The President of the French Bishops’ Conference, Msgr. Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, gave an exceptional press conference on Monday, November 7th, as the 90th Plenary Assembly of the French Bishops was gathered in Lourdes. He took the opportunity to reveal the existence of numerous cases of abuse within the French episcopate.
Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort spoke at the request of a former president of the Conference, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard. The Cardinal had asked that his confession be made public. The bishop then revealed that Cardinal Ricard had confessed to having abused a 14-year-old girl thirty-five years ago. Afterward, Bishop de Moulins Beaufort revealed that no less than 11 bishops were involved in such cases and were subject to civil and ecclesiastical justice.
The French episcopate has been plagued by cases of vice for many months. In 2021, the archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, resigned after being accused of having a relationship with a woman—although he has always vigorously denied the claim. A few weeks ago, the Santier affair (named after the former bishop of Luçon and Créteil Michel Santier), broke out. He had been subject to canonical sanctions in 2021 for “instrumentalizing the sacraments for sexual purposes” in the 1990s. He deliberately lied about the true reasons for his leaving. The affair only came to light a few weeks ago, exposing the many internal dysfunctions and lack of truthfulness on the part of a number of bishops, despite protests for transparency on the part of the official organs of the Church of France.
Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort’s announcement of the communiqué transmitted by Bishop Ricard in Lourdes shook the bishops—some of whom were once ordained by Bishop Ricard—to tears. Ricard’s revelations have also further undermined the faithful’s confidence in their prelates, especially since this one, Cardinal Ricard, is a prominent figure in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Archbishop emeritus of Bordeaux since 2019, Jean-Pierre Ricard was president of the French Bishops’ Conference from 2001 to 2007. He was created a cardinal in 2006 by Benedict XVI, which enabled him to participate in the conclave that elected Pope Francis. He was also appointed by Benedict XVI as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In February 2022, he was chosen by Pope Francis to lead the work of the Foyers de Charité following revelations of abuse by their founder Georges Finet.
It seems that one scandal ends up hiding another. The Ricard case also raises questions, as the cardinal obviously chose to confess shortly after the statute of limitations had expired. A preliminary investigation was nevertheless opened after his public confession and Msgr. Ricard declared himself at the disposal of justice and the Church.
With the cases of Msgr. Santier and Msgr. Ricard, Msgr. de Moulins-Beaufort reminded the press conference that a total of 11 bishops had now been reported to the civil or ecclesiastical justice system. In addition to the two cases mentioned above, there are six bishops involved in cases of sexual abuse, moral harassment, or neglect to report sexual assaults. Two other bishops who are no longer in office “are currently being investigated by our country’s justice system and are the subject of a canonical procedure,” revealed Msgr. de Moulins-Beaufort. In addition, a report has been made to the public prosecutor for another bishop who “has received measures from the Holy See to restrict his ministry.” All the names of those concerned were not mentioned.
“It’s painful, I feel like I’m witnessing a moral ruin,” one participant in the Lourdes assembly told the newspaper La Vie. The abuses have affected priests, then bishops, and now cardinals. “Now it is the whole credibility of the episcopal and cardinal’s word that is affected,” he continued.
Since these revelations, criticism of the institution has multiplied. Naivety, cowardice, and serious shortcomings in the management of scandals are the accusations most frequently levelled at the French Bishops’ Conference. For the moment, the repeated speeches on the need for “transparency” do not convince many of the faithful.