LOURDES, France (AFP) -- France’s Catholic church on Monday revealed that 11 former or serving French bishops have been accused of sexual violence or failing to report abuse cases, including a cardinal who confessed to assaulting a girl decades ago.
In a shock revelation, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, told reporters that some of the high-ranking church officials faced criminal prosecution, or a church tribunal, or both.
Among them is Jean-Pierre Ricard, a long-standing bishop of Bordeaux who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016, and who had admitted to a “reprehensible” act on a 14-year-old, de Moulins-Beaufort said.
French bishops are meeting in Lourdes in southwestern France for their autumn conference to discuss ways to improve their communication and transparency regarding historical sex crime allegations against the clergy.
The public confession by Ricard, 78, was received “like a shock” by the bishops, de Moulins-Beaufort said.
Ricard, 78, was bishop in Coutances, Montpellier and finally Bordeaux between 2001 and 2019.
All of the accused will face either prosecution or church disciplinary procedures, said de Moulins-Beaufort, who is the archbishop of the northeastern city of Reims.
He said six former bishops had already been accused of sexual abuse “by the judiciary of our country, or by the judiciary of the church”, one of whom had since died.
Ricard would now be added to that list, as would Michel Santier, who was sanctioned by the Vatican for “spiritual abuse having led to voyeurism involving two adult men”.
Commenting on Santier’s case, Moulins-Beaufort admitted that there had been “serious shortcomings and dysfunctioning at every level”.
Two retired bishops were being investigated by the French judiciary, and were also the target of a church procedure.
The name of one other bishop had been flagged to the authorities, but prosecutors had not yet responded, while the Vatican had curtailed his duties.
One bishop, Andre Fort, was sentenced in 2018 to a suspended prison sentence of eight months.
The church was 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.