LONDON – The Vatican said Saturday it never would have given Jimmy Savile his papal knighthood had it known of allegations the British TV star was a child sex predator, but that it can't rescind the honor now that he has died.
The Catholic Church of England wrote to the Holy See last week, asking it to consider whether it could posthumously remove the honor awarded to Savile because of the many recent child sex abuse allegations against him. Savile, a much-loved BBC children's television host, died last year at age 84.
The church said its leader, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, made the request because the "deep distress" of his alleged victims and in light of public concerns about his name remaining on the papal honors lists.
But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's spokesman, told The Associated Press it couldn't rescind the knighthood awarded to Savile because there simply is no permanent register from which to strike it. The names of people who receive the knighthood don't appear in the Holy See's yearbook and that the honor dies with the individual, Lombardi said.
He also said Savile never would have received the honor had allegations about his behavior been known, and Lombardi stressed the Vatican's firm condemnation of any type of sexual abuse against children.
Savile was made a Knight Commander of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1990 for his charity work. He was also knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to charity and entertainment.
But police now believe Savile to be one of the most prolific sex offenders in Britain in recent history, with a "staggering number" of people reporting abuses by him after his death.
Some 300 potential victims have come forward with abuse allegations, police said. Most of them say they were abused by Savile, but some say they were abused by other people, Metropolitan Police said Friday.
The popular TV presenter's family spoke out Saturday about its shock over the recent revelations.
"These things we knew absolutely nothing at all about until these revelations have come out now," Savile's nephew, Roger Foster, told the BBC. "It's just so unexpected, so totally, at first, unbelievable."
British police said they also have received many reports of past, unrelated child sex abuse cases since the scandal surrounding Savile came to light.
One such case was resolved in British courts on Friday.
Reginald Davies, a 78-year-old retiree, was convicted of 13 offenses against four girls, including the rape of one under the age of 12, and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The crimes took place between 1949 and 1973, and police said the case appeared to involve the oldest criminal charges ever heard in a British court. Davies had moved to Australia, but two of his victims confronted him and reported him to police while vacationing there in 2008.
AP correspondent Nicole Winfield reported from Rome.