By Rick Noack
Eight former French bishops have been accused of sexual abuse and 3 more of non-denunciation of abuse, the French bishops’ conference said Monday, signaling that some high-level Catholic Church officials not only turned a blind eye for decades but may have been perpetrators themselves.
Among those under investigation was Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, a former head of the French bishops’ conference, who has admitted to abusing a 14-year-old girl when he was a priest 35 years ago.
“I behaved in a reprehensible way,” Ricard, 78, wrote in a confession letter read during a news conference by Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, the current president of the bishops’ conference.
Ricard retired in 2019 after nearly two decades as archbishop of Bordeaux, but he has maintained the title of cardinal. He was appointed this year to temporarily supervise the Roman Catholic Foyers de Charité organization, which was making changes after being rocked by sexual abuse scandals.
Monday’s revelations — which came as church officials met for an annual conference — are “shocking, but not surprising,” said Zach Hiner, executive director of SNAP, a network of church abuse victims.
Some of the accusations were already known, and wherever independent commissions or church officials have looked for evidence of sexual abuse over past decades, they have tended to find cases on a stunning scale.
Last year, a report from an independent French commission found that French Catholic clerics had abused more than 200,000 minors over the past 70 years. The report estimated the number of perpetrators to be at least 3,000.
“One doesn’t get to those kinds of levels without there being significant problems at the very top,” said Hiner, who said abuse accusations against “people at the highest levels of the Catholic Church” have proliferated.
Last year’s independent commission report in France gathered more than 6,000 testimonies, including from victims and witnesses, and several cases were forwarded to law enforcement officials.
Moulins-Beaufort said Monday that at least some of the accused bishops will be or have been investigated by state authorities, along with parallel church investigations. But in cases where the window of prosecution has closed, internal probes are the only options.
Among victims organizations, those internal procedures have prompted calls for greater transparency.
“It can be rather opaque,” said Hiner, criticizing cases in which bishops were punished by the church “but without much information given to parishioners and the public as to why.”
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