French authorities have opened an investigation into one of highest-ranking members of France’s Catholic Church, who admitted to sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl when he was a parish priest, more than three decades ago.
French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, 78, made the stunning admission in a written statement which was read by the President of Conference of Bishops of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, during a press conference in Lourdes on Monday.
The cardinal wrote in the statement that his behavior had been “reprehensible” and had “led to serious and lasting consequences for this person.”
Ricard said that he had asked for forgiveness from the victim, whom he said he abused 35 years ago, and her family. He added that he would be going on retreat to pray.
On Tuesday, Marseille prosecutor’s office said it has opened a preliminary investigation into the cardinal.
The cardinal’s admission has “shocked” Catholic bishops in France, Moulins-Beaufort said. It has also renewed scrutiny into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, which has been shrouded with multiple reports detailing decades of sexual abuse, systemic failures and cover-ups across multiple countries.
Ricard was made a cardinal in 2006 and is a former head of the French bishops’ conference. He retired as Archbishop of Bordeaux in 2019.
He is also a member of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees investigations into sexual abuse cases.
According to Moulins-Beaufort, Ricard was among 11 former or current French bishops accused of cases linked to abuse.
The French civil authorities and the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith have been informed about the revelations, he added.
Ricard said in his written statement that he intended to cooperate with civil and Catholic Church investigations in his case.
The Vatican spokesperson had no comment when reached by CNN.
A landmark report in 2021 found that members of the Catholic clergy in France sexually abused an estimated 216,000 minors over the past seven decades and that the Church prioritized the protection of the institution over survivors who were urged to stay silent.
Pope Francis said in September that he would take it on himself to rid the Church of sexual abuse, telling CNN’s partner channel CNN Portugal that he was “responsible that it doesn’t happen anymore.”