for comment last week.

The archbishop's whereabouts are unknown, but he attended a meeting at the Vatican last month of all the Holy See's apostolic nuncios, or ambassadors.

Ventura did agree to investigators' request to take part in a "confrontation" with his accusers in May, according to French media reports. All accused him of putting his hands on their buttocks, sometimes repeatedly, or making other inappropriate gestures.

The Vatican invoked immunity during the recently-concluded trial in France that convicted French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of failing to report an admitted pedophile to police. Also accused in the case was a Vatican official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who now heads the Vatican office in charge of handling sex abuse cases.

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Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report

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