One of France’s highest-ranking prelates of the Catholic Church has admitted abusing a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago and announced his withdrawal from his religious duties.
Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard issued a written statement on Monday after a report issued last year revealed a “massive phenomenon” of sexual abusers of children operating for decades within the French Catholic Church.
“Thirty-five years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way with a young girl aged 14,” Ricard said. “My behaviour has inevitably caused serious and lasting consequences for this person,”
Ricard, 78, was the archbishop of Bordeaux, south-west France, until he retired from that position in 2019 to serve in his home diocese of Dignes-les-Bains, in the south of the country. In the 1980s, he was a priest in the archdiocese of Marseille.
The announcement was made at a news conference by the president of the French bishops’ conference, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort.
Moulins-Beaufort said 11 bishops and former bishops, including Ricard, had been accused in relation to sexual abuse in diverse cases investigated by French justice or church authorities.
Ricard said he had talked to the victim and asked her for forgiveness, without specifying when. He said he was also asking for forgiveness “to all those I hurt” through his statement. He did not elaborate on that.
At a time when the French Catholic Church has just started to pay financial compensation to victims of child sexual abuse, Ricard said he had decided “not to stay silent any more about [his] situation” and that he was available for the country’s justice and for church authorities.
The broad study released last year by an independent commission estimated that 330,000 children were sexually abused over 70 years by priests or other church-related figures in France.
The tally included an estimated 216,000 people abused by priests and other clerics, and the rest by figures in associated institutions, such as scout leaders and camp counsellors. The estimates were based on broader research by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research into the sexual abuse of children.
The report described a “systemic” cover-up by church officials and urged the French Catholic Church to respect the rule of law in France.
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