To everyone’s surprise, the president of the Conference of Bishops of France Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, who held a press briefing on the subject of sexual abuse and its management on the eve of the closing of the plenary assembly of the CEF in Lourdes, read a message sent by Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard.

“35 years ago, when I was parish priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way with a 14-year-old girl. My behavior necessarily caused serious and lasting consequences for this person,” wrote the cardinal.

“I have decided to put myself at the disposal of justice both in terms of society and that of the Church”, he added, claiming to have asked “pardon” to this victim, still according to his remarks reported.

This admission by Cardinal Ricard, 78, who was notably bishop of Coutances, Montpellier then Bordeaux from 2001 to 2019, and who retired in October 2019, was greeted “like a shock” by the 120 bishops gathered in the Marian city since Thursday, underlined the president of the CEF. Bishop Ricard, former president of the CEF, has been a cardinal since 2006.

The president of the CEF also detailed the cases of other prelates who had to deal with justice.

“Today there are six cases of (former, editor’s note) bishops who have been implicated before the justice of our country or before canonical justice”, he declared, stressing that these cases were “known ” of the press. One of them, however, has since “deceased”, the CEF later told the press, specifying that it was Pierre Pican, who died in 2018, sentenced for non-denunciation.

Added “now Bishop Ricard”, he said. As well as Bishop Michel Santier, sanctioned in 2021 by the Vatican authorities for “spiritual abuse having led to voyeurism on two adult men” and whose sanction was revealed in mid-October by the press.

Two other retired bishops “are the subject of investigations today by the justice of our country after reports made by a bishop and a canonical procedure”.

A last “is the subject of a report to the prosecutor to which no response has been given to date and has received from the Holy See restrictive measures from his ministry”, added the Archbishop of Reims.

In total, ten former bishops are therefore concerned: “eight currently implicated for abuse, including Bishop Ricard and Santier”. Two are “implicated for non-denunciation”, according to the CEF. One was sentenced in 2018 – this is André Fort, sentenced to eight months in prison suspended – and the other, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, was released in 2020.

– “Feeling of betrayal” –

On the Santier affair itself, whose silence on the sanction shocked Catholics, Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort admitted having been “informed of (his) situation” as “president of the Conference of Bishops” but clarified that the CEF was not “a party to the procedure”.

He also acknowledged that in “November 2021, during the” autumn assembly of the episcopate, he had informed the bishops “that disciplinary measures had been taken against Bishop Santier, but without giving any indication of the facts. (…) committed”.

He admitted “on rereading this story”, “serious shortcomings and dysfunctions at all levels”.

“It’s a new tsunami. We didn’t think that so many bishops could be affected,” reacted Marie-Jo Thiel, professor of ethics at the Faculty of Theology in Strasbourg, in La Croix to be published on Tuesday.

For her part, Véronique Margron, president of the Conference of Religious of France, told La Vie magazine of an “intense (…) feeling of betrayal.

Olivier Savignac, for the collective of victims Parler et revivre, said he was “shaken by the revelations”. “There are many things hidden. How many will still come out?”, he questioned, deploring to AFP that “the Church only reacts once at the foot of the wall”.

“It is a great sadness to hear this,” added Alix Huon, of the group of faithful Agir pour notre Eglise, waiting for “clear announcements” on Tuesday, at the close of the Lourdes assembly.

In a press release, the Archbishop of Bordeaux Jean-Paul James, returning to Cardinal Ricard’s revelations, expressed his “great compassion for the victim concerned”. The diocese of Marseille took “note with pain and pain of the facts reported”.

These come a little over a year after the publication of the Sauvé commission’s shock report on the extent of pedocrime in the Church of France since 1950.