Jun 15, 2019
FAITH AND CULTURE CORRESPONDENT”luigi ventura
ROME – More people have come forward to accuse Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the papal representative to France, of inappropriate behavior and groping. The Vatican diplomat currently is entrenched in a scandal after three men accused him of the same behavior earlier this year.
“We spoke with the Nuncio and he kept putting his hands on our legs while speaking with us, especially to the youngest priest who was with me,” said one alleged victim in a phone interview with Crux June 13.
The meeting took place in 2018 at the Vatican’s embassy in Paris. The man was accompanied by two people, who at first thought that Ventura’s behavior “could have been normal” and even “paternal.”
However, when the time came to take a picture, the nuncio’s intentions became clear.
“I took my mobile phone, to see what the perfect angle was to take the picture. He came behind me as if to look at how the picture was. That’s when he put his hands on my buttocks for about five seconds,” said the man, who wishes to remain anonymous.
“I was so shocked I couldn’t react,” he added.
An Italian, Ventura was appointed as a papal representative to France in September 2009 by emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
The incident at the nunciature is similar to that described by Paris City Hall employee Mathieu de La Souchère, 27, who was the first to come forward accusing Ventura of inappropriate touching during a January 2019 New Year’s Eve event.
“When Monsignor Ventura’s car arrived, I came to pick him up and he started saying that I looked very beautiful, that he thought I was a very handsome man and he kept groping me,” De La Souchère told Crux in a June 12 phone interview.
“He did so with insistence, it wasn’t something nice. He was very determinate,” he said, adding that the event to him qualified as sexual abuse.
De La Souchère claims to have been groped on the buttocks three times by Ventura. The first time when he greeted the nuncio at his car, the second while going up the elevator and the third time as he accompanied the bishop toward the mayor’s office, where – being the veteran diplomat – he was supposed to initiate the celebrations.
The last time, there were four eyewitnesses who work at Paris City Hall who claim to have seen the groping take place.
“He was groping. There was no doubt about that,” one of the eyewitnesses told Crux, “we could not believe it.”
The young man immediately reported the events to his boss, the director of international relations who in turn spoke to the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. Ventura was subsequently banned from any event at Paris City Hall and French authorities asked the Vatican to remove the nuncio’s diplomatic immunity.
Others have since come forward denouncing the nuncio’s behavior. According to French newspaper Le Monde, community manager Benjamin G. claims to have been groped in January 2018 during a meeting of the mayor with diplomatic and religious authorities. Another, “Mr. B “claims that he was greeted by the nuncio’s “right hand to say hello, left hand on the buttock.” A seminarian and another diplomat also denounced inappropriate touching.
On May 22-23, while still enjoying diplomatic immunity, Ventura willingly met with City Hall officials and some of the alleged victims to discuss the events. The archbishop stated his innocence, claiming that he has memory and vision problems that make it impossible for him to have committed the actions, and that the accusations are part of a City Hall plot against him.
Another similarity between the story of De La Souchère and the other source who spoke to Crux is the underlying abuse of power that Ventura seemingly exercised during his alleged sexual advances.
“Before groping me the monsignor asked questions. He wanted to know what my role was, what was my job at City Hall, what is my work. As soon as he found out that I wasn’t someone important in the hierarchy and especially that I could lose my job if I went public, that’s when everything started,” De La Souchère told Crux.
He also claimed that other victims who have gone public with the accusations against Ventura have seen their work and career suffer as a consequence.
He described the nuncio as very powerful in French diplomatic and religious circles, being the only one who was allowed to enter the mayor’s office and enjoying a privileged position compared to other diplomats.
The anonymous source who spoke to Crux recounted the same aura of power surrounding the nuncio and described him as “untouchable.”
“The guy is so powerful he meets the president and the ministers, the pope and lots of very important people,” he said, adding that this was part of the reason Ventura made little to no effort to be discreet.
“He knew I worked for the Church, he knew my friend worked for the Church, so he knew he could do whatever he wanted, and we would never speak up against him. Even if we said something no one would believe us,” he said.
After the event occurred, the source discovered that one of his friends had experienced the same behavior. In April, they wrote a joint letter to the Vatican Secretariat of State describing their experiences.
The man also spoke to his local bishop, who claimed not to have heard of rumors surrounding the “tactile” inclinations of the nuncio. The bishop did admit that other bishops in the country were aware, a fact that was also documented by Crux in mid-April.
In December, Ventura will turn 75, the age he is required to hand in his resignation to Pope Francis. The Vatican might be tempted to solve the problem without too much scandal by waiting until then, but the alleged victims call for more immediate action.
“How could I not be worried that the guy who nominated 50 bishops in France is a wolf!” the source said, alluding to the fact that nuncios are responsible for handing the pope a list of episcopal candidates.
“The pope and the Vatican should have enough information to fire him. I know he retires in December, and it won’t make a practical difference, but the symbolism is also very important,” he added.
De La Souchère told Crux he will be going to Rome next week accompanied by his lawyers to “be recognized as victims of sexual abuse” and ask the Vatican to strip Ventura of his diplomatic immunity.
“The Holy See has learned through the press that an investigation had been opened by the French authorities against Bishop Luigi Ventura, Apostolic Nuncio in Paris. The Holy See is awaiting the conclusions of the inquiry,” said Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti.
According to the nuncio’s entourage, Ventura “was not the same” after he underwent a brain operation for a large, non-cancerous tumor in March 2015, suggesting that Ventura’s inappropriate behavior was a result of side effects from the operation.
“It’s hard to say with certainty whether a tumor might be the cause of this behavior. A brain tumor and a consequent operation might lead to a behavioral disorder, but there is no scientific evidence to support this,” said Doctor Roberto Delfini, tenured professor at the neurosurgery department of La Sapienza University in Rome, in a June 14 interview with Crux.
But investigations into Ventura’s past show that the nuncio was accused of inappropriate behavior before his operation. From 1978 to 1984, he was assigned as a papal envoy to the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger, before the then Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, appointed him as nuncio to Chile in 1999.
In Chile, he worked closely with ex-priest Fernando Karadima, among the most infamous sexual predators in the history of the South American country, and arguably the Catholic Church. In June 2001, Saint Pope John Paul II named him apostolic nuncio to Canada.
It was here that he was accused of improperly touching Christian Vachon, a young Canadian man, in July 2008.
Soon after the accusation was made, Ventura was sent to France, where the behavior continued.
French Catholic and political activist Samuel Grzybowski, 27, told Crux in a phone interview June 14 that he was a witness to Ventura’s sexual advances on the three occasions they met between 2008 and 2011, years before his brain surgery.
“It’s obvious he wanted to have sex. He acted the way one does when you go to the club at 24,” Grzybowski said. “He was presented to us as a guy who had influence. He was seductive, for sure.”
“He put his hands on my knees. He said, ‘You are a good boy, what you are doing is incredible.’ He touched the base of my back for a very long time… too long for a careful monsignor,” he added about the 2011 encounter.
Grzybowski said that he and three other people who had had the same experience with Ventura met to discuss what happened, adding that while they “felt uncomfortable,” they never felt attacked. He said that he has often seen such behavior by clerics, including during his visits to the Vatican, and was not too surprised.
“The issue is much bigger than they think or care to acknowledge publicly,” he said. “We need first of all to recognize the reality and to change the way the Church is organized and abolish clericalism.”
Grzybowski didn’t complain after his uncomfortable meeting with Ventura. He shrugged it off and went back to Mass as usual.
“The young people in France are not disappointed because we never hope. We never expect anything,” he said.
Ventura was in attendance at the June 12-15 meeting of over 100 papal envoys at the Vatican, where he greeted Pope Francis.
During the meeting, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin asked the diplomats that their work be “exemplary” and their “conduct crystal clear.”
++ Le pape François a salué ce matin le nonce apostolique en France, Mgr Luigi Ventura, sous le coup d’une enquête de la police suite à des accusations d’agressions sexuelles.[Google translation: “Pope Francis this morning greeted the Apostolic Nuncio to France, Monsignor Luigi Ventura, under investigation by the police following accusations of sexual assault.”
Gathering of papal ambassadors a sign of Vatican’s diplomatic touch
Inés San MartínJun 12, 2019
ROME BUREAU CHIEF
Pope Francis celebrates a Pentecost Vigil mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Saturday, June 8, 2019. (Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini.)
For the third time since the beginning of Pope Francis’s pontificate, papal representatives stationed around the world will convene in Rome.
During their June 12-15 meeting, the papal nuncios will meet with the heads of Vatican offices and their counterparts, the ambassadors representing their countries at the Holy See.
When the gathering was announced on Monday, the Vatican press office said that there will be 98 nuncios taking part, and five permanent observers to international bodies such as the United Nations.
There are currently 106 resident papal ambassadors around the world, although some of these are representatives to more than one country – in total the Vatican has over 180 diplomatic missions abroad. Currently, eight of these embassies are vacant.
The first summit of nuncios took place in 2013, as part of the Year of Faith, and had been called for by Pope Benedict XVI before his resignation. The second one, in 2016, was part the extraordinary jubilee Year of Mercy. This year, the meeting is at the the request of the nuncios, who made the suggestion during the 2016 gathering.
The summit will include a meeting with Francis on the second day, and will close with a Mass celebrated by the Argentine pontiff and a group lunch at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, which serves as the papal residence.
On the last day, they will also be joined by 46 retired nuncios, who were invited to participate, although it is unknown if Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former nuncio to the U.S. who accused Francis of covering up for disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, is on the invite list.
The Holy See currently has diplomatic relations with 183 nations, and has the oldest diplomatic corps in the world, with some of its bilateral relationships dating to the 15th century.
Though the Church’s primary role is evangelization and not diplomacy, throughout history nuncios have played key roles in forging peace agreements that avoided wars, including mediating between Chile and the pope’s own Argentina in 1978. More recently, the Holy See has been involved in an on-and-off dialogue in both Nicaragua and Venezuela, two countries currently affected by grave political and economic crises.
Both the United States and Cuba credited Francis and the Vatican’s ultra-discreet diplomacy, for instance, with helping broker a December 2014 deal to restore diplomatic relations between the Cold War foes.
In other words, the Catholic Church, through the Holy See’s diplomatic services, packs a real punch on the world stage.
It’s worth noting that even though the Holy See is closely associated with the Vatican City State, the two are separate entities. The Vatican City State is the independent territory over which the Holy See is sovereign, and it came into existence only after the 1929 Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy.
It’s the Holy See, not Vatican City State, that sends and receives ambassadors.
Traditionally, although not universally, the papal nuncio is the dean of the diplomatic corps in a country, an arrangement confirmed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna.
Bilateral relations between the Holy See and other countries suffered after the popes lost the Papal States during the mid-19th century era of Italian unification, although it continued to exchange ambassadors with several countries. However, there was an explosion of diplomatic activity under John Paul II, when the number of nations with full ties to the Holy See went from 85 to 174. Among those who signed up were the United States (1984) and Mexico (1992).
There are some countries still without formal ties to the Vatican, including Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China (the Vatican is the only European country to still have ties with the Republic of China, the official government in Taiwan.)
The nuncios answer to the Secretariat of State, headed by Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The secretariat is divided into three sections: The Section for General Affairs, which deals with Church affairs; the Section for Relations with States for conventional diplomacy; and the Section for Diplomatic Personnel established in 2017 and tasked with preparing this week’s meeting.
This will be the first meeting of nuncios since February’s clerical abuse summit, which brought together the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences.
One of the papal ambassadors on the invite list is Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the representative in France who’s under investigation for sexual assault, after being accused of sexually harassing at least one young man. It’s not known if he will attend.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
Francis tells his ambassadors not to criticize him behind his back
Pope Francis addresses apostolic nuncios in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, June 13, 2019. Credit: Vatican Media
Catholic News Agency
12 June 2019
.- Pope Francis sent a message to apostolic nuncios Thursday informing his ambassadors that they have a responsibility as papal representatives not to criticize the pope or to join groups hostile to the Roman curia.
“It is therefore irreconcilable to be a pontifical representative criticizing the pope behind his back, having blogs or even joining groups hostile to him, to the curia and to the Church of Rome,” Pope Francis said June 13 in remarks distributed to more than 100 nuncios meeting in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
Pope Francis said that he desired to share some simple precepts to help the papal diplomats live out their mission, calling the 4,000 word document a “Ten Commandments” of sorts for nuncios and their co-workers throughout the world.
One of the ten precepts outlined in the document is titled, “The Nuncio is a man of the Pope.” The section states that “certainly every person could have reservations, likes and dislikes, but a good nuncio cannot be hypocritical.”
“As a Pontifical Representative, the nuncio does not represent himself but the Successor of Peter and acts on his behalf at the Church … the Representative is a link, or better, a bridge of connection between the Vicar of Christ and the people to whom he was sent, in a certain area, for which he was appointed and sent by the Roman Pontiff himself,” Pope Francis said.
Other exhortations included in the document are to be merciful, obiendent, prayerful, charitable, humble, and to have initiative and apostolic zeal.
“The man of God does not deceive nor deceive his neighbor; he does not let himself go into gossip and slander; it preserves the pure mind and heart, preserving eyes and ears from the filth of the world. He does not let himself be deceived by worldly values, but looks to the Word of God to judge what is wise and good,” he said.
“The Nuncio who forgets that he is a man of God ruins himself and others; he goes off the track and also damages the Church, to which he has dedicated his life,” Francis warned.
Current papal nuncios have been caught in scandal. The apostolic nuncio to France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura has been accused of sexual misconduct against an adult male while he was nuncio in Canada. The Vatican diplomat is already under investigation for alleged sexual assault in Paris.
Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, apostolic nuncio to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan has recently been accused of financial and personal misconduct during his time of service as the Vatican’s chief diplomat at the United Nations.
Some have pointed to Pope Francis’ comments about “having a blog” as alluding to the apostolic nuncio to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, because he has a blog, which was linked to a Twitter account in which he shared articles critical of some of Pope Francis’ comments.
In 2015, the nuncio tweeted a National Review article entitled, “The Pope Got It Completely and Utterly Wrong,” which called Pope Francis’ comments in an in-flight press conference “imprecise, poorly judged.” The nuncio’s Twitter account has since been deleted.
Former nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, set off a flurry of debate last August by penning a public letter alleging that some Vatican officials knew of Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct for years yet restored McCarrick’s place as a papal advisor to Pope Francis.
The former nuncio issued additional letters calling for Pope Francis to resign and gave an extended interview to the Washington Post published this week.
Francis’ document to nuncios quotes Saints Maximilian Kolbe, Paul, Augustine, and Paul VI on living the Christian life. It concludes with the “Litany of Humility” written by Servant of God Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, Vatican Secretary of State from 1903-1914.
“The nuncio – and all of us – without a life of prayer, risks failing to meet all the aforementioned requirements. Without prayer we become mere officials, always unhappy and frustrated. The life of prayer is that light that illuminates everything else and all the work of the nuncio and his mission,” Pope Francis said.