The revelation of a new sexual assault scandal in the Catholic Church, admitted by Cardinal Ricard, continues to cause shock waves: justice has opened an investigation while the bishops have announced an aid measure in Lourdes to business management.
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 at Marseille 35 years ago, "reprehensible conduct with a 14-year-old girl".
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 André Marceau - now retired - was seized of the case of the cardinal in February. It was his successor Jean-Philippe Nault who picked up the file on his arrival in March and who made a report to the courts on October 24. According to the prosecution, Mgr Ricard would have confided to having "kissed" the teenager.
Former archbishop of Bordeaux, this clergyman retired in 2019 but remains an elector in the event of a conclave.
In Lourdes, the president of the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF), indicated that he had also been made aware of this affair in February, but denied any concealment of the information. Eric de Moulins-Beaufort assured that he had "continuous work" with the victim, leading to the confession of the prelate, he told the press after the plenary assembly of his institution.
“I would like all of us who have been guilty of acts” of this kind “to come to light for themselves,” he said.
“We are aware that these revelations painfully affect the victims,” the bishops wrote in a pastoral letter, also saying that they understood “the shock of many of the faithful”. They still said they heard “the amazement”, “the anger” in particular “aroused” by this affair as well as that of Michel Santier.
This former bishop of Créteil was sanctioned in 2021 by the Vatican authorities for "spiritual abuse having led to voyeurism" on two adults in the 1990s. The silence surrounding his sanction has provoked strong anger in recent weeks. Catholics and groups of victims.
Establishment of a monitoring committee
Main measure taken by the bishops: 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 ".
It will be "chaired by a qualified and recognized personality and composed of people with various skills" appointed by the CEF, said the latter.
Actions with the Vatican services concerned are also planned to "clarify the procedures, establish more precise criteria for the publication of facts and sanctions".
The bishops also voted the final statutes of a canonical national criminal court, an unprecedented structure in France, "operational in December", which will have to settle canonical criminal cases (of Church law), for example sexual violence. on adults.
They also "thought" about setting up a celebret, a kind of professional identity card, whose data will be updated regularly, which will indicate the priest's ability to hold celebrations or not.
When questioned, the collective of faithful Agir pour notre Eglise welcomed "a good thing" in the establishment of the "monitoring committee", even if there are "few other concrete measures". He welcomed an “awareness of the bishops of the need to be transparent”.
The committee is a “cosmetic” measure, on the contrary estimated Christine Pedotti, director of Christian testimony, regretting that not a single bishop resigns.
On Monday, the CEF had revealed that ten former bishops were dealing or had been dealing with justice - "eight implicated for abuse" (including Mgr Ricard and Mgr Santier) and two "for non-denunciation".
The Editorial Board (with AFP)