Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort delivering the press conference on November 7 on abuse Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort delivering the press conference on November 7 on abuse  (AFP or licensors)

French Church in shock after abuse cases involving 11 bishops are revealed

At a press conference in Lourdes, in southwestern France, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops' Conference, reveals that a total of 11 bishops have been accused over sexual abuse or cover-up, among whom is Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, who in a message sent on Sunday confessed to abusing a teenage girl 35 years ago.

By Lisa Zengarini

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF) expressed the French Bishops’ shock as he revealed on Monday that 11 former or serving French bishops have been accused of sexual abuse, or failing to report cases, including a cardinal who admitted to assaulting a girl over three decades ago.

Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims told reporters at a press conference in Lourdes on Monday, during their autumn general assembly, that some of the high-ranking Church officials faced either criminal or canonical prosecution, or both.

Among them is the former Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, who has been twice president of the CEF, and is presently a member of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Ricard admits to sexually abusing a minor

In a message addressed to the CEF and read out by Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, Cardinal Ricard admitted to having “behaved in a reprehensible manner towards a 14-year-old girl" 35 years ago, when he was a priest.

"There is no doubt that my behaviour caused serious and long-lasting consequences for that person," the 78-year-old Cardinal said, adding that he has asked the woman and her family for forgiveness, and that he was going on retreat to pray.

Bishops' shock

Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort told the press that the public confession by Cardinal Ricard was “a shock" for the bishops. 

His case brings the number of French bishops accused of sexual abuse to a total of eleven. These include Bishop Michel Santier of Creteil, who was sanctioned by the Holy See for "spiritual abuse having led to voyeurism involving two adult men", though the news of this canonical sanction has come to light only in recent weeks.

A total of 11 bishops accused over abuse cases

According to Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, six other bishops, one of whom has since died, have already been accused of sexual abuse either by the State or the Church judiciary. Two other retired bishops are being investigated by the French authorities and are also the target of a Church procedure. Another bishop has been reported to the authorities, but prosecutors have not yet responded, while the Holy See has suspended him from his duties. Finally, one bishop, André Fort, was sentenced in 2018 to a suspended prison sentence of eight months.

Commenting on Santier's case, the president of the French bishops admitted that there have been "serious shortcomings and dysfunction at every level".

The CIASE report

The latest revelations come just over a year after the publication of a report by the an independent commission, established by the bishops and religious, which confirmed widespread abuse of minors by priests, deacons and lay members of the Church dating from the 1950s.

The 2,500-page report released on 4 October 2021, after a two-and-a half-year investigation, revealed that an estimated total of 330,000 people in France had been victims of sexual abuse within the Church as children over a period of seventy years.

After the publication, the bishops pledged to take concrete action and change approaches in addressing the scourge of sexual abuse in the Church.

The CEF’s general assembly, which ended on Tuesday, was mainly focused on improving its communication and transparency regarding historical sex crime allegations against the clergy.

Pope's message to the bishops

In a message addressed to the bishops at the opening of the meeting on 3 November, Pope Francis invited them “not to be discouraged” as they face this difficult moment, but “to persevere” with their “gaze fixed on the Cross of Christ”  in the assurance that the Holy Spirit accompanies their  efforts.

The final message of the assembly

In the final message of the  general assembly released on Tuesday, the CEF reiterated “in the strongest terms” that “there cannot be any impunity for bishops” and that they share the “shock” felt by “so many faithful, priests, deacons and consecrated persons. These feelings are ours too. As members of the same ecclesial body, we too are wounded, deeply affected,” the statement reads.

Listen to our report

Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here

08 November 2022, 15:45