The Vatican said Sunday it regretted conferring a papal knighthood on Jimmy Savile in 1990, but said there was no way to revoke the honour despite revelations of child sex crimes committed by the disgraced British television star.
The Vatican is "deeply saddened that someone who has been defiled in this way could have been, in his lifetime, put forward for an honour awarded by the Holy See, which, in the light of recent information, should certainly not have been conferred," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
The late DJ and presenter was made a knight commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1990.
Asked about the possible withdrawal of the honour, Lombardi said that the Vatican "strongly condemned horrible sexual abuse crimes committed against minors."
But, he explained, "given there is no permanent and official list of people who have received papal honours in the past, it is not possible to strike out anyone from a list that does not exist."
The names of those receiving papal honours do not appear in the Papal Yearbook, and the distinction ends with the death of the person concerned, the Vatican said.
The leader of England's Catholics had asked the Vatican whether the papal knighthood given to Savile could be posthumously removed.
Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, wrote a letter earlier this month asking the relevant office to see whether Savile could be stripped of the honour.
The letter asked the Vatican 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," a spokeswoman said.