“I have behaved reproachfully,” wrote 78-year-old Ricard in a letter of confession read at a press conference by Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, the current president of the Episcopal Conference.
Ricard retired in 2019 after nearly two decades as Archbishop of Bordeaux, but he has retained the title of Cardinal. He was appointed this year to temporarily oversee the Roman Catholic Foyers de Charité organization, which was undergoing changes after being rocked by sexual abuse scandals.
Monday’s revelations — which came as church officials met for an annual conference — are “shocking, but not surprising,” said Zach Hiner, executive director of SNAP, a network of church abuse victims.
Some of the allegations were already known, and wherever independent commissions or church officials have searched for evidence of sexual abuse in recent decades, they tend to find cases on a staggering scale.
Last year, a report by an independent French commission found that French Catholic clergy had abused more than 200,000 minors in the past 70 years. The report estimated the number of perpetrators to be at least 3,000.
Catholic clergy in France likely abused more than 200,000 minors, independent commission estimates
“You don’t get to those kinds of levels without having big problems at the top,” said Hiner, who said allegations of abuse against “people at the highest levels of the Catholic Church” have spread.
Last year’s independent commission report in France collected more than 6,000 testimonies, including from victims and witnesses, and several cases were forwarded to law enforcement officers.
Moulins-Beaufort said on Monday that at least some of the accused bishops will be or have been investigated by state authorities, along with parallel church investigations. But in cases where the prosecution period has closed, internal investigations are the only options.
These internal procedures have led to calls for greater transparency among victims’ organisations.
“It can be quite opaque,” Hiner said, criticizing cases where bishops were punished by the church “but without much information to parishioners and the public as to why.”