Vatican to probe ‘reprehensible’ French cardinal in abuse case

Manila Times [Manila, Philippines]

November 13, 2022

By Agence France-Presse

The Vatican said on Friday it was launching a preliminary investigation into French cardi-nal Jean-Pierre Ricard after he admitted to a “reprehensible” act on a 14-year-old.

France’s Catholic Church on Monday revealed that 11 former or serving French bishops have been ac-cused of sexual violence or failing to report abuse cases. This included Ricard, who confessed to as-saulting a girl decades ago.

“In order to properly examine what happened, it has been decided to open a preliminary inquiry,” spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists in the Vatican’s first public reaction to the scandal.

The Vatican has still to appoint a lead investigator. It was looking for a suitable person “with the neces-sary autonomy, impartiality and experience,” Bruni said.

French prosecutors said on Tuesday they had launched an inquiry into Ricard, a longtime bishop of Bordeaux who was made a cardinal by former pope Benedict 16th in 2006.

“Thirty-five years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way toward a girl of 14,” 78-year-old Ricard wrote in a message to the Bishops’ Conference of France.

“There is no doubt that my behavior caused serious and long-lasting consequences for that person,” the cardinal said, adding that he had since asked the woman for forgiveness.

Pope Francis said on Sunday the Catholic Church was working “as best we can” to fight clerical child abuse, but admitted there were shortfalls.

French Catholics were rocked last year by the findings of an inquiry that confirmed widespread abuse of minors by priests, deacons and lay members of the Church dating from the 1950s.

It found that 216,000 minors had been abused by clergy over the past seven decades — a number that climbed to 330,000 when claims against lay members of the Church are included, such as teachers at Catholic schools.

The revelations about Ricard and 10 other former or serving French bishops came at a conference to discuss ways to improve communication and transparency regarding historical sex crime allegations against the clergy.

All the accused will face either prosecution or Church disciplinary procedures, the head of the French Catholic Church said.

Other senior French clergies have become embroiled in sexual abuse scandals that have undermined the Catholic Church in countries from Ireland to Australia to the United States over the last decade.

French cardinal Philippe Barbarin was accused of covering up for a priest who had assaulted dozens of scouts between 1986 and 1991.

He was convicted in 2019 for not reporting the abuse, but had the guilty sentence overturned a year later.