The Pope’s envoy to France is to be tried in Paris in November on charges of sexual assault on four men, one of whom - a male Paris City Hall staffer - claimed he was groped during an official event last year.
Luigi Ventura, 74, had served as the Papal Nuncio — the pontiff’s diplomatic representative — in Paris since 2009.
He was first accused of “inappropriately touching” a man at City Hall on January 17, when the Nuncio attended a New Year’s address to diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures by the mayor, Anne Hidalgo.
The first plaintiff was described as a member of City Hall’s General Delegation for International Relations. “The Nuncio repeatedly let his hands wander,” according to a City Hall source.
The allegation of assault was later joined by two other men with similar complaints dating from 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.
Mr Ventura was stripped of his diplomatic immunity by the Vatican last July after he was questioned by French police, and resigned in December when he reached the 75-year age limit for his post.
His trial will open on November 10, the Paris prosecutor's office confirmed on Thursday.
"He will be present," Mr Ventura's lawyer Bertrand Ollivier told AFP. "He will attend the hearing to defend his honour and innocence."
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 decision "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.
Mr Ventura served in Brazil, Bolivia and Britain before being appointed nuncio, or envoy, to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger, Chile and then Canada.
Pope Francis has pledged to tackle criminal offences in the Catholic Church after a string of sexual abuse claims involving clerics, mostly in cases involving minors.
A report in June said at least 3,000 children had fallen victim to sex abuse in the French Catholic Church since 1950.
The highest-profile recent case saw Catholic priest Bernard Preynat defrocked and handed a five-year jail term in March for sexually abusing boy scouts in his care several decades ago.
However, an appeals court overturned the conviction of Preynat's superior, Lyon's former archbishop Philippe Barbarin, in January for not reporting the abuse despite knowing about it for years.