A day after a French cardinal confessed to abusing a 14-year-old girl 35 years prior, French prosecutors in Marseille said on Tuesday that an investigation had been opened. Jean-Pierre Ricard officially acknowledged that he had mistreated a female in the past. The head of the French Bishops’ Conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, read out his remarks during a news conference.
Ricard, who was named a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016, said he will step down from his duties after learning that 11 current or past French bishops have been accused of sexual assault. According to Ricard’s statement: ‘When I was a parish priest 35 years ago, I acted disgracefully with a 14-year-old girl. My actions have unavoidably caused this person to suffer serious and long-lasting effects’.
Since an investigation has been launched, Ricard may also be charged because the most serious sexual offences, including rape, often have a statute of limitations of 30 years in France. However, the window for filing charges may be extended in cases where the victim was a juvenile at the time of the offence.
In France, allegations of sexual abuse of a child can only be brought up to 20 years after the victim reaches 18. A preliminary investigation has been launched to confirm the accuracy of this claim, prosecutor Dominique Laurens informed the news organisation AFP in Marseille.
The Roman Catholic Church, which has been shaken by allegations of sexual abuse, looks to be entering another dark chapter in its past. Reports over the previous 20 years contain instances of infractions from all around the world, frequently involving minors. According to a 2021 independent investigation, the Catholic Church overlooked reports of sexual abuse by French clergy that occurred over a 70-year period involving more than 200,000 minors.