Jimmy Savile could become the first person to be stripped of a Papal knighthood posthumously after the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales asked the Vatican to investigate removing the honour.
By Tom Rowley, and Sam Marsden
There is growing disquiet among senior members of the church, which has itself been rocked by child abuse scandals, that the disgraced late TV presenter’s name remains on the list of recipients of one of the highest awards the Pope can bestow.
The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, has now written to Rome asking whether Savile’s Papal knighthood can be annulled in recognition of his victims’ “deep distress”.
Church sources said there was no established process to remove a Papal honour posthumously because the award dies with the recipient.
However, senior Roman Catholic clergy in Britain feel that the Vatican should look at whether it can do something to recognise its disgust at the “deeply shocking” series of allegations of child sexual abuse made against the former Jim’ll Fix It presenter.
There is no guarantee that the church will be able to remove the honour and no fixed timetable for Rome to reply to the Archbishop of Westminster.
A source said: “The honour itself goes when the person dies but nevertheless it would appear on Papal honours lists. I don’t know if you remove it entirely or whether there is an asterisk to say, ‘well, actually…’”
It is thought that a Papal knighthood has never previously been removed posthumously. “It would be very, very rare if not unprecedented,” a source said.
Savile, who described himself as a devout Catholic, was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1990 for his charity work.
The honour is awarded to Catholics, and on occasion non-Catholics, who have demonstrated “pre-eminent” service to their faith, community, or the work of the Vatican.
Other recipients have included Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire media tycoon, Sir Matt Busby, the former Manchester United Manager, and John Hume, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Northern Ireland politician.
A spokesman for the Archbishop of Westminster said: “The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, wrote last week to the Holy See asking the competent office to investigate whether the Papal Honour awarded to Jimmy Savile for his charitable works could be posthumously removed and its effects nullified, recognising the deep distress of all those who have suffered abuse and the disquiet at Mr Savile’s name remaining on Papal Honours lists.
“While the outcome of the current police investigation is awaited, the allegations of abuse are deeply shocking and our thoughts go first to all those who have been abused. The Church invites all those who have suffered abuse to come forward to the appropriate authorities.”
There have also been calls for the UK Government to strip Savile of the British knighthood he was awarded in 1990.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, hinted earlier this month that the honour could be removed.
However, the Cabinet Office said that honours ceased to exist when a person died, although there is a campaign to change the law so that they can be revoked after death.