A figure of the Church of France, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard created astonishment by admitting, via a message read Monday by the president of the episcopate to the plenary assembly of Lourdes, to have had, when he was parish priest, he 35 years ago, “reprehensible conduct with a 14-year-old girl” in Marseille.

The Marseille public prosecutor’s office ordered a preliminary investigation for “aggravated sexual assault in order to first verify the exact nature of the facts denounced as well as their dating and to hear all the people who received confidences as well as the person who would have them. been a victim”.

According to Marseille justice, the bishop of Nice had taken legal action on October 24 when Bishop Ricard confided to him that he had “kissed” a teenager.

Former Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Ricard retired in 2019 but remains an elector in the event of a conclave.

“I am very shocked and it upsets me as a nun,” testified to AFP Georgette, a Catholic missionary who has been living in Bordeaux for seven years. “He had a very good reputation,” she said, adding that she knew the prelate well.

For Catholics, “it’s more than an earthquake”, “we are taking a step back towards the abyss”, told AFP Christine Pedotti, director of Christian Testimony. “How do you believe people who a year ago were on their knees in Lourdes?” she said, referring to the bishops’ act of repentance in November 2021, just weeks after the report of the Sauvé Commission on the extent of child crime in the Church of France since 1950.

“It happened at the stage where the giant meteorite falls and where there is extinction of the dinosaurs”, she warned, fearing a flight from the faithful.

“We are aware that these revelations painfully affect the victims”, wrote the bishops in a pastoral letter published at the end of their plenary assembly, also saying that they understood “the shock of many faithful”.

– “astonishment” and “anger” –

They also said they heard “the amazement, anger, sadness and discouragement aroused” by this affair as well as that of Michel Santier, sanctioned in 2021 by the Vatican authorities for “spiritual abuse having led to voyeurism” in the 1990s and whose silence around its sanction has in recent weeks provoked great anger among Catholics and groups of victims.

The President of the Conference of Bishops (CEF), Mgr Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, announced the constitution of “a follow-up committee to which any archbishop or bishop having to deal with the case of another bishop for abuse or sexual assault will refer in order to be accompanied in all the stages of the procedure”.

The idea is to have “a team of outside experts” who will have “an outside perspective and help on all the civil and canonical procedures (of Church law, editor’s note), in order to support the bishop concerned in the implementation of the steps to be taken so that there are no holes in the racket and avoid any malfunction”, specified the CEF.

“We are also going to act with the Roman dicasteries (Vatican services, editor’s note) concerned to specify the procedures, establish more precise criteria as to the publication of the facts and the sanctions”, also declared Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort.

On Monday, the CEF had revealed that ten former bishops were dealing or had been dealing with justice – “eight implicated for abuse” and two “for non-denunciation”.

Among the eight are Cardinal Ricard and Michel Santier. Five cases are “known” to the press according to the CEF, which did not give names.

These include Hervé Gaschignard, ex-bishop of Dax, who resigned in 2017 for having “inappropriate” attitudes towards adolescents; a case dismissed without further action by the courts, or even the bishop emeritus of Gap Jean-Michel di Falco, accused of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970s, facts which he has always denied. The former bishop of Guyana Emmanuel Lafont, is the subject of a “canonical investigation, about to end”, according to a source close to the file.