French Catholic leaders mired in sexual abuse scandals dig themselves deeper

French Catholic leaders initially played down clerical abuse, but the issue has now gone far beyond the ‘few bad apples’ stage.

Bishops and others kneel outside the Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire basilica in Lourdes, southwestern France, Nov. 6, 2021. France’s Catholic Church has paid financial compensation to 23 victims of child sexual abuse as the reparation process recently started, the body in charge of making the decisions said on Sept. 30, 2022. The Independent National Authority for Recognition and Reparation said that over 1,000 victims have come forward to claim reparation since the body has been set up earlier this year.


Like any modern Catholic official, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of France’s Catholic bishops’ conference, realizes clergy sexual abuse is a systemic problem, one that calls for serious reform of the church’s uncertain rules and ingrained secrecy.

But recent revelations of sexual misconduct by a cardinal and a bishop on Moulins-Beaufort’s watch show how complicated, time-consuming and personal stamping out abuse can be.

These new cases, which come a year after a report that estimated that France had seen 330,000 ordained and lay abusers since 1950, have tangled Moulins-Beaufort in a web, caught between falling public confidence in the bishops’ ability to solve the problem — which only increases the pressure to act — and a pope who firmly condemns clerical sexual abuse but offers only vague guidance when faced with concrete cases.

The revelations last week, both involving popular and well-respected clerics, were bigger than any cases to date.

Bishop Michel Santier of Créteil, an eastern suburb of Paris, had a reputation as a prelate open to other faiths and to people sidelined in the church. In 2020, he took early retirement, citing health reasons, but it turned out he had admitted to Pope Francis in 2019 that he had made at least two young men do a striptease as part of a confession. Only after Santier later repeated his admission to his successor did the Vatican impose canonical restrictions on him.

The story finally came out in a Catholic magazine in October, forcing Moulins-Beaufort to acknowledge that he also knew the facts but could not publicize them because the Vatican hadn’t.

Three weeks later, Moulins-Beaufort read out a letter from Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, who was twice elected head of the French bishops’ conference in the 2000s, confessed that he had “acted in a reprehensible way with a 14-year-old girl” 35 years ago.

From left, Mons. Olivier Leborgne, Bishop of Arras and Vice-President of the French bishops' conference, Mons. Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, Archbishop of Reims and President of the French conference of bishops, and Monsignor Dominique Blanchet, Bishop of Creteil, talk to reporters at the end of a press conference, in Rome, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. Pope Francis agreed Monday to meet with the commission that published a ground-breaking report into clergy sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church and expressed "sadness" over the sudden downfall of the archbishop of Paris, accused of inappropriate relations with a woman and of governance problems. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
From left, Monsignor Olivier Leborgne, bishop of Arras and vice president of the French bishops’ conference; Monsignor Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, archbishop of Reims and president of the French conference of bishops; and Monsignor Dominique Blanchet, bishop of Créteil, talk to reporters at the end of a news conference, in Rome, Dec. 13, 2021.

When Moulins-Beaufort unveiled the Ricard scandal, it came to light that several church leaders had been informed but had taken months to inform French law enforcement or the Vatican. Bishop Dominique Blanchet, who took over from Santier, later described how he tried to keep a distance from his popular predecessor without divulging the reason. “I was in an untenable position,” he said.

French Catholic leaders initially played down clerical abuse when news of U.S. cases made headlines in The Boston Globe two decades ago, but the issue has now gone far beyond the “few bad apples” stage.

“Neither ordination nor honors protect someone from making mistakes, including some legally serious ones,” a worn-down Moulins-Beaufort said at the end of the French bishops’ Nov. 3-8 plenary session in Lourdes. “Every person can be haunted by troubled forces that he does not always manage to control.”

Yet Santier’s and Ricard’s cases show that the problem is as much one of transparency as of troubled priests. “Your trust has been betrayed. You feel anger, sadness, amazement. These feelings are legitimate,” Rennes Archbishop Pierre d’Ornellas told parishioners in the Breton town of Montfort-sur-Meu.

D’Ornellas chose that parish because its pastor had just been jailed in Paris for yet another sexual abuse case. The Rev. Yannick Poligné, who is HIV-positive, was charged with aggravated rape, drug use and endangering the life of a 15-year-old male he met through the gay app Grindr.

FILE - Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, of France arrives for a meeting, at the Vatican, Monday, March 4, 2013. The prosecutor's office in Marseille has opened a preliminary investigation for "aggravated sexual assault" against Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, one of France's highest-ranking prelates of the Catholic Church. The investigation was opened Tuesday Nov.8, 2022 following a letter from an adviser of the current bishop of Nice. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, of France, arrives for a meeting at the Vatican, March 4, 2013. The prosecutor’s office in Marseille has opened a preliminary investigation of “aggravated sexual assault” against Ricard, one of France’s highest-ranking prelates of the Catholic Church. The investigation was opened Nov. 8, 2022, after a letter from an adviser of the current bishop of Nice.

At the news conference unveiling the Ricard scandal, Moulins-Beaufort said the total of French bishops involved in sexual abuse cases was now 11. But he mixed up the cases — for example, including those charged with nondenunciation of an abusive priest with prelates who actually abused victims — and thus created further distrust of the bishops in general.

Three bishops were not named, meaning more revelations may come soon. A church spokesman would only say that two were being investigated by French authorities and the Vatican, while the third had been reported to the French and restricted by the Vatican in his ministry.

The Rev. Hans Zollner, a Catholic expert on sexual abuse based in Rome, said: The French bishops’ conference should communicate names, if this is legally possible. Without this, there is a risk of bringing widespread suspicion to bear on everyone. … This is a rule of communication that we have not yet learned.”

“How can we still believe that the church will get out of this, that it has the means to reform itself, when it is so deeply affected itself?” asked Isabelle de Gaulmyn, an editor and former Vatican correspondent for the Catholic daily newspaper La Croix.

“What do we see on the part of this ‘elite,’ supposedly chosen carefully by the pope and his advisers? Perversion for some — serious, profound and criminal perversion. And for the others, an incomprehensible laxity that leads to immense helplessness.”

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Top 5 Issues Hounding Today’s Catholic Church

— The Roman Catholic Church led by Pope Francis is arguably at a crossroads during a time of global changes that threaten to leave behind those unwilling to adapt.

There have been several key issues that keep on hounding the Church and serve as existential threats. How the Church responds to these issues could spell the difference between its survival and continued relevance to Catholics or signal its collapse and slide into oblivion

Here are the top five issues hounding today’s Catholic Church:

1. Clergy sexual abuse.

There is perhaps no single issue bigger than the allegations of widespread sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic clergy. These sexual abuse accusations are shocking and almost systematic, as there have been numerous publicized cases of clergy sexual abuse, many of which were committed against minor-age victims.

Jean-Pierre Ricard, a retired French bishop made a Cardinal by no less than the current pope, recently admitted through a statement to committing “reprehensible” acts with a 14-year-old girl when he was still a priest in the 1980s. Ricard said: “35 years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way towards a girl of 14. There is no doubt that my behaviour caused serious and long-lasting consequences for that person.”

Aside from Ricard, 11 other active and retired senior Catholic clergy members are charged with sexual abuse, according to a disclosure by the French Catholic Church leadership. And aside from these recent cases, there have been many other similar accusations of sexual improprieties by men in cloaks who are supposed to embody Christ’s holiness.

2. Abortion stand.

With recent developments, such as the controversial U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the Catholic Church is again thrust into a highly divisive and delicate issue. While the Church has traditionally been anti-abortion, some Catholics strongly condemn the Church’s official stand on the matter.

A report revealed that as much as 58% of German Catholics are not happy with Pope Francis’ and the Vatican’s statements critical of abortion. Despite his largely liberal views on many other issues concerning the Catholic Church, Francis opts to take the traditional, conservative anti-abortion stand that past popes have taken.

With this internal conflict of views on this specific issue, it’s interesting to watch for developments on whether the Church and its members could find a common rallying point.

3. Clerical celibacy.

Catholic priests have long been sworn to adhere to the vow of celibacy. This is the doctrine that prohibits Catholic priests from marrying and instead choosing a life of chastity. Celibacy supposedly allows a priest and other clergy members to serve the Church better.

Incidentally, celibacy was among the top issues discussed during the 2019 Catholic Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region. This issue surfaced amid the shortage of unmarried priests to minister to the Catholic faithful in the region. With the lack of unmarried priests to guide Catholics, the question of whether to allow married men to become priests suddenly gained steam.

4. Church attitude towards LGBTQIA+.

In recent years, the LGBTQIA+ community worldwide has successfully drawn attention to their cause. However, despite such global awareness, individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ have yet to find the recognition and respect they seek. And it seems they could not count on the Catholic Church to give them the needed acceptance.

There have been several statements and actions from different Catholic leaderships across the world that clearly show discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community. From an Irish priest who said gay politicians are destined to hell to Denver archdiocese leaders telling Catholic schools not to accept gay or transgender students, there is much left to be desired in how the Catholic leadership and clergy treat the LGBTQIA+ community.

5. Female ordination.

The Catholic Church has been, for technically its entire existence, a male-dominated religion. This setup has been practically unchanged for centuries and does not seem to change in the foreseeable future.This is precisely why ordinating women to become deacons or priests is among the most hotly-debated issues within and beyond the Catholic fold. One small consolation comes in the recent Vatican synod document that included a discussion on women’s ordination, which has long been a taboo subject among Catholic religious.

“Women remain the majority of those who attend liturgy and participate in activities, men a minority; yet most decision-making and governance roles are held by men. It is clear that the Church must find ways to attract men to a more active membership in the Church and to enable women to participate more fully at all levels of Church life,” the document said.

The unwillingness of the Church to put women into a leadership position is eyed by some as a hindrance to the Church’s adaption to modernity. The document quoted the New Zealand episcopal conference report as saying the “lack of equality for women within the Church is seen as a stumbling block for the Church in the modern world.”

This is yet another issue that the Church would have to deal with if it expects to adapt to the changing global sentiment on gender equality in the religious realm.

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The Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal continues

Jean-Pierre Ricard in March 2006 when he was the archbishop of Bordeaux.

By the

On his plane back to Rome from a Middle East trip recently, Pope Francis acknowledged that the Vatican faces pushback in its efforts to overhaul the Catholic Church’s habits of denial, secrecy and coverup surrounding clerical sexual abuse. “There are people within the church who still do not see clearly,” he said, adding that “not everyone has courage.”

The pontiff’s delicate phrasing, and his timing, underscored the compounding damage the scandal has inflicted on the church’s moral authority and prestige. Days after Pope Francis shared those thoughts with journalists, new revelations of high-level sexual misconduct and coverup in France shattered illusions of progress by the church toward establishing a culture of transparency and accountability in its hierarchy.

That problem was crystallized in the admission by Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, who was the archbishop of Bordeaux for 18 years before he retired in 2019, that he had behaved “in a reprehensible way” with a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago when he was a parish priest. The news was made more astonishing by the fact that Cardinal Ricard served as president of the Bishops’ Conference of France from 2001 to 2007, even as revelations of clerical sexual abuse rocked the church — first in Boston, then throughout dioceses in the United States and worldwide. Yet the prelate continued exercising his authority as one of the French church’s most prominent figures. He is now being investigated by French prosecutors in Marseille for “aggravated sexual assault.”

The cardinal’s public confession followed last month’s disclosure that another prelate, Michel Santier, 75, had been removed as bishop of Creteil, near Paris. The fact that he had been disciplined, after allegations that he had abused young adults decades ago, was overshadowed by the church’s silence on the matter. It had said nothing about the accusations or action taken against him until they were reported by the French media in October. He is now also under investigation by prosecutors.

Pope Francis has said there is no turning back from “irreversible” steps designed to enhance safeguards against clergy child sexual abuse and has said the church has adopted a “zero tolerance” policy toward offenders in the priesthood and the hierarchy. His push for reforms has featured broadening the church’s definition of sexual crimes, requiring nuns and priests to inform their superiors of abuse allegations, holding bishops and other prelates to account for their handling of instances of abuse, and empowering the Vatican’s own commission that deals with cases of sexual abuse, elevating its status and clout.

Yet the ongoing evidence of years-long silence in cases involving senior prelates and others in the hierarchy points to the internal institutional foot-dragging that Pope Francis acknowledged. So does the attitude of the church hierarchy in many poor countries, where the scandals of the past two decades are widely regarded as mainly a Northern Hemisphere problem, and little information has been made public about sexual abuse cases.

Pope Francis’s record is mixed on the greatest scandal to envelop the church in centuries. His forthrightness on the issue is admirable, but ultimately he, and the church, will be judged on the tangible progress they have made.

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Vatican opens preliminary abuse probe into French cardinal

— The Vatican has decided to launch a preliminary sex abuse investigation into French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, after he admitted to having behaved in a “reprehensible way” with a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago

Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, of France arrives for a meeting, at the Vatican, Monday, March 4, 2013. The prosecutor’s office in Marseille has opened a preliminary investigation for “aggravated sexual assault” against Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, one of France’s highest-ranking prelates of the Catholic Church. The investigation was opened Tuesday Nov.8, 2022 following a letter from an adviser of the current bishop of Nice.


The Vatican said Friday it has decided to launch a preliminary sex abuse investigation into a prominent French cardinal after he admitted to having behaved in a “reprehensible way” with a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said a search was under way to find a lead investigator with the “necessary autonomy, impartiality and experience.”

Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the retired archbishop of Bordeaux and a former president of the French bishops’ conference, confessed to the abuse in a letter last week while French bishops were meeting at their annual assembly in Lourdes. The revelation further sparked outrage within the French Catholic Church, which has been reeling over revelations of decades of abuse and cover-ups detailed in a groundbreaking report last year.

Marseille prosecutors announced this week they had opened an investigation into Ricard for alleged “aggravated sexual assault” but that “no complaint” had yet been filed against the cardinal.

The decision by the Vatican to go ahead and open its own investigation while the French criminal probe was under way was unusual and suggested the seriousness of the matter for Rome. A cardinal since 2006, Ricard is a high-ranking member of several important Vatican offices. Most significantly, he is a voting member on the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, meaning he has been involved in adjudicating other clergy sex abuse cases for years.

There was no word on whether he would be suspended or removed from his Vatican member posts pending the investigations. Ricard said in his letter he was placing himself at the discretion of church and civil authorities.

In announcing their investigation, Marseille prosecutors said they first received a report about Ricard in October from the Nice bishop, who reported having received a letter from the parents of the alleged victim who were outraged that Ricard had been appointed by the Vatican to a team investigating a Catholic association that runs foster homes.

When Nice Bishop Jean-Philippe Nault confronted Ricard about the parents’ letter, the cardinal “admitted to this prelate that, more than 40 years ago, he had ‘kissed’ the daughter of this couple, whose religious marriage he would later have celebrated,” Marseille prosecutors said.

Sister Véronique Margron, head of the conference of religious orders in France, told France’s La Croix Catholic newspaper this week that the victim herself had twice written to Pope Francis — once five years ago, and again in May-June of this year after she didn’t receive a response.

Bruni didn’t respond when asked if the pope received either of the letters. Bruni said the decision to open the preliminary investigation into Ricard was made “to complete the examination of what happened, given the elements that have emerged in recent days and the declaration given by the cardinal.”

Francis has vowed “zero tolerance” for clerics who abuse and in recent years has removed several bishops and a few cardinals for abuse and cover-ups. But he had a big learning curve on abuse and initially botched some cases, trusting the words of clerics over the victims.

Last year, France’s Sauve report into Catholic abuse estimated that 330,000 children in France were sexually abused over the past 70 years by some 3,000 priests and other people involved in the church and that the crimes were covered up in a “systemic manner” by the church hierarchy.

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Suspended Indiana priest avoids prison in sex abuse case

David Marcotte

A suspended Indianapolis priest has avoided prison after pleading guilty to a lesser charge in a case alleging that he sexually abused a teenage boy.

A Hamilton County judge sentenced David Marcotte, 35, on Wednesday to one year on home detention followed by 18 months of probation, and suspended his 2 1/2-year prison sentence.

The judge accepted Marcotte’s plea agreement even though the boy’s parents begged him to reject the plea deal, under which the Catholic priest avoids prison and does not have to register as a sex offender, WRTV-TV reported.

Marcotte pleaded guilty last month to one count of dissemination of matter harmful to minors and admitted that he shared lewd images with the boy when he was 14 or 15 about six years ago. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss child solicitation and vicarious sexual gratification charges under his plea agreement.

The victim, now 20, lives in another state and is attending college. In a letter to the court, the young man called Marcotte “the bald-headed pedophile creep in the defendant’s chair.”

Marcotte worked at St. Malachy Church and School in Brownsburg when he allegedly sent the victim inappropriate images and engaged in sexual conduct via social media and video chat apps.

Marcotte was suspended by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in February 2019, days after the archdiocese said it learned of the allegations. He remains suspended from the ministry, an archdiocese spokesman said Wednesday.

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