French prosecutors drop sexual assault probe into cardinal

Le Monde [Paris, France]

February 25, 2023

By Le Monde with AFP

Jean-Pierre Ricard, a 78-year-old retired bishop, was taken into custody on February 2, and told investigators he had ‘kissed’ and ‘caressed’ a 13-year-old girl.

French prosecutors said on Saturday, February 25, they had closed an investigation into sexual assault charges against a cardinal as the statute of limitations had passed.

The probe was launched in November last year after Jean-Pierre Ricard, a retired bishop made a cardinal by pope Benedict XVI in 2006, admitted in public he had “behaved in a reprehensible way” towards a young girl 35 years ago.

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The 78-year-old was taken into custody on February 2 and told investigators he had “kissed” the girl, who he said was about 13 years old. He said he had also embraced her and “caressed her over her clothes,” but “there was no sexual intercourse.”

The victim has claimed the assault continued for three years.

The most serious sexual offenses in France such as rape usually have a statute of limitations of 30 years, but the period to bring charges can be extended if the victim was a minor at the time of the offense. “The case was closed due to the statute of limitations,” Marseille prosecutor Dominique Laurens told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

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Picard’s confession came after a devastating 2021 report in France estimated that Catholic clergy had abused 216,000 children since 1950.

The Vatican announced its own preliminary investigation into Picard last November.