Rome Newsroom, Nov 11, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- A sexual assault trial against Archbishop Luigi Ventura was held Tuesday in Paris, despite the absence of the former apostolic nuncio to France, who was excused by a doctor’s note.
A doctor said it was too dangerous for the 75-year-old Ventura, who is living in Rome, to travel to Paris while the coronavirus is surging in France.
Lawyers for the alleged victims asked for the trial to be postponed to when the archbishop could attend, but the court ruled for the trial to go forward, AP reported.
The court heard testimony Nov. 10 from several men who allege that Ventura groped their buttocks at public events in 2018 and 2019. Ventura has denied the claims.
The former nuncio was tried in absentia on five counts of alleged sexual assault. Three of his alleged victims were present at the trial. The court said it would deliver its verdict Dec. 16.
At the Nov. 10 hearing, accuser Mahe Thouvenel, a former seminarian, said he was grabbed multiple times by Ventura during a Mass in December 2018.
According to AP, Thouvenel said, “these are facts that happened to me, that hurt me, and I suffered a lot.”
Asked what he would have said to Ventura had he been in court, Thouvenael answered: “Monseigneur, why did you do that?”
Ventura’s lawyer, Solange Doumic, argued Nov. 10 that the accusations against her client were minor and had been exaggerated to become “the trial of the Vatican, of hidden homosexuality at the Vatican.”
She said that Ventura touched the hips or backs of the men, but the gestures lasted only a few seconds and were never sexual in intention. She also said that he may not have realized they would be considered inappropriate. She added that after Ventura was operated on for a brain tumor in 2016 he has had some behavioral problems.
The lawyer also defended Ventura’s absence in court, citing his doctor’s conclusion that it was “completely unreasonable” to expect him to travel to Paris in the current health situation.
Prosecutor Alexis Bouroz asked for a 10-month suspended jail term for Ventura.
He also presented a letter from the Vatican which said that Rome reserved the right not to apply any eventual punishment for Ventura, if he is convicted, which angered lawyers for the alleged victims.
“The Holy See doesn’t give a hoot for your deliberations,” Thouvenel’s lawyer, Edmond Frety, told the three judges.
In France, sexual assault can be punished by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 75,000 euros (about $88,600).
Ventura submitted his resignation as apostolic nuncio to France in December 2019 upon reaching the age of 75. Pope Francis accepted the resignation fewer than 10 days later. The Vatican had revoked Ventura’s diplomatic immunity in July 2019, paving the way for a trial in French courts.
Thouvenel also testified in court that he was kicked out of his seminary after filing a police report against Ventura.
Another alleged victim of Ventura, Mathieu De La Souchere, accused him of touching his buttocks repeatedly at a reception at Paris City Hall.
De La Souchere also accused Ventura of lying, after a judge said Nov. 10 that the former nuncio had explained his behavior by saying he had a “Latin” temperament and his gestures were not sexual.
“There is talk of a hand on a buttock,” he said. “It was more than that.”
De La Souchere was the first to make a public accusation against Ventura, filing a report in early 2019, claiming that he was inappropriately touched by Ventura at a Jan. 17, 2019, reception for the New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. The accusation was then investigated by Parisian authorities for several months.
Since the alleged victim came forward, four other men have reported touching incidents during public events in France between January 2018 and February 2019.
After the initial allegation was made against Ventura, he also faced another accusation of sexual misconduct against an adult male relating to his time in Canada in 2008. He has denied the allegations.
Ventura was apostolic nuncio to Canada from 2001 to 2009.
Ventura was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Brescia, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, in 1969. He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1978 and was stationed in Brazil, Bolivia, and the U.K. From 1984 to 1995, he served at the Secretariat of State in the Section for Relations with States.
After his episcopal consecration in 1995, Ventura served as nuncio to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chile, and Canada. He was appointed apostolic nuncio to France in September 2009.
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