As the Catholic church considers the removal of Jimmy Savile's papal knighthood, his family speaks of their sadness at his victims' suffering.

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In a statement released by Savile's nephew, Roger Foster, the family said: "How could the person we thought we knew and loved do such a thing?

"Why would a man who raised so much money for charity, who gave so much of his own time and energy for others, risk it all doing indecent criminal acts? How could anyone live their life doing the 'most good and most evil' at the same time?"

The statement, released to the Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper, explains why the family wanted Savile's headstone removed, even though it had been unveiled only a couple of weeks earlier.

The family said: "We became more aware of the outrage that many members of the public were feeling. We took the decision to remove and destroy the headstone so that it couldn't become a focus for malicious people.

"The decision was a difficult one to make, but we knew it was the right one."

They family said their "thoughts" and "prayers" were with those who had suffered abuse.

"We recognise that even our own despair and sadness does not compare to that felt by the victims," and that their "feelings are in turmoil" as they await the next turn of events.

'Deep distress'

The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, has 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.

Shortly after the scandal broke, the Pope's nuncio (papal diplomat) in London told Channel 4 News the church would wait for the completion of police investigations before making a decision on

How could anyone live their life doing the 'most good and most evil' at the same time? Roger Foster, Jimmy Savile's nephew

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.

Papal knighthood

It is thought that a papal knighthood has never previously been removed posthumously. 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.