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Church in France shaken by cardinal’s admission of abuse

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Corinne SIMON/CIRIC

Jean-Pierre Ricard.

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 11/09/22

A French cardinal admitted to behaving "reprehensibly" with a young girl 35 years ago.

On Monday, November 7, the Church in France was shaken by another abuse revelation. Retired Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard admitted to having behaved in a “reprehensible way,” 35 years earlier, with a 14-year-old girl. 

In a statement, the 78-year-old cardinal said he was withdrawing from his ecclesial functions and was available to cooperate with the justice system as well as Church authorities.

On Tuesday, the French prosecutor’s office in the city of Marseille said a preliminary investigation for “aggravated sexual assault” has been opened.

“My behavior necessarily caused serious and lasting consequences for this person. I have explained this to her and asked for her forgiveness. I renew my request for forgiveness here as well as to her entire family,” the cardinal’s statement said. “It is because of these actions that I have decided to take a time of withdrawal and prayer. Finally I ask forgiveness to those whom I have hurt and who will live this news as a real trial.”

Cardinal Ricard’s declaration was read out by the current president of the French bishops’ conference, Archbishop of Reims Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, during a press conference at the bishops’ plenary assembly in Lourdes. 

For now, the Vatican has not reacted to these revelations and it is unknown whether it was aware of them before Monday. 

Who is Cardinal Ricard?

Cardinal Ricard has been an important figure in the Church in France in the last decades. A bishop since 1993, he served as president of the French Bishops’ Conference for two terms, from 2001 to 2007. 

He was created a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, thus allowing him to vote for a future pope in the case of a conclave. As he is under 80 years old he is still an elector for the time being, unless this right is revoked. He retired as Archbishop of Bordeaux in 2019, at the normal retirement age of 75 years old.  

As a cardinal he has also been a member of several Vatican dicasteries, including the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees abuse investigations.

One of 11, a year after comprehensive report

The cardinal’s revelations come at a complex moment, as the Church in France and its faithful have been struggling with several abuse revelations.

In early October, French Catholic magazine Famille Chrétienne revealed that the Bishop Emeritus of Créteil, Michel Santier, had been found guilty by the Vatican in 2021 of having committed spiritual abuse for sexual purposes in the 1990s. As a consequence he had in fact retired from his role two years earlier than expected, at 73. However the reason for his resignation and the Vatican’s sanction had never been made public and he continued participating in certain diocesan events. 

During Monday’s press conference Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort explained that 11 current or retired French bishops have faced allegations of abuse or mismanagement of abuse by the government or Church authorities.

In October 2021, the Independent Commission on sexual abuse in the Church (CIASE) published a report, after more than two years of work, summarizing its findings on abuses within the Church in France.

Cardinals

Only a small number of cardinals have faced abuse claims. In 2015, Pope Francis accepted Scottish Cardinal Keith M. O’Brien’s renunciation of his rights and privileges as a cardinal after O’Brien resigned following sexual misconduct with priests and former priests. He passed away in 2018.

Australian Cardinal George Pell served a prison term after he was found guilty of sexual abuse of minors. However, he was later cleared of the charges.

In April of this year, the pope decided not to investigate Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet for an allegation of abuse against a woman, as there was insufficient evidence.

The most high-profile case of a cardinal was that of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the United States. He resigned as a cardinal in 2018 and Pope Francis dismissed McCarrick from the clerical state in 2019. His civil trials are still ongoing but he is now 92 years old.

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