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. Some 300 potential victims have come forward with abuse allegations, police said.
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."