The French Church lifts the veil on bishop sexual abuse cases

The French Church lifts the veil on bishop sexual abuse cases


France’s Catholic Church announced Monday that 11 former or incumbent French bishops have been accused of sexual violence or have failed to report abuse, including a cardinal who confessed to assaulting a girl decades ago.

In a shocking revelation, the president of the French bishops’ conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, told reporters that some of the top church officials were facing criminal prosecution or a church tribunal, 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 a “reprehensible” act on a 14-year-old, de Moulins-Beaufort said.

“35 years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved reprehensibly to 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 had serious and long-lasting consequences for this person,” the cardinal said, adding that he has since asked the woman for forgiveness.

French bishops meet in Lourdes, south-west France for their autumn conference to discuss ways to improve their communication and transparency on historic allegations of sex crimes against the clergy.

The public confession of the 78-year-old Ricard was received “as a shock” by the bishops, said de Moulins-Beaufort.

Ricard, 78, was bishop in Coutances, Montpellier and finally Bordeaux from 2001 to 2019.

All of the accused will either be prosecuted or face ecclesiastical disciplinary proceedings, said de Moulins-Beaufort, archbishop of the northeastern city of Reims.

He said six former bishops had already been accused of sexual abuse “by the judiciary of our country or by the judiciary of the Church,” one of whom has since died.

– “Serious defects” –

Ricard would now be added to that list, as would Michel Santier, who was sanctioned by the Vatican for “spiritual abuse resulting in voyeurism involving two adult males”.

Commenting on Santier’s case, Moulins-Beaufort admitted that there had been “serious deficiencies and dysfunctions at all levels”.

The French judiciary was investigating two retired bishops and was also the target of church proceedings.

Another bishop’s name had been reported to authorities, but prosecutors had yet to respond while the Vatican scaled back its duties.

One bishop, Andre Fort, was given an eight-month suspended sentence in 2018.

Olivier Savignac of the Parler et Revivre association, which supports victims of sexual violence, told AFP he was “staggered” by Monday’s revelations about a “staggering” number of bishops.

“So many things are hidden. How many more will come out?” he asked.

Savignac added: “The Church only ever reacts when its back is against the wall.”

Another association, Agir Pour Notre Eglise, which is campaigning for church reform in the face of the allegations, called on the bishops to make “clear statements” by the end of their meeting on Tuesday.

“It is with great sadness that we learn of all this,” said Alix Huon, a member of the association.

The church was rocked last year by the findings of an investigation that confirmed widespread abuse of minors by priests, deacons and lay members of the church dating back to the 1950s.

It found that 216,000 minors had been abused by clergy over the past seven decades, a number that rose to 330,000 when counting complaints against lay members of the church, such as teachers in Catholic schools.

The commission that produced the report condemned the “systemic nature” of efforts to protect clergy from prosecution and called on the church to pay compensation to victims.

Ricard retired as Bishop of Bordeaux in 2019 but remains a cardinal, a position normally held for life.

More to explorer