Pope Francis’s former ambassador to France will face trial on sexual assault charges, following complaints by four men, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.
The trial of Luigi Ventura is due to start on November 10, the prosecutor’s office said on Thursday, a year after the Vatican stripped the Italian-born archbishop of his diplomatic immunity.
“He will attend the hearing to defend his honour and innocence,” Ventura’s lawyer Bertrand Ollivier told the AFP news agency.
Jade Dousselin, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, said the decision to put Ventura on trial was a “victory” for the alleged victims.
The move “validates what we have been saying all along and reinforces the victims in their decision to press their claims so that his impunity would not be allowed to continue”, she said.
An investigation was opened after the Paris municipality alerted prosecutors to a complaint by a young employee that he was repeatedly groped by Ventura, who allegedly caressed his buttocks, at a diplomatic ceremony in January last year.
He was later joined by two other men with similar complaints dating back to 2018, and then by a fourth.
A complaint was also filed in Ottawa by a man who made similar allegations about an incident in 2008, while Ventura was serving in Canada.
Ventura was questioned by French police in July last year and resigned last December when he reached the 75-year age limit for his post.
A career diplomat, Ventura served in Brazil, Bolivia and the United Kingdom before being appointed nuncio, or envoy, to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger, Chile and then Canada.
The Catholic Church has been battling a wave of allegations detailing decades of sexual assault and abuse by clerics, mostly involving minors. Alleged sexual assault complaints by adult men are rare.
Pope Francis has promised to confront criminal offences in the Church’s ranks.
A report in June said at least 3,000 children had fallen victim to sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church since 1950.
In the most recent high-profile case, defrocked Catholic Priest Bernard Preynat was given a five-year jail term in March for sexually abusing boy scouts in his care several decades ago.
But in January, an appeals court overturned the conviction of Preynat’s superior, Lyon’s former archbishop Philippe Barbarin, for not reporting the abuse despite knowing about it for years.