Lourdes (France) (AFP) – France’s Catholic Church revealed on Monday that 11 former or serving French bishops have been accused of sexual violence or failing to report cases of abuse, including a cardinal who confessed to assaulting a girl decades ago .
In a shocking revelation, the president of the Episcopal Conference of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, told reporters that some of the top church officials risked criminal prosecution, or a church court, or both.
Among them is Jean-Pierre Ricard, a longtime bishop of Bordeaux who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016, and who admitted to “wrongdoing” against a 14-year-old, de Moulins-Beaufort said. .
“Thirty-five years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved reprehensibly towards a 14-year-old girl,” Ricard wrote in a message to the Conference read by de Moulins-Beaufort.
“There is no doubt that my behavior has caused serious and lasting consequences for this person,” the cardinal said, adding that he had since asked for forgiveness from the woman.
French bishops are meeting in Lourdes in southwestern France for their fall conference to discuss ways to improve their communication and transparency regarding allegations of historic sex crimes against clergy.
The public confession of Ricard, 78, was received “as a shock” by the bishops, de Moulins-Beaufort said.
Ricard, 78, was bishop of Coutances, Montpellier and finally Bordeaux between 2001 and 2019.
All of the defendants will face prosecution or church disciplinary proceedings, said de Moulins-Beaufort, who is the archbishop of the northeastern city of Reims.
He said six former bishops had already been accused of sexual abuse “by the justice of our country, or by the justice of the Church”, one of whom has since died.
Ricard would now be added to that list, as would Michel Santier, who has been sanctioned by the Vatican for “spiritual abuse leading to voyeurism involving two adult men.”
Commenting on Santier’s case, Moulins-Beaufort admitted that there had been “serious shortcomings and dysfunctions at all levels”.
Two retired bishops were under investigation by French justice and were also the target of ecclesiastical proceedings.
The name of another bishop had been reported to authorities, but prosecutors had yet to respond, while the Vatican had reduced his position.
A bishop, André Fort, was sentenced in 2018 to an eight-month suspended prison sentence.
Olivier Savignac, of the association Parler et Revivre which supports victims of sexual violence, said he was “shaken” by Monday’s revelations concerning a “staggering” number of bishops.
“So much is hidden. How many more will emerge?” He asked.
Savignac added: “The church only ever reacts when it is leaning against the wall.
Another association, Agir Pour Notre Eglise, which advocates church reform in the face of accusations, urged the bishops to make “clear announcements” by the end of their meeting on Tuesday.
“It is with great sadness that we learn all this”, Alix Huon, member of the association.
The church was rocked last year by the findings of an investigation that confirmed the widespread abuse of minors by priests, deacons and lay members of the Church dating back to the 1950s.
It revealed that 216,000 minors had been abused by clergy over the past seven decades, a number that jumped to 330,000 when complaints against lay members of the Church are included, such as teachers in Catholic schools.
The commission that produced the report decried the “systemic nature” of efforts to protect clergy from lawsuits and urged the church to compensate victims.
Ricard retired as bishop of Bordeaux in 2019 but remains a cardinal, a post usually held for life.
© 2022 AFP