French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux is pictured in a 2013 photo at the Vatican. He has admitted to abusing a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago. CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

Vatican to investigate cardinal over abuse claims

  • November 16, 2022

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican will open an investigation into French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the retired archbishop of Bordeaux, who admitted in a public letter that he had abused a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago.

“As a result of the elements that have emerged in the last few days and the statement made by the cardinal, in order to complete the examination of what happened, it has been decided to initiate an ‘investigatio praevia,’ ” or preliminary investigation, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said Nov. 11.

Bruni would not say if the decision was made by Pope Francis, although because the case involves a cardinal who is a member of Vatican dicasteries and who, at 78, is still eligible to participate in a conclave, people familiar with the workings of the Vatican assume the Pope had to agree.

The person “best suited” to conduct the investigation “with the necessary autonomy, impartiality and experience is now being evaluated, also in view of the fact that the French judicial authorities have an open file on the case,” Bruni said.

The Vatican’s customary practice, he said, would be to wait until the French civil authorities have closed their case to begin any kind of canonical procedure, in which case the Vatican could request documentation from the judicial authorities to use in their process as well.

During the French bishops’ fall meeting in Lourdes Nov. 7, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the bishops’ conference, read a letter from Ricard admitting to the abuse.

Later, the archbishop said he had been informed in February of Ricard’s past and that he had been in communication with the victim, who did not want to be identified publicly.

The Marseille public prosecutor’s office also heard of the allegations before Ricard’s letter was read; it opened an investigation of Ricard on suspected “aggravated sexual assault” in late October.

In his letter, Ricard had admitted to engaging in “reprehensible” conduct against the girl when he was a priest, and he said his behaviour “has necessarily caused serious and lasting consequences for this person.”

The Ricard case is just one of several abuse cases the French bishops are reckoning with. Moulins-Beaufort said the cardinal was among 11 bishops or former bishops who are being or have been investigated by Church or judicial authorities for abuse.

Earlier, the archbishop had rearranged a bishops’ meeting schedule to deal with abuse and urged his fellow bishops to have as their first concern “the victims, those who spoke out two years ago and more recently, and those, perhaps, who have not yet made themselves known.”

The archbishop was referring to the case of retired Bishop Michel Santier of Créteil. When the Vatican announced in 2021 that the bishop was retiring, the bishop had said it was for health reasons. No one contradicted him publicly until mid-October, when the Diocese of Créteil confirmed he had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct and disciplined by the Vatican.

The Vatican did not immediately say what, if any, disciplinary measures would be taken against Ricard, who retired in 2019 as archbishop of Bordeaux. The possibilities range from being ordered to live a life of prayer and penance out of the public view to being removed from the College of Cardinals or even from the priesthood.

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